Jimmy McIntosh, 1925-2021

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Jimmy McIntosh

James Haddow McIntosh, a true piping legend, died suddently this morning at home in South Carolina, USA, aged 95. Born in Broughty Ferry, near Dundee, one of four siblings. Jimmy’s father had arranged for Jimmy to receive his early piping tuition from Pipe Major Tom Sutherland, Royal Scots Fusiliers.

Jimmy joined the local pipe band. In 1939, the legendary Pipe Major Willie Ross came to Dundee for a month, courtesy of The Piobaireachd Society, and Jimmy’s father enrolled the 14-year-old Jimmy for lessons.

In October that year, Jimmy’s father enlisted him as a boy piper in the Cameron Highlanders. At this time, Willie Young, a pupil of Robert Bob Meldrum, was Pipe Major. Other pipers in the band at the time included Willie McCrostie, Captain John MacLellan, Mickey MacKay, Evan MacRae and Malcolm MacPherson. It would be Willie Young who gave Jimmy his first introduction to ceòl mòr. This was swiftly followed in 1941 by Pipe Major Donald MacLeod after amalgamation with the Seaforths. MacLeod was still going to John MacDonald, Inverness, regularly.

When Jimmy was 17½, he went through his six months of basic Army training. D. R. McLennan, the Regimental Sergeant Major at Fort George, then sent him to Pipe Major Willie Ross at Edinburgh Castle. In a 2013 interview with James Beaton for The National Piping Centre’s ‘Noting the Tradition’ project, Jimmy recalled: “… So I was sent down to Edinburgh Castle for a month and Willie Ross, he recognised me, and I really progressed a lot there, the first day I had memorised two piobaireachds, played them to him …

“At the end of the month, I had to go back to Fort George and I was only back just a couple of weeks and I was sent for again by D. R. McLennan again and he said, ’It has been requested that you be sent back to the Castle’. Willie Ross had requested that I be sent back there. I went back there and I stayed there another two or three months.”

Jimmy playing Lament for the Children at Lochearnhead Games in 1970.
Jimmy playing Lament for the Children at Lochearnhead Games in 1970.

Last May, Bagpipe.News asked him about the pipers he remembered in the regiment. “The only pipers of note in Germany,” he said, “were Pipe Major Angus McDonald, who later was Pipe Major the Glasgow Police, and Evan McRae who joined me when Angus demobbed. In Malaya there were no noted players but Major David Murray was my Band President. I was Pipe Major when the other one demobbed. Col. A. G. L. McLean of Pennycross was my Commanding Officer.

“When I joined in 1939 the noted players were Willie McRostie, Lance Corporal John McLellan, Robert (Mickey) McKay, Evan McRae, Malcolm McPherson and Pipe Major William Young. Later, there were Pipe Major Donald McLeod. Alec McDonald and Tommy Grant and Archie McNab (who both went on to the Glasgow Police).

“I had most of my Army tuition from Pipe Major Willie Ross, Pipe Major William Young and Donald McLeod.”

Jimmy was then posted to the 5th Camerons in the 51st Highland Division, at the time based in Holland where he had his first experience of competing. After the war, he was posted to the Far East, finishing up in Malaya, then in 1949 left the Army. Returning to Tayside, he took a job as an engineer with National Cash Register (NCR), played with Mackenzie Pipe Band for a short time then started the pipe band at NCR.

In the same interview with James Beaton, Jimmy recalled his first highland games solo piping competition. The year was 1965 and he had turned 40: “There was a local chap who had been competing, Peter Forbes, and I hadn’t known this chap before. He came to my door and asked if he could borrow my pipes and then somehow we got talking and he was going around the Games. He said come round the Games and he had a car and that was it. The first Games were at Nethy Bridge and so I went to Nethy Bridge with him and I won two prizes. He was talking about Inverness, he was obviously thinking about all the great players and everything and that was way above my level. So I entered for Inverness anyway and I didn’t do anything in the piobaireachd, I did some things that weren’t very good, I could only remember three piobaireachds. But I did win a couple of prizes with the March, Strathspey and Reel. I decided then that I needed to study so I went to Bob Brown then. Bob took me on.

Bob Nicol and Jimmy.
Bob Nicol and Jimmy.

“That was really the best decision I ever made during my whole life. He changed my whole life. I went up to Balmoral and he says, ‘Play something’ and I played Donald of Laggan and he said, ‘Yes, you’ve got it all but you need to learn to play it from your heart not your feet. Put down your pipes’. So I put down my pipes, took out the practice chanter and he said, ‘You can’t use that, you need to use singing’. So, that was it, from that point on every piobaireachd I played like that as a song. I progressed very quickly with him. It was just chemistry that worked. He was that kind of person. He very easily conveyed to you what he wanted. I did very well then, I mean I really started and I kind of dropped away from light music.”

After a couple of years, Brown had Malcolm McRae join Jimmy in the lessons much in the same way that John MacDonald had Bob Nicol join in on his lessons. When Brown died in 1972, Jimmy then went to Nicol.

Jimmy McIntosh won all the major solo piping competitions. He won the Gold Medal at Oban in 1978 (with The Big Spree) and at Inverness in 1971 (with Tulloch Ard) and in 1974 was the winner of the very first Glenfiddich, which in those days was called the Grants Piping Championship. Years later, in 2002, he was awarded the Balvenie Medal for services to piping.

It was in 1973 when Jimmy first experienced teaching abroad after Seumas MacNeill had asked him to be part of the College of Piping’s summer school in Timmins, Ontario.

Around this time, Murray Henderson, who had been going to Jimmy for a few years, went into reed-making business with him. In the mid-1970s, Jimmy was elected as the first President of the Competing Pipers’ Association. Malcolm MacRae was elected as Vice-President, Hugh MacCallum Secretary and Tom Speirs Treasurer.

Jimmy with students Mike Cusack, Jack Less, Al McMullin, Amy Garson and Peter Kent.
Jimmy with students Mike Cusack, Jack Lee, Al McMullin, Amy Garson and Peter Kent.

Jimmy emigrated to the US in 1982 and set up a piping concern. He had a huge and immediate impact on piping there are in North America as a whole. Many of his pupils there bccame very successful in their own right, pipers such as Mike Cusack, Jack Lee, Amy Garson (who, in 1988, became the first woman to play at the Glenfiddich), Bruce Gandy, Nick Hudson and others. During his early time in the States, Jimmy was elected President of the Eatern United States Pipe Band Association and put in place an eficient and thorough review of its judging and competing processes.

In 1985, he assumed the position of director of the pipe band at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Piping had been part of campus life there since 1939. The position included oveseeing the university’s move to have the instrument as a legitimate major in its Conservatory of Music.

Jimmy’s book.

Prior to this, no opportunities existed anywhere in the world to study piping at a bachelor’s degree level.

Alasdair Gillies succeeded Jimmy and in turn, Andrew Carlisle, the current Director, succeeded Alasdair.

Jimmy was awarded an MBE in 1994 for services to piping. In 2014 he pubished Ceol Mor – In the Balmoral Tradition.

In an interview published in the March 2014 Piping Times, Jimmy said he’d like to be remembered as some who tried to help people all his life. “I don’t think I ever refused to help a person needing or asking help with piping. I have never been motivated by money in teaching piping. I am considerate of other peoples’ feelings and try not to offend others.

“As a mentor to young people, I got results through respectfulness, never through fear, abuse, or physical response. I always told the boys to be gentlemen, and the girls to be ladies, and to take pride in themselves and make good choices. I would like to be remembered as a good teacher, and as a credit to my own teachers, and to Scotland. I have always tried to be a good husband and father, to be an honest man, and a gentleman. It would be my desire to be remembered as such.”

We extend our sincere condolences to wife, Joyce and all the family at this sad time.