The west end of Glasgow, Scotland has been the focal point of so much piping history. Jeannie Campbell takes a llok at what piping history there is to be found within a 15 minute walk of the College of Piping (now the National Piping Centre Otago Street).
By Jeannie Campbell
Readers of the Piping Times will be well aware that the College of Piping is situated on the banks of the River Kelvin at Otago Street, Kelvinbridge, in the west end of Glasgow. There are two tunes named The Banks of the Kelvin. One is a 2/4 march in Henderson’s Collection of 1888, the other is a slow air by James Melvin published in the Seumas MacNeill Collection Part 1. Opposite the College is Kelvin House, formerly the headquarters of Hepburn and Ross, makers of Red Hackle whisky. The Red Hackle Pipes and Drums, one of the top bands of the 60s and 70s, was based here. Led by Pipe Major John Weatherston and Leading Drummer, Wilson Young, they were known for their innovative style and were among the first to combine bagpipes and other instruments.
Otago Street was the home of another famous name, Donald MacLean, the subject of Archie MacNeills’s march Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban. Donald was for many years a pupil of the great player and composer John MacColl and was one of the first instructors at the College of Piping when it was in Pitt Street.
From the top of Otago Street one can look across the road to the Glasgow Academy, founded in 1845, which has a long tradition of encouraging piping. John MacColl’s son, John C. MacColl was the Pipe Major of the band here during his school days. A John MacColl composition, Captain Batchelor, Glasgow Academy is published in William Ross’s Book 2. In the 1930s John MacColl lived a mile or so to the north at Claddens Quadrant.
Crossing Kelvinbridge in the direction of St George’s Cross, the tenement on the right, at 409 Great Western Road, was the home of John MacDougall Gillies. Gillies was born in Aberdeen in 1855. His parents John Gillies, a granite worker and Isobella Smith, were married in Aberdeen in 1854. They are thought to have come originally from Glendaruel in Argyll. Pipe Major Fettes of the Aberdeen Volunteers composed Glendaruel Highlanders for the Gillies family. Gillies had tuition from Alick Cameron and won the Gold Medal at Inverness in 1882 and at Oban in 1884. In 1886 he went to Taymouth Castle as Piper to the Earl of Breadalbane but after two years moved to Glasgow where he became Pipe Major of the 5th H.L.I. He led them to win the first World Championship at Cowal in 1906, followed by further wins in 1908, 1910, 1911 and 1912. In 1903 he became manager of Peter Henderson’s the bagpipe makers. Gillies taught many pipers in the Glasgow area including Robert Reid, Willie Gray, Archie MacNeill and Iain Macpherson. Gillies died on December 17th, 1925 and his funeral procession was photographed crossing Kelvinbridge.
From Kelvinbridge one can see the motorway passing across the end of Great Western Road. Under the motorway was Shamrock Street where Peter Henderson lived during the 1890s. His brother, Donald Henderson lived in Woodlands Road just to the south of Great Western Road. Between Kelvinbridge and St. George’s Cross turn left in to Napiershall Street. A tnumber 52 lived Farquhar MacRae and his family. They are listed in the 1891 census; Farquhar MacRae aged 37, an insurance agent born at Portree, his wife Jane aged 29, son Keith aged 6 and daughter Winifred Jane aged six months. Although a native of Skye Farquhar MacRae spent much of his life in Glasgow. He was said to be one of Sandy Cameron’s best pupils and a painstaking instructor himself. Perhaps he named his son after Keith Cameron. Farquhar MacRae won the Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1898 and was for 25 years Pipe Major of the 3rd V.B. H.L.L, winning the World Championships in 1913.
Keith Cameron was a private in the H.L.I. when he died at Hamilton Barracks in 1899 aged 42. Farquhar MacRae formed the City of Glasgow Pipe Band in 1910. The band later became the Clan MacRae and under Willie Fergusson won, World Championships in 1921, 1922, 1923 and 1925. Willie’s great grandson Jamie Fergusson was a pupil at the Glasgow Academy in the 1990s. Willie Fergusson published the march Farquhar MacRae in his collection of 1939. Farquhar MacRae was drowned in 1916 in the Forth and Clyde Canal at Port Dundas about a mile northeast of Napiershall Street.
At 34 Napiershall Street lived John MacPhedran, violinist, flutist and piper, son of Donald MacPhedran the piper, pipe maker and composer who lived nearby in Doncaster Street (see Notices of Bagpipe Makers). John MacPhedran compiled and produced a book of tunes in 1908, the Donald MacPhedran Collection, which included many compositions of his father and himself. Three of John’s tunes are a march, Kelvingrove, a reel Woodside and a march Burnbank. Number 34 is on the corner of Napiershall Street and Burnbank Lane. North Woodside Road crosses
Napiershall Street next to number 54 then runs down to Kelvinbridge where it joins South Woodside Road. Below Kelvinbridge the River Kelvin runs through Kelvingrove Park. All rural sounding names for tunes perhaps composed in the streets of Glasgow.
In North Woodside Road, facing the Glasgow Academy across the river is the hall where William Alexander Smith founded the Boys’ Brigade on October 4, 1883. From the beginning the B.B. supported and encouraged piping and at one time there were more than 100 B.B. pipe bands in the Glasgow area.
Altogether, a lot of piping history in a 15 minute walk from the College and back again.
• From the November 1998 Piping Times.