Jimmy McIntosh, who has just died, will be remembered as a major authority on piobaireachd. Yet, as many will know, Jimmy was quite late coming to the art. He only started to compete seriously when he was in his 40s. He was deeply appreciative of Robert Bell Nicol and Robert Urquhart Brown, the so-called Bobs of Balmoral for taking him on, Brown firstly, at such a relatively late age.
This is probably why Jimmy himself was encouraging and patient with late comers in piping. He remained faithful to the teachings of ‘the Bobs’ with his pupils. However, he competed in solo piping for only a relatively short period, retiring in 1978 after a suspected heart attack, a decision he later regretted.
Jimmy wasn’t shy in embracing modern technology and last July members of the Piobaireachd Society enjoyed listening to him talk via ‘zoom’ on timing and expression. Indeed, until only recently, Jimmy was still playing two or three tunes each day on a full set of pipes. He said last summer, just before he completed his memoirs: “I never recorded my life and find it difficult to go in reverse and try now to remember things. I did go back and check with copies of the Piping Times and this helped. I want to include some meaningful historical piping material but hopefully might interest the younger generation. I am still doing some teaching to keep my mind active and still enjoy it.” He also hoped to visit Scotland again this year.
Speaking to Piping Times editor, Stuart Letford, in 2017, Jimmy said: “I did not realise I influenced so many people but I am very happy that I did. I have spent my life working for piping and it has been a great life.”
Many words have already been spoken and written about Jimmy since his passing, with more to come in the days ahead. In the meantime, we are grateful to Malcolm McRae, Ian Duncan and Derek Midgley for sharing the following thoughts and memories of Jimmy:
Malcolm McRae: “I first went to Bob Brown in 1967, and after my first lesson he suggested I team up with Jim McIntosh, who had commenced going to him not long before. Bob mentioned the desirability of two learning together, for the same reason King George V had sent him and Nicol together to John MacDonald of Inverness – ‘One might forget; two won’t’.
“I was living in Hamilton, Lanarkshire, at the time (sharing a house with Donald Bain, from New Zealand, his wife Alice, and their two sons Donald and Calum. Donald Bain had taught Murray Henderson. Murray was to come to Scotland six years later). I had a car with my job, and I used to drive to Broughty Ferry on a Saturday, stay overnight with Jim and his first wife Isobel (now deceased) and the children, and on the Sunday Jim and I would drive to Balmoral by way of Glenshee, leave the car at the roadside near the footbridge over the Dee, walk through the pine forest to the Garbh Allt Shiel, the handsome granite house where Bob and his wife Annie lived. Then it was singing and piping until late at night, then back to the car and a sometimes wild ride back to Broughty Ferry, and then me alone back to Hamilton, arriving in the early hours of the morning, a few hours’ sleep, then off to the office in Glasgow for Monday morning. Oh, to be young again!
“Despite his years of tuition from others over many years, it was Bob Brown’s insistence on learning the ‘song’ of the tune by singing that most impressed Jim. That, together with the concept of scansion, seemed to be something that Jim had not encountered previously. He took to Bob’s teaching like a duck to water, and competitive piping became a way of life for him thereafter. It was the inspiration he derived from Bob’s tuition that, in turn, enabled Jim to teach so successfully.
“Jim helped me greatly in those years. At one stage he lent me a set of Robertson drones that he had played as a boy piper in the Camerons – cheap mounts and nothing to look at – but infinitely superior to the silver and ivory drones I had been struggling with.
“He made excellent reeds; one chanter reed I had from him in the 1970s I played for several years. It was the only reed I played for practice as well as for competition. The cane was brown rather than white, and the reed (and others he made) tended to flatten on the top hand with blowing, which made for remarkable stability. I last saw Jimmy in Scotland in 2019.
“All those who have benefited from Jim’s teaching are indeed fortunate, and piping – particularly in USA – owes him a great debt of gratitude.”
Ian Duncan: “I was glad to have been with him in Delaware and Pittsburgh in 2019. He sat in the audience but on both evenings while chatting with him at dinner he remembered every aspect of every tune. Every flaw in technique and errors. He was as sharp as a tack. At the age of 95!
“In 1975, I think it was, he was the first full time bagpipe teacher for Dundee’s state schools. When he left, Willie Grieve took over for a short time. In 1979, when the post became available again, the council turned to Jimmy for advice. Luckily, he recommended me. It wasn’t hard to prise me away from the mathematics class! I remained in the post for 33 years.”
Jimmy, of course, was the first President of the Competing Pipers’ Association. Its current President, Derek Midgley, said: “Jimmy McIntosh was a giant in the piping community. He was a man of firsts who continued working for the betterment of pipers until his passing.
“From his time in the army to winning the first Glenfiddich, to being the first President of the Competing Pipers’ Association, to moving to the United States and reforming and revitalising the entire eastern seaboard of American piping, he served his fellow and future pipers wherever he went.
“He was not only a great player but a great person as well. He affected us all through his vast musical knowledge, his many students who carry on his teachings, and plethora of institutional reforms. With his passing, piobaireachd lost one of its direct links to Bob Brown and Bob Nicol of Balmoral. The bagpipe community is poorer for it.”