CLASP profile: Hector Thomson


Hector Thomson is the latest member of the Competition League for Amateur Solo Pipers (CLASP) to be profiled.

• Where are you from and how did you get into piping?
I was born in Selkirk on the night of the Common Riding* so I was born with pipe bands ringing in my lugs. I moved to Ireland when I was two, settled in Dundonald in Ayrshire when I was four and left Scotland when I was 16 to become a Scots Guards piper. I returned to Scotland in 2015. I had given up playing due to an injured right hand but was inspired to play again after watching the wonderful Andrew Shilliday overcome his injuries.

• Is there anything you can’t leave home without?
Bagpipes – although there are probably quite a few piping judges that will disagree with me.

• What’s your most memorable performance you’ve taken part in either band or solo?
As a Scots Guards Piper, I had a ball doing the Royal Edinburgh MilitaryTattoo, Trooping the Colour, The Royal Tournament and spreading whisky-fuelled piping mayhem across the globe. These were great days that I look back on with fond pride. I had the honour to play the pipes for Tom Gilzean’s funeral a couple of years ago. The streets of Edinburgh were lined to say farewell to the heroic Scots Sapper who raised millions for charity.

• Who has been the biggest influence on your piping?
I have had four great piping influences in my life. My greatest piping influence was my first piping teacher, Willie Cameron of Troon. Willie’s character, humour and gift of making piping fun for kids inspired hundreds of us across Scotland. Willie’s had virtually a 100% success rate at teaching kids the pipes. There is hardly a Grade 2 or Grade 1 band that hasn’t benefited from one of his pupils. Willie never charged for his tuition. It was done out of his unquenchable love of piping. 

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My second influence was Roddy Morrison who was an incredible friend and piping teacher to me. Roddy was a gifted player from the great Morrison piping family of Locheynort in South Uist. Roddy helped rehabilitate me for over a year after I was robbed of my memory from a road accident. He helped me play again against all the odds. I have a love and debt of gratitude to both of these wonderful men, which I can never repay.

Chris Armstrong is next. Chris has worked wonders with me getting me back into solos after a 30 year sabbatical. I stopped playing the pipes due to my right hand being crushed. Chris is a genius and loves a challenge and he certainly gets that with me.

Willie Morrison.

My last great influence and inspiration is Willie Morrison of Locheynort, South Uist. I first heard Willie play in the beer tent at Cowal when I was eight years old. Willie had swept the boards that day and was cheered on to play by everyone in the beer tent. When he struck up it was like being struck by lightning. It was truly magical! I had never heard a piper inject so much musicality and love into all his tunes. You could have heard a pin drop as the whole tent was enthralled by Willie’s effortless genius. Every time Willie tried to stop, the crowd bayed for more and Willie dutifully obliged.

Willie Cameron, Roddy and Willie Morrison would play for hours in my house. They inspired and influenced so many pipers with their dazzling ability and love of their music. These times are so precious to me.

•  Any humorous piping anecdotes you can relate to the readers (keep it clean!)?
After my Scots Guards audition, I was asked by the piping panel who my favourite piper was? Without hesitation I roared, “Willie Morrison!”

“Perhaps maybe a more regimental piper?” the Scots Guard Officer urged.

“No! It’s definitely Willie Morrison!” I assured the panel.

The officer nodded over to the legendary Scots Guards Pipe Major, Angus MacDonald MBE who was present.

“Perhaps, you may want to reconsider … for your career’s sake, Thomson?”

“No, it’s definitely Willie Morrison!” 

Pipe Major Angus MacDonald slapped the table and laughed out loud: “Ah’m with Hector! Willie Morrison is a wonderful player!”

Angus always gave me a wink when we met or when he’d finished playing. “Still Willie Morrison, Hector?”

I would always nod back with a smile, “Oh aye, Willie Morrison, sir!”

•  What’s your favourite destination, either for a holiday or a piping trip?
For pipe bands and heavy lubrication amongst friends old and new, my favourite piping place is the Worlds at Glasgow Green. I love all the CLASP competitions for the friendship and social side. I can’t recommend the CLASP competitions highly enough. They are superbly run. You get the very best of feedback from the finest of judges and there’s a warm and friendly environment among competitors. Thanks to the CLASP I am back playing and loving my piping again. If you’ve not tried it, give it ago. You won’t regret it.

Hector piping at Tom Gilzean’s funeral in Edinburgh in 2019.

• Favourite piece of music – any music?
My favourite MSR is Lord Alexander Kennedy, Inveraray Castle and Mrs MacPherson of Inveran. My favourite 6/8 is Lily Christie. 9/8 Entry Into Crater. 3/4 Torosay Castle. Jig John Patterson’s Mare. Hornpipe The Mason’s Apron and, of course, I love Hector the Hero!

• Favourite piobaireachd?
Pipe Major Donald MacLeod’s Lament for the Iolaire. Staggeringly beautiful.

• Was piping something you wanted to do from an early age?
I wasn’t a willing pupil by any stretch of the imagination. My dad made me go, as way of keeping me out of trouble. I fell in love with piping because my teacher Willie Cameron injected so much fun into every lesson and competition. His company and love of piping got me hooked and it has stayed with me for life.

• Do you recall the very first piping competition you competed in?
Willie Cameron entered me into my first competition, the chanter competition at the Cumnock and Galloway Championships. I was ten, too young to be nervous. I was on first and played my 2/4 march, The Highland Immigrant. I sat down and listened to all of the players. It was a really large entry as the Cumnock and Galloway Championship was a huge competition and Ayrshire was at its zenith for young pipers during the 70s. Probably by luck more than anything, I managed to win. By the celebrations in my house, you would have thought I had won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting!

Thank you, Hector!

* The Selkirk Common Riding is a celebration of the history and traditions of the lowland town. Held annually in June, the ceremony is one of the oldest in the area and commemorates how, after the disastrous Battle of Flodden in 1513, from the 80 men that left the town, only one returned bearing a captured English flag. Legend has it that he cast the flag about his head to indicate that all the other men of Selkirk had been cut down.