Many names in piping are just that to most of us: names. Quoted by so and so from such and such. I pride myself on having a very good knowledge of the history of the Highland Bagpipe and its culture but I must admit Pipe Major Evan Macrae BEM was one individual that I did not know much about.
Born on the Black Isle in Inverness-shire and brought up in Sleat, Isle of Skye, Evan Macrae would come from humble beginnings to be a respected soldier, Pipe Major and teacher. Over the Chindwin to Lochaber is a memoir written by him in 1981 and released now in 2021 by his son, Duncan who compiled and edited the book. During the period Evan worked on his memoirs, he spent time in hospital having surgery on his back. Whether or not this was linked to the cancer that eventually took his life we are not made aware.
The life of Evan Macrae is detailed here in this book in a most charming manner. I managed to finish the book inside of three hours as I couldn’t put it down. Not because of any juicy murders or licentious behaviour but purely because of the honesty, casual manner of speaking and friendliness of the writer. Clocking in at 180+ pages of memoir and some added information about Evan’s competing and composing career, Over the Chindwin to Lochaber won’t eat up as much of your time as Bill Livingstone’s Preposterous, tales to follow but you will feel the time as well spent.
From Skye to Bombay, the Second World War in Burma to the dockyards of Liverpool we follow Evan’s illustrious career in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders: the pipers he trained with, the pipers he trained, the engagements they played at, including the very first Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Luminary figures such as Pipe Major Willie Ross, Pipe Major John MacDonald MBE, Pipe Major Donald MacLeod MBE and Captain John MacLellan MBE all pop up and leave their light marks upon Evan’s life.
The loss of friends in combat as well as the joy of new life, are all detailed within. If I have any last remark about how much I enjoyed this book it is this; I think I would’ve liked to have been a friend of Evan Macrae. If you do buy this book I think you’ll feel the same way, too.
* Dan Nevans is a full-time Piping Teacher at The National Piping Centre. He is a music graduate from the BA Applied Music at the University of Strathclyde. As well as being a familiar face around Scotland’s solo piping circuit, Dan plays with Glasgow Police Pipe Band, having previously been a member of Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia and Vale of Atholl.