The history of the Argyllshire Gathering, part 17

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1933-1934

By Jeannie Campbell MBE

In 1933 the usual advertisements appeared in the usual newspapers during August ahead of the Gathering on September 13 and 14. Accommodation at hotels and boarding houses was taxed to the utmost. The Duke of Argyll, chieftain of the gathering, was not present this year. The Captain of Dunstaffnage, Maclachlan of Maclachlan, Sir Ian Malcolm, and Colonel Lloyd of Minard headed the procession to the games field. The ‘Special Correspondent’ from The Scotsman, on September 14 commented: “The Argyllshire Gathering is renowned for its pipers and its piping, and, as usual, the Open Piobaireachd contests were the main event of the first day, and of nearly the whole day, too. Sometimes the piper changed and sometimes the tune, but to the untrained ear it all sounded pretty much the same.

“The pibroch, which I have heard described as the sonata of the pipes, is right above the heads of most of us, but it is not above Argyllshire heads. Hour after hour men sat with keen, intent faces, as if ready at any moment to pounce upon a smirred note or a false value. Here the pibroch is indeed the ‘great music.’ Here it is the pibroch that counts, not the march, or strathspey and reel that set the toes twitching and the feet tapping. The pibroch is a solemn thing, a very solemn thing, from the slow pacing of the piper to that lingering note of sadness, which seems to tell of ‘old, unhappy far-off things, and battles long ago.’

Malcolm R. Macpherson. He played the Earl of Seaforth’s Salute to win the Gold Medal.

“I am told that the pibroch can be descriptive of almost anything, that it may be lament, salute, battle, march, or a celebration of almost any event. Either it was the sadder times which appealed to the competitors today or I have even less of an ear for the pibroch than I had thought. To me it all sounded one long drawn out lament, but then I am not a Highlander and perhaps one must be a Highlander to break down the almost impenetrable barriers of the pibroch’s reserve. Though a great outing for the pibroch, the opening day of this gathering is not so notable on the athletic side as the second day.”

The results of the piping events on the first day were:

Open Ceòl Mòr – 1. Pipe Major Robert Reid 7th H. L. I.); 2. Charles D. Scott (Glasgow Police); 3. Malcolm R. Macpherson (Invershin).
Ceòl Mòr (for the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal) – 1. Malcolm R. Macpherson; 2. Philip Melville (Glasgow); 3. Owen MacNiven (Paisley); 4. Pipe Major Lewis F. Beaton (Twickenham).
Ceòl Mòr (for the Piobaireachd Society Prizes) – 1. Pipe Major J. Robertson (2nd Scots Guards); 2. Pipe Major Forrest; 3, George Moss (Achnacarry).
Jigs – 1. Pipe Corporal A. Thomson (Cameron Highlanders); 2. David Ross (Rosehall); 3. R. U. Brown (Balmoral).

The second and concluding day of the Gathering was held in sunshine in the games field at Dalintart. The march of the clansmen the field was led by Colonel Ian Campbell of Airds, Colonel Lloyd of Minard, J. Graham Campbell, yr. of Shirvan, and 60 pipers. Chief interest centred in the heavy open events, in which Scotland’s most noted athletes competed. Thousands of spectators from all parts watched the sports.

The results of the piping events on the second day were:

Marches, Strathspeys and Reels – 1. Pipe Major J. Robertson (2nd Scots Guards); 2. Pipe Major Robert Reid; 3. Pipe Major D. R. MacLennan (Seaforth Highlanders).
Marches – 1. Charles D. Scott; 2. Owen MacNiven; 3. Pipe Corporal MacCallum (8th A. and S. H.); 4. R. B. Nicol; 5. David Ross.
Strathspeys and Reels – 1. Lance Corporal R. MacCallum (8th A. and S. H.); 2. Pipe Cpl. A. Thomson (Cameron Highlanders); 3. Charles D. Scott; 4. Owen MacNiven; 5. Peter C. MacCallum (8th A. and S.H).
Marches (Local) – 1. Archie MacNab (Ardfern); 2. John Scoular (Ardchattan); 3. Donald F. Ross (Lochgilphead).
Strathspeys and Reels (Local) – 1. Donald F. Ross; 2. Archie MacNab; 3. Neil C. MacLean.

Donald F. Ross was born in Lochgilphead, the son of a doctor, and he too became a doctor, and worked in Africa for many years. He was killed in a car accident in 1973.

Archie MacNab was born in 1918 in Craignish, Argyll and was educated in Glasgow where he was Pipe Major of the Hillhead High School Pipe Band. He was a piper with the Glasgow Police 1937-38 then served with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders from 1939-45, rising to the rank of Major. He had a government post in Trieste then managed a hotel in Islay before becoming the Scottish representative for Shell. He won the Northern Meeting Gold Medal in 1938. He died at Epsom, England in 1980.

Archie MacNab with Hillhead High School. Photograph taken in 1933.

In 1934 the games and balls on the Gathering were on September 12 and 13. The Gaelic Concert, with Colonel Bruce Campbell of Arduaine as Chairman, took place as usual on the evening prior to the Gathering. The first day opened in bright sunshine. The Duke of Argyll was not present this year.

The Oban Times reported in detail on the piping events on the first day of the Gathering. The reporter was not named but whoever he was his comments were interesting: “The first competition on Wednesday consisted of the Open Piobaireachd for prizes presented by the Piobaireachd Society and the Argyllshire Gathering, and out of 21 entries 16 competitors took part. Piper Malcolm MacPherson, Invershin, who was placed [sic] first, played the Earl of Seaforth’s Salute and the same piobaireachd was given by Piper John Wilson, Edinburgh, who secured secondplace. The veteran Pipe­ Major John MacDonald, M.B.E., Inverness, who was third, played The Blue Ribbon. There waslittle to choose between the first two, both of whom gave tuneful perform­ances. Pipe Major MacDonald marred his otherwise fine performance by one of two slips. Mention should also be made of Pipe Major Charles Smith, 2nd  Black Watch, whose  tune was My King has Landed in Moidart, and Pipe Major Robert Reid, Glasgow, who gave The Blue Ribbon, although neither of these players was in his usual form. With the exception of the first three, the standard was not so high as is generally shown in this competition.

The 1934 Argyllshire Gathering. The photograph is of poor quality and it is virtually impossible to make out the identity of the piper competing on the platform.

Gold Medal Competition. In the piobaireachd competition for the Highland Society of London’s gold medal and prizes presented by the Argyllshire Gathering, there were 29 entries, and of that number 24 players competed. With such a large number taking part, the competition lasted for five hours. Pipe Major Smith Black Watch, was placed first for his rendering of My King has Landed in Moidart. The playing of this competitor was not inspiring but he gave what might be described as ‘a very correct performance’. Piper Angus Campbell, Lochboisdale, a comparatively new player at Oban, was second for his rendering of The Blue Ribbon, giving a very musical performance. Piper Campbell is a pupil of Pipe Major John MacDonald, Inverness having attended that distinguished player’s classes at Daliburgh, South Uist. The third prize was awarded to Piper Owen MacNiven, Paisley, who gave MacLeod of Raasay. MacNiven did not bring out the full song in the ground, but the latter part of his tune was particularly well rendered. Corporal Peter Bain of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards, gained the fourth prize for his rendering of The Battle of Strome. His performance was good, but it lacked the fire that ought to be associated with a battle.

Some Promising Players. A number of the other competitors are worthy of mention. Lance Corporal J. MacGrady, 1st Batt. H.L.I., gave I Got a Kiss of the King’s Hand very creditably, apart from some minor errors. A notable new competitor at Oban was Piper Malcolm Walker, Lovat Scouts, another of Pipe Major John MacDonald’s South Uist pupils. He played the Bells of Perth, but unfortunately lost the thread of his tune and broke down. He is, however, a very promising player and with experience should come well to the front. Pipe Major Angus Macaulay, Lovat Scouts, rendered The Finger Lock. Through an oversight he omitted to play the first half of the second bar of the ground, rather an unusual occurrence for an experienced player. Apart from this lapse he might have been in the prize list.

Twins James and Helen Campbell of Kilberry. Photograph taken at the 1934 Gathering. They made a joint first appearance at the balls that year.

“Piper George S. Cockburn, Edinburgh, was also pretty near the prize list with a correct though somewhat dull performance of the Prince’s Salute. Piper Angus MacQuarrie, Lovat Scouts, another member of the South Uist piping school, was handicapped by a very much over-used  set of reeds. His tune was Patrick Òg MacCrimmon’s Lament. He was apt to drag outthe piece, but otherwise he gave a very good performance, which was full of expression. Piper T. D. Reid, who gave the Lament for the Only Son, also performed well, but he also was inclined to make the ground of the tune too slow. The same observation applies to Piper Victor R. MacLeod, Edinburgh, whose variations were unduly slow. On the whole the standard in this section was quite up to the average.

The Younger Pipers: In this competition the first place was taken by Pipe Major J. Johnston, Cameron Highlanders, who gave a very musical performance in his rendering of The Battle of Strome. The second and third prize winners were respectively Pipe Major G. Greenfield Royal Scots and Corporal R. Brown, 2nd Black Watch.

Jigs – l.  Piper John Wilson, Edinburgh; 2. Piper R. Nicol, Balmoral; 3. Lance Corporal Ronald MacCallum.”

The reporter from The Scotsman, obviously preferred the light music. He wrote: “The piping today, being almost entirely confined to marches, strathspeys, and reels, was more cheerful to the average ear than is the piobaireachd, and formed lively background of music for for the athletic events. Incidentally, an interesting illustration of the manner in which players of the bagpipes carry knowledge of the instrument into the farther spaces of the British Empire was seen in the winning by Piper Peter Davidson, New Zealand, of the first prize and the Argyllshire Gathering Silver Medal for strathspeys and reels. To find the reason why a piper from the other side of the world — Piper Davidson is a native of New Zealand, in this country on holiday — wins highest honour in such an event, competing against the best pipers in Scotland, we must go back to another fine piper, George Yardley, who won the Argyllshire Gathering Gold Medal for piping and the premier awards for piping both at Oban and Inverness in 1911. George Yardley taught Piper Davidson, and Piper Davidson is the piobaireachd champion of New Zealand. And thus the classic music of the bagpipes is handed from champion to champion, and the piobaireachd makes a chain binding one part of the Empire to another.”

The second and concluding day was held in bright sunshine yesterday. The march to the games field headed by the gathering stewards and 60 pipers playing The Campbells Are Coming. The attendance was greater than the previous day.

The results were:

Marches – 1. Donald F. Ross (Lochgilphead); 2. Pipe Major G. A. Greenfield (The Royal Scots); 3.Lance Corporal J. McGrady (1st Battalion Highland Light Infantry); 4. Pipe Major Angus MacAulay (Lovat Scouts); 5. Owen MacNiven.
Strathspeys and Reels – 1. Peter Davidson (New Zealand); 2. Peter C. MacCallum (8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders); 3. Lance Corporal J. McGrady; 4. Corporal Peter Bain (1st Battalion Scots Guards); 5. Pipe Corporal A. Thomson (Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders).

Peter Davidson from Dunedin, New Zealand made history by being the first overseas winner at the Argyllshire Gathering.

James McGrady was born in Glasgow in 1912 or 13. He served with the 1st Batt. H. L. I. from the 1930s until the early 1950s. He won the Northern Meeting Gold Medal in 1938.

Angus MacAulay was born in 1902 at Peniloddan on Benbecula. He served with the Territorial Army from after the First World War and was Pipe Major of the Lovat Scouts from 1933-39. He was in business in London then in 1936 took over the bagpipe making business of Donald Munro in London. He immigrated to New Zealand in 1952 to become the instructor and Pipe Major of the Whangarei Pipe Band and worked as a shop manager in Menswear. He was awarded the MBE in 1993 and died in 1995 at Whangarei, New Zealand.

Angus MacQuarrie was born in 1908 at Lochboisdale, South Uist. He served for eight years in the Lovat Scouts under Pipe Major Willie Ross. He was employed as a civil defence warden. He died in Glasgow in 1943.

J. Johnston, Cameron Highlanders, is probably James Johnstone who was Pipe Major from 1933 to 1937 and died in 1939.

General Frank Richardson judging in 1946.
General Frank Richardson.

Frank MacLean Richardson (1904-1996) graduated in medicine and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1927, rising to the rank of Major General. He was an amateur piper, learning firstly at Glenalmond College and later having tuition from Willie Ross, Robert Reid and John Macdonald of Inverness. He began judging in 1933 and over the following years he judged at both the Argyllshire Gathering and the Northern Meeting. In the book Piobaireachd and Its Interpretation, which he wrote jointly with Seumas MacNeill, General Richardson included some reminiscences of judging at the Argyllshire Gathering. He wrote: “In the easy going days before the war, before today’s pressure of entrants had built up, one grew accustomed to everything getting a bit delayed. For pipers to be late turning up, for judges to be kept waiting, was all part of the “Highlandness” of the occasion. When God made time he made plenty of it, and all that. This attitude slightly affected even the Northern Meeting; but never – no never the Argyllshire Gathering. At Oban the pipers appeared on time, shepherded by boys and young men, sons of local lairds, who had each been made responsible for knowing their men and flushing them out of the corners in which pipes were being tuned. One of the many ‘Willie Ross Stories’ related how in a train returning from Oban he remarked: ‘Say what you like about Campbells’ (and I am assured that no one had said anything about them), ‘Say what you like about Campbells, they are at least efficient.’

“The march to the Games at Oban was enough to put the Argyllshire Gathering in a class by itself. The local chiefs with MacCailean Mor at their head were in front, the judges at the back, immediately in front of an all-star pipe band – the competitors. I am afraid that we in the rear rank did not always behave with due decorum. We sometimes turned round trying to make the front rank of pipers laugh – making steady blowing impossible. In one press photograph of the time I can identify myself doing just that; and I remember that worse was to follow. Standing by the roadside was a youngish lady, hopelessly improperly dressed for Oban, but just right for Paris. She was indeed a Parisienne, as we found after Dr. Jock Simpson, linking arms, had drawn her into the solemn ranks, in which she marched with us to the Games ground – no doubt avoiding paying her entry money. Thank goodness the Duke of Argyll knew nothing of all this; and once the business began, we judges were as sober as judges are proverbially credited with being.”

The stewards heading to the field on the opening day in 1934 – L-R: Maclachlan of Maclachlan, the Captain of Dunstaffnage, Colonel Bruce Campbell of Arduinne, MacDonald of Dunach and Captain G. I. Campbell yr of Succouth heading the procession.

• To be continued.

• Part 1
• Part 2
• Part 3
• Part 4
• Part 5
• Part 6
• Part 7
• Part 8
• Part 9
• Part 10
• Part 11
• Part 12
• Part 13
• Part 14
• Part 15
• Part 16