By Jeannie Campbell MBE

In 1949, competitors for the Open Piobaireachd had to offer four tunes, The End of the Great Bridge, Lament for MacDonald’s Tutor, Scarce of Fishing and The Vaunting. For the Gold Medal no tunes were listed but for the Northern Meeting Gold Medal the requirement was for three own choice plus Lament for the Old Sword, Clan Campbells’ Gathering and The Little Spree.

The Gathering opened on September 24. There were numerous holidaymakers in the town and they were augmented by members of county families wearing their clan tartans. The Third Training Flotilla of the Royal Navy were present, too. A large crowd watched the destroyer Creole with the three frigates – Loch Fada, Loch Arkaig and Loch Tralaig and the submarine Trenchant from Londonderry – under the command of Captain D. F. G. M. Macintyre, anchor in Oban Bay. The senior officers paid a courtesy visit to the municipal buildings, where Provost Wm. Hunter welcomed them. The Duke of Argyll and the Duchess were present at the opening piping competition.

The Scotsman on September 25 reported: ‘Cameron Highlander Wins Piping Award’. This was Sgt. R. MacKay who was awarded the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal. Another soldier, Pipe Major A. MacAulay (Lovat Scouts) was second, with Sgt. Charles D. Scott of the Glasgow Police Pipe Band third and Pipe Major Donald MacLean (Seaforth Highlanders, Fort George) fourth.

The procession from Argyll Square to the games field was led by 40 pipers and headed by the Duke of Argyll, president of the gathering and the Gathering stewards. The ball attended by 600 people, continued until an early hour that morning.

The full results for 1949 were:

Piobaireachd, the Gold Medal – 1. Sgt. R.MacKay (Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay); 2. Pipe Major Angus MacAulay (Glengarry’s March); 3. Charles D.Scott (The End of the Great Bridge); 4. Pipe Major Donald MacLeod (The Vaunting).
Open Piobaireachd – 1. Pipe Major John MacLellan (The Vaunting); 2. Donald MacPherson (The Vaunting); 3. Robert Reid (The Vaunting); 4. Sgt. R. MacKay (Scarce of Fishing).
March. 1. Pipe Major Donald MacLean (Lewis); 2. Sgt. MacKay, 3. Pipe Major Donald MacLeod; 4. Pipe Major John MacLellan; 5. R. Forbes.
Strathspey and Reel. 1. Angus MacAulay; 2. Pipe Major J. McGrady; 3.Sgt. R. MacKay; 4. Pipe Major John MacKenzie; 5. Charles D. Scott.
March, Strathspey and Reel – 1. Ronald MacCallum; 2. John Garroway; 3. J. B. Robertson.
Jigs. 1. Sgt R. MacKay; 2. Angus MacAulay; 3. Pipe Major Donald MacLeod.  

Donald MacLeod and ‘Big’ Donald MacLean.

Donald MacLeod was born in Stornoway, Lewis in 1916. His first teachers were his father and John Morrison of Assynt House, followed by William Ross and then John MacDonald Inverness for 25 years. He joined the Seaforth Highlanders in 1937 and was Pipe Major from 1941-63, at the Depot 1941-42 then 7th Seaforths 1942-46. He was captured with 51st Highland Division but escaped and rejoined the regiment. He was with the 9th Training Batt. from 1946-47 then the Instructor for the Highland Brigade and Depot 1948-57 then the Highland Brigade and Junior Soldiers wing from 1957-62.

After his retirement from the army he settled in Glasgow and became a partner in Grainger and Campbell bagpipe makers. At the Northern Meeting he won the Gold Medal in 1947 and the Clasp eight times (in 1948, 1949, 1952, 1955, 1959, 1961, 1962 and 1964). He won the Jig at the Northern Meeting 10 times, six of them with his own compositions. He made many recordings and published six books of mainly light music, containing many of his own compositions and one book of his own piobaireachd compositions. Donald died in Glasgow in 1982.

Sgt. MacKay was featured in the Piping Times: “The winner of one of the two most coveted awards in piping last month, Pipe Sergeant Robert MacKay, is a small but sturdily built young man, with a friendly smile and an engaging personality. For no apparent reason he is known to all his friends as ‘Mickey’, which seems to suit him better than any of the possible variations of his baptismal name. Mickey, surprisingly enough, was neither born in the shadows of the frowning bens of Alba nor cradled in the big city of Glasgow. This year’s medallist is a Fifer, born in Lochgelly, Fife, and taught piping there by his father from the time he was eight years old. This may not be the first time that a Fifer has carried off the premier award, but it certainly is the first occasion on which a Scottish international footballer has won a first prize at Oban.

Robert ‘Mickey’ MacKay.

Mickey played in the amateur internationals about 15 years ago, and many thousands of people will probably remember him better as the former outside right of Raith Rovers. It is a sure sign of genius when a man shows himself to be outstanding in two distinct spheres of activity. His success is also perhaps evidence that in view of the considerable physical effort required to blow a set of bagpipes it is a decided advantage to be an athlete as well as a musician.

“His piping career is inexplicably bound up with his army service, for he joined up at the age of 17. During the war he saw service on many fronts, having taken part in campaigns in North Africa, Greece, Italy and France. He became pipe major of the 5th Scottish Parachute Battalion and is probably more familiar with parachute jumps than he is with piping competitions. He even had the unique experience of landing in France complete with bagpipes. He is at present with the 1st Battalion of the Cameron Highlanders, and has been stationed at Inverness for some time. He has passed the Pipe Major’s six month course at Edinburgh Castle under Willie Ross, and has for the past two years been studying under John MacDonald of Inverness. Like all premier prizewinners, he has had to work hard for his laurels, even although this is only his third year of competition. Almost every day for the week before Oban Games he visited John MacDonald for the final polishing so necessary in order to produce the little extra which makes the difference.

“It is evidence of his all-round ability that he won a prize in every event for which he entered, and was the only piper this year to do so. In addition to the Gold Medal, he was fourth in the open piobaireachd, first for jigs, second for marches and third for strathspeys and reels. This month he sails for Tripoli to join his battalion there, and he will assuredly take with him the good wishes of the many friends he has made during his relatively few years of competitive piping. We look forward to hearing him again soon, although never again will he need to compete for the Oban Gold Medal.” Mickey MacKay went on to win the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1952.

In January 1950, Oban and District hotel and Boarding House Association asked the Scottish Tourist Board for assistance in an endeavour to extend the west highland season another week or fortnight. The stewards of the Argyllshire Gathering were urged to postpone the Argyllshire Gathering to a later date in September in order to encourage later holiday bookings. In May, newspapers announced: “The Argyllshire Gathering of 1950 will be held at Oban, and will consist of Piobaireachd competitions on Wednesday, 13th September, and Highland Games and the Members’ Ball on Thursday, 14th September.”

The Piping Times’ report is worth repeating: “The first of the two classics opened in Drimvargie Drill Hall, Oban, on Wednesday, 13th September, with the Gold Medal contest. Each competitor submitted six pieces, any one of which he might be asked to play. First prize was the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal and £12.  The other prizes were £8, £5, £3, and £2 respectively.     

The Piping Times first appeared in 1948.

“To Charles Scott fell the unenviable task of setting the ball rolling, and his Lament for Patrick Og MacCrimmon, though a fine tune, only broke the ice. It is doubtful if the first competitor will ever win the medal. L/Cpl. George Thomson’s MacLeod of Raasay was a bit rushed and was spoiled by redundant A’s in the taorluath and crunluath. Pipe Major George Stoddart, with the Finger Lock, and James MacColl with The King’s Taxes, both started as ifthe medal was theirs, but unfortunately broke down. Cpl. W. MacDonald also broke down. His Lament for the Children was a pedestrian performance. The chief feature of his playing, however, was the way he holds his pipes. Never have I seen such an awkward stranglehold as the pipes have on him. The nearest description heard was that he looks like a man playing the pipes on the top deck of a crowded bus while many people are rushing off and on.

“Thomas Pearston came on next and played MacNab’s Salute in excellent fashion. Perhaps he could have had a little more repose in the urlar and more indication of a change from one variation to the next, but this effort was obviously well up the prize list. Ronald MacCallum repeated his last year’s performance with The Earl of Seaforth, except that he did not make the slip which cost him the medal. John H. Leigh, a newcomer to the competition, has good ideas, but his fingers were a bit slow in putting them across. He was followed by John Garroway, who got My King has Landed in Moidart and played it as if Moidart was a most unpleasant place for anyone to land in. This, for John, was a disappointing tune, for although it was of high merit, there were one or two technical weaknesses which we do not expect from such a fine piper.

“Stewart Salmond, the most improved player in recent years, made a reasonable job of The Gathering of Clan Chattan, but a lofty disdain for details can only be tolerated in genius, and Stewart isn’t quite that yet. He made G gracenotes for D in the urlar, and his throw from C to B was a casual attempt. He would do well to listen to Pearston or John C. Johnstone making that movement. The latter, in fact, was the nearest to technical perfection, but his MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart was very even and I am sure he rested too long on the C before the throw on C in the singlings.

“Donald MacLean of Lewis gave an excellent interpretation of Isobel MacKay, but had a slip in the urlar. William Connell, making his first appearance at Oban, gave us a splendid maiden tune, MacGregors’ Salute. He may have missed an odd taorluath and crunluath on D,but this was a very good show. It is a pity that he always seems to be blowing pipes which are far too strong for him.

“The Blue Ribbon, from Donald MacLean of Glasgow, was in Donald’s usual style – a careful performance and very enjoyable. Pipe Major McGrady played The Big Spree with a flat low G and a reed liable to stick and squeal, which handicaps were too much.

“After lunch, Cpl. Forbes inflicted on us the most horrible tuning notes I have ever heard, before beginning MacLeod of Raasay. Unfortunately, he made a slip in the urlar. R. Henderson was another who was unfortunate in his instrument. His Corrienessan’s Salute was slow and laboured, but a double­toned drone brought about his downfall.

“Third last to play appeared John Burgess, in his first major event. From the moment he started In Praise of Morag, it was obvious that this was the medal tune. His throws may have been a little light to begin with, but as he warmed to the task he played faultlessly.

A teenage John Burgess (centre) surrounded by some big names in piping. This photograph was taken at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1950. John won the Gold Medal that year, the youngest ever winner. From left to right: John Finlay, Charles D. Scott, William Connell, Donald MacLean (Lewis) John Burgess, George Stoddart, J. McGrady, R. Henderson

“Neville MacKay had the misfortune to play next, and though his pipes sounded flat after the previous immaculate instrument, he made quite a good job of MacKay’s Banner. His doublings of high A were inaudible, and his taorluaths were too heavy, but the heaviness in the crunluaths was very effective. Duncan Lamont finished the contest with Pibroch of Donald Dhu and was going very well until he made a slip.”

Results: 1. John Burgess; 2. Thomas Pearston; 3. Ronald MacCallum; 4. John
Garroway; 5. William Connell.

The judges were Archie Kenneth, Maxwell MacDonald of Largie, and James Campbell. There were 20 entries.

For the Open Piobaireachd, which began at 4.00p.m. on the same  day, competitors  had to be prepared to play any one of the four following pieces: Mary’s Praise, Lament for Ronald MacDonald  of Morar, MacIntosh’s Lament, and the Nameless tune (No. 65 of the Kilberry Collection). The first prize was the Shirvan Cup and £12, the other prizes being £8, £5, and £2. The judges were D. Graham Campbell, C. D. MacTaggart, and J. Hector Ross.

The PT report continued: “The playing this time was of a higher standard, with some very fine performances, although again there were a number of breakdowns. Chief interest lay in whether or not John Burgess could repeat Donald MacPherson’s feat of 1948 by winning both events on the same day, but   in the end it was Donald MacPherson himself who prevented a repetition of the achievement.

“John Burgess played the Nameless tune beautifully, but some of his throws were so rapid that they were definitely suspect. The quality of the high G and the excellence of his D taorluaths alone would have made his playing outstanding. The descents from high G and high A to low A produced a suspicion of occasional ‘chips’, and he made a slip in line two of the taorluath singling.

A rare photograph of the 1950 Argyllshire Gathering. It is, however, difficult to make out who the two pipers and the judge are, although the piper on the boards may be John Finlay.

“Donald MacPherson, playing immediately afterwards, gave the same effortless rendering of MacIntosh’s Lament as we heard from him on the radio in August. His fingers appear to be even stronger than last year, and his taorluaths and crunluaths are an education.

“The same might be said of the technical work of James B. Robertson, who gave us Mary’s Praise in fine style. His pipes, however, were going out a bit before the end. Johnny Johnston also made a fine job of MacIntosh’s Lament, although one squeal detracted from his close attention to correct execution.

“John Garroway gave a fine interpretation of the Nameless tune and for uncritical enjoyment this was much superior to the morning’s tune. Ronald MacCallum also turned in a first-class rendering of MacIntosh’s Lament, and in fact made it good enough to place himself in the select category of those who score twice on the same day. Several others played very well, but had technical faults or slips which ruled them out of the prize list.”

Results: 1. Donald MacPherson; 2. John Burgess; 3. Ronald MacCallum; 4. John. C. Johnston.

An informal 6/8 March contest was held in the evening. The winners were: 1. Pipe Major McGrady (The High Island); 2, James B. Robertson (Dr. MacPhail); 3, Cpl. Forbes (Leaving Port Askaig).

After a night of torrential rain, the weather improved shortly for the march to the games field. The Duke of Argyll, who attended with his daughter, Lady Jeanne Campbell, took his place as president of the Gathering with the other stewards: the Captain of Dunstaffnage, and Lieut.-Col. George Malcolm of Poltalloch., Brigadier Sir Bruce A. Campbell of Arduaine, J. Graham-Campbell of Shirvan, Ian A. Fletcher of Dunans, and T.H.L. MacDonald of Barguillean. Sixty pipers playing The Campbells are Coming led the march to the games field.

The Piping Times reported as follows: “To most people, of course, the second day at Oban, when the Games proper are held, is the more interesting. Almost invariably the sun shines on the scene, and even in this, the wettest September for 30 years, the weather, though mixed, was quite good. Two very heavy showers interrupted the events, but otherwise we were able to enjoy ourselves to the full.

“The March and Strathspey and Reel events attracted entries of 24 and 28 respectively, and were run as usual concurrently. A short leet consisting of Duncan Lamont, John Burgess, Donald MacPherson, Cpl. Forbes, William Connell and Pipe Major George Stoddart was chosen in the Marches event, and these competitors then played again – this time the tune chosen from their list of six being played twice over. The placings and tunes were as follows: l. John Burgess, Bonnie Anne and Blackmount Forest; 2. Donald MacPherson, Charles Edward Hope de Vere and Blackmount Forest; 3. Cpl. Forbes, MacLean of Pennycross and Parker’s Welcome; 4. William Connell, Highland Wedding and Glengarry Gathering; 5. Pipe Major George Stoddart.

Two Oban stalwarts; James Campbell (Kilberry) and Archie Kenneth.

“In the Strathspey and Reel event for the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society Star, the short leet consisted of R. Henderson, James MacColl, Donald MacPherson, Thomas Pearston, Charles D. Scott, Donald MacLean (Lewis), and Seumas MacNeill. In the play-off, tunes were played twice over and the awards  were as follows: l. James MacColl, John Roy Stewart and John Morrison of Assynt House, then Caledonian Canal and Alick MacGregor; 2. Charles Scott, Bob of Fettercairn and John MacKechnie, then Cameronian Rant and The Sheepwife; 3. Donald MacPherson, Caledonian Society and Mrs. MacPherson of Inveran, then Cabar Feidh and The Rejected Suitor; 4, Seumas MacNeill, Maggie Cameron and The Man from Glengarry then Lady Louden and The Rejected Suitor; 5. Thomas Pearston, Delvinside and Mrs MacPherson of Inveran, then Blair Drummond and Thomson’s Dirk.

“The playing on the whole was of a high standard, in spite of a strong wind which on occasions unsettled the pipers. J. A. Anderson, James Campbell and J. Hector Ross picked the short leet for the Marches and made the final placings in the Strathspey and Reel, while A. G. Kenneth, D. Graham Campbell and W. Gordon, Kilmartin, chose the last seven in the Strathspey and Reel and made the decision in the Marches.

“This event, confined to former  first prize winners in either of the two foregoing contests, attracted eight entrants: James B. Robertson, Ronald MacCallum, and John Garroway, who have won both events previously, and Charles Scott, the two Donald MacLeans, Seumas MacNeill and Pipe Major M’Grady, who are previous winners of the March. This severe test, the playing of a march, strathspey and reel (each tune twice over) from a list of 18 tunes, was made more difficult in some cases by heavy showers. A real downpour began as Seumas MacNeill began to play, but did not affect his playing to any extent. When he finished his selection, however, he and the judges and Ronald MacCallum coming out to compete, appeared to be the only people inside the arena. The boards had to be swept clear of water after Ronald. The standard of playing was nevertheless quite good, the prizewinners particularly giving very fine performances.”

Results: 1. James B. Robertson, Leaving Glenurquhart, Piper’s Bonnet, John MacKechnie; 2. Donald MacLean, Lewis, Stirlingshire Militia, Arniston Castle, Man from Glengarry; 3. John Garroway, The Marchioness of Tullibardine, Shepherd’s Crook, The Flagon.
Local Piping: March – 1. Nicol MacCallum, Lochgilphead; 2. Arthur G. Gillies, Dalavich; 3. Ian N. Ferguson, Kilmichael Glassary.
Strathspey and Reel – 1. Nicol MacCallum; 2. Arthur G. Gillies; 3. Ian Ferguson.
The judges in this event were J. H. Ross, D. Graham Campbell and W. Gordon.

George Stoddart was born in Leith in 1912. He served with the Royal Scots Fusiliers and was Pipe Major 1939 to 1944 then became Pipe Major of the 5th Parachute Regiment 1944-46, Liverpool Scottish1946-47, 5th Parachute Regiment1947-49, Lowland Brigade Depot1949-59 and 8th Royal Scots 1959-61.He was the first lone piper at the Edinburgh Tattoo. He died in Edinburgh 1990.

James MacColl was from Shotts. He immigrated to California shortly after 1953.

William Connell was born in Glasgow in 1931 and began piping at the age of 14. He met Robert Reid at the Scottish Pipers’ Association meetings and at the age of 16 went to work for him to learn pipe making. During the following years he had reg­ular instruction from Reid and became a successful solo competi­tor, winning the Clasp at the Northern Meeting in 1957. In addi­tion to solo piping he played with and was pipe major of various bands. In 1973 he immigrated to Canada where he worked for a pharmaceutical company in London, Ontario. He died in 2008.

John Burgess set a new record in 1950, becoming, at the age of 16, the youngest Gold Medal winner. Not only that, but he went on to make it a double by winning the Gold at the Northern Meeting.

John Davie Burgess was born in Aberdeen in 1934 but grew up in Edinburgh. His father taught him originally then James Gordon then Pipe Major William Ross. He served for three years with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders (1952-55) then in 1955 joined the Edinburgh Police and was Pipe Major in 1956. He was Pipe Major QOH TA 1963-65. John later played with the Invergordon Distillery band from 1965 then became the schools piping instructor for the area. At the Northern Meeting, in addition to the Gold Medal in 1950, he won the Strathspey and Reel in 1950, the Former Winners MSR in 1951 and 1956 and the March in 1953. He made several recordings and was awarded the MBE in 1988. He died in Inverness in 2005.

Neville MacKay was born in New Zealand in 1925. In 1949 he became a steward on a boat to get to Scotland. After early tuition in New Zealand he had further tuition in London from J. B. Robertson and in Scotland from John MacDonald of Inverness, Bob Brown and Bob Nicol. He joined the Inverness Police then the Aberdeen Police but returned to New Zealand in late 1953 where he was employed as personnel for Air New Zealand. He returned to Britain and was personnel manager for British Airways until his retirement. He moved to Edinburgh in 2000 and died in 2001.

Arthur Gillies in later years.

Arthur Gardiner Gillies was born in Stirling in 1934. His early tuition was from his uncle then he had further tuition from the Lawrie family and Ronald Lawrie in Oban 1948 to 1952 then Donald MacLean, Lewis, 1952 to 1954 then later from Archie Kenneth. He was a member of the 8th Argylls TA band 1952 to 1954 and later played with or was Pipe Major of several other bands. At the Northern Meeting he won the Strathspey and Reel in 1973. He worked as a joiner and later worked as a turbine operator at the Cruachan Hydro Electric Power station until he retired. He died in Glasgow in 2003.

Cpl. W. MacDonald was probably William MacDonald, a right-shouldered player, born in Glasgow in 1927 but brought up in Benbecula where Lachlan Ban MacCormick taught him. He enlisted as a teenager and served with the H.L.I. until 1958 then with the Camerons 1958-63. He won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1965 and the Clasp in 1967. He died in Inverness in 2010.

• To be continued.

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• Part 21