By Jeannie Campbell MBE
In 1956 the tunes for the Open competition were Nameless (Book 8), The End of the Little Bridge, The Daughter’s Lament, Craigellachie, Lament for the Duke of Hamilton, The Red Speckled Bull, The Stewarts’ White Banner and Lament for The Harp Tree, from which four were to be submitted. For the Gold Medal, competitors at Inverness were to submit four from a list of ten tunes but the notice stated that this did not relate to the Argyllshire Gathering Gold Medal competition.
Iain Fletcher, H. L. MacDonald, Major Sir Charles MacLean Bt., D. Graham-Campbell, Brigadier Iain Stewart and Michael Noble led the march to the Games field. For the first time since the Gathering was founded in 1871 women played a part in the traditional games as country dancers.
Archie Kenneth wrote the 1956 report for the Piping Times: “Gold Medal. This competition was marked by dragged tunes and a lack of phrasing in most performances. However, accuracy predominated and there were few breakdowns; and, if there was little distinction there were no tunes with nothing to commend them. It may be said that the result came as a surprise to many of the audience, but the judges’ task was not an enviable one.
“There were too many bad chanters and drones off, and it may be noted that the closed high G was bad – or worse in some cases. Ronnie MacCallum showed us what this note should sound like in the Open, and Pitkeathly also had a good High G – at least to my ear, again in the Open. I think it worth mentioning that several competitors, in the Crunluath singling, dwelt an inordinate time on the note before three note cadences. As Donald MacPherson has pointed out in the Piping Times, these notes should be played only very slightly stressed, if at all. Another fault noticed was the timing of the Crunluath breabach. Granted there is more than one style of treating this movement, surely the melody note must predominate over the others. Incidentally, a curiosity noted in one tune at Oban was an inconsistency of timing as between the singling and doubling of this movement.
“… [Willie] Connell played MacSwan correctly enough on a rather poor pipe without distinction. [John] Garroway’s Prince’s Salute was in parts musical but the variations were not strung together and the ground weak. Hector MacFadyen made a good shot at Siubhal Sheumais. Heavier double echoes in the ground, and slower fingered grips in Variation 1 and doubling, would improve his rendering. His crunluath a-mach was badly timed. MacDougall also made a good attempt at a heavy tune, one of the set pieces for the Open, the nameless Cherede darievea. He might consider giving a touch more time to the cadence E before the double echoes on D. Seumas MacNeill played that pleasant tune The Battle of Sheriffmuir in good style. This was an excellent tune, perhaps the thumb and dithis singling were a bit slow; but a serious error in his crunluath singling may have kept him out of the prize list.
Donald Morrison’s End of the Great Bridge was very disappointing for a piper of his known ability The whole thing was much too slow and his inside out timing of the Ground, Thumb and Variation 1, while it is pleasant enough in some tunes, is surely proved wrong here by Variation 1 which cries out for the orthodox treatment. Donald MacLennan played the Earl of Seaforth and was awarded the Medal. There was some pleasant playing here and everyone must have been delighted that such a consistently good performer won the Medal. Peter MacLeod played Maol Donn without the thumb variation. This is permissible according to Angus MacKay; but in any event the tune dragged and the crunluath fosgailte notes rushed.
“[Bert] Barron showed promise and good fingering but dragged his tune and didn’t string it together. He played the Little Spree. J. C. Johnston played MacKay’s Banner without much expression in the ground and with inconsistent treatment of cadences in his Variation singlings. These points detracted from an otherwise steady and correct tune. [Kenny] MacDonald played the Groat in very promising style but again much too slow. My remark about pre-cadence pauses in crunluath singling applies here. Duncan Lamont was musical but had too many technical faults. He played Too Long in this Condition. [Ronnie] Lawrie had the same trick as K. MacDonald in his crunluath singling. His Ground was dragged and his crunluath a mach badly timed, but the rest of his tune – Waternish was very pleasing. Iain MacFadyen played the Battle of the Pass of Crieff, as far as I know correctly and in my opinion very well. Perhaps his ground may have been too fast for some tastes and he did not play a crunluath a-mach; but I certainly thought he made a good and musical job of this tune and that he was value for a place. [George] Stoddart played the Only Son. Ground thumb and doubling quite nice but the rest very rushed. Young stopped almost before he had started: the sniff we had of him sounded promising.
Duncan MacFadyen’s Blue Ribbon showed encouraging improvement on his last year’s playing. The least attractive parts of his tune were the ground and the variations before the Taorluath. These might have been phrased and timed better. He played no a-mach. It may not be essential in this tune but is certainly usual.
“Finlay MacNeill played Patrick Òg on a rather bad pipe. His ground and doubling seemed not very well phrased and the tune as a whole correct but without much feeling. John MacFadyen’s Battle of Auldearn was efficient, rather slow and uninspiring yet it hung together. On the whole, he made a tune of it. His High G was a shade sharp. [Andrew] Pitkeathly played The Bells of Perth. His note to B in the ground was less than clear and he started his Variation 1 – to my mind – much too fast, but apart from these points his playing showed some class.
“The Open Event. Those who sat through this competition were rewarded by hearing four first-rate performances of tunes all too seldom heard. Donald MacPherson played the Stewarts’ White Banner in inspiring style, and won. Donald MacLeod made a good job of the very sweet and very long- Lament for the Harp Tree; this is the first time I have been lucky enough to hear this magnificent tune played in competition. Ronald MacCallum gave a splendid performance of the difficult nameless tune – the best I ever heard him play; it was an admirable performance. Last of this distinguished quartet was Pitkeathly. His style of the Daughter’s Lament I heard described as somewhat ponderous. I must say that I personally was much impressed; the tune is a most touching lament and was played in a manner that suited its content admirably.
“… Jigs. A brief comment on the Jig competition may not be out of place. The prizewinners – Donald MacLeod, Iain MacFadyen and K. MacDonald – probably earned their places but there were some other performances which deserve mention. In particular, Donald MacLennan’s rendering of The Foxhunter, played well and with life and spirit. Slightly unsteady time prevented him from taking a prize; all the same it was good to hear a fine old tune played so well. Donald MacPherson, MacKenzie and Pitkeathly also played good jigs: but on the whole it wouldn’t be unfair to say that unsteady time was the rule rather than the exception in this competition.
“It is always a pleasure to me to listen to a jig competition. So many of the tunes have the charm of melody, or at least, of novelty. But may I make a plea for the 9/8 jig? Too many pipers seem to be unaware of the fact that there are good jigs in 9/8 time well worthy of inclusion in their lists.”
The results for 1956 on the Wednesday were:
Ceòl Mòr (Gold Medal) – 1. Donald R. MacLennan, North Berwick (Earl of Seaforth’s Salute); 2. Donald A. Morrison, Aberdeen (End of the Great Bridge). 3. Finlay MacNeill, Seaforth Highlanders (Lament for Patrick Òg MacCrimmon);4. Willie Connell Jr., Glasgow, (Lament for MacSwan of Roaig); 5. Pipe Major Andrew Pitkeathly, 1st A and SH (The Bells of Perth).
Ceòl Mòr (The Kenneth Cup) – 1. Donald MacPherson, Alexandria (The Stewarts’ White Banner);2. Pipe Major Donald MacLeod, Seaforth Highlanders (Lament for the Harp Tree); 3. Pipe Major Ronald MacCallum, 8th A and SH (Nameless, Cherede Darievea);4. Pipe Major Andrew Pitkeathly, 1st A and SH (The Daughter’s Lament).
Jigs – 1. Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. 2. Iain MacFadyen, Cardonald. 3. Kenneth MacDonald, Glasgow.
On Thursday the results at the Games were:
Marches (The Argyllshire Gathering Silver Medal) – 1. Pipe Major Andrew Pitkeathly; 2. John M. MacKenzie, Campbeltown and Rhodesia; 3. Hector MacFadyen, Pennyghael; 4. Iain MacFadyen; 5. Kenneth MacDonald.
Strathspeys and Reels, The Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society’s Star – 1. John M. MacKenzie; 2. Kenneth MacDonald. 3. Pipe Major Donald MacLeod; 4. Ronald Lawrie, City of Glasgow Police; 5. R. T. MacKay, Edinburgh.
March, Strathspey and Reel (Former Winners) – 1. Donald MacPherson; 2. Ronald Lawrie; 3. P/M Ronald MacCallum.
Marches (Local). 1. D. Henderson, Acharacle. 2. Hugh M. Macdougall, Glasgow.
Strathspey and Reels (Local), The Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society’s Miniature Star – 1. D. Henderson.
Kenneth MacDonald was born in 1939 in Glasgow to Tiree parents. His father taught him then Peter MacFarquhar then Roderick MacDonald. At the Northern Meeting he won the Strathspey and Reel in 1962 and the Gold Medal in 1963. He died in Glasgow in 2010.
In 1957 there were ten set tunes for the Open Piobaireachd, of which four were to be submitted. The prizes were £12, £8, £5, £2. In the Gold Medal the requirement was for competitors to submit six tunes of their own choice. The prizes were £12, £8, £5, £3, and a fifth prize of £2 if 20 or more entrants competed. There were 32 entries but six did not play.
The Gold Medal began at 9.30am in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Drill Hall in Drimvargie. The Open event followed at approximately 5.00pm in the same hall. At the conclusion if time permitted there was to be a hornpipe competition for prizes of £4, £2 and £1. This took place with nine playing. The judges for this were James Campbell, Dugald Graham-Campbell and David Murray.
James Campbell wrote about the competitions for the Piping Times: “I was a judge of one of the competitions about which I write and these notes, written without reference to my fellow judges, must not be regarded as any sort of official pronouncement.
“The chief impression which the Oban competitions produced was of the startling proportion of inaccurate tunes which were heard. So far as the open competition is concerned, this can be attributed to an insufficient digestion of unfamiliar tunes, but in the Gold Medal Competition the tunes are taken from lists of the competitors’ own choice, and it should normally be expected that at the conclusion of the competition the judges will be left with a fair proportion of accurate performances from which to select the prize list. This was certainly the case in the Inverness Gold Medal competition, in which the general standard as much higher. At Oban, however, the potential prizewinners were few. Not that the playing of all those who excluded themselves was bad – far from it. From the point of view of an audience who comes to be entertained, there was plenty, which was worth listening to.
For example, Ronald Lawrie played the MacNabs’ Gathering well but omitted the doubling of his 2nd Variation. Iain MacFadyen gave a much-improved rendering of Mary’s Praise, but left out his thumb doubling. Thomas Pearston made an enterprising attack on the Lament for the Earl of Antrim, but broke down in the doubling of his taorluath. Wm. Connell made a good job of the elusive Blind Piper’s Obstinacy, but left a chunk out of his penultimate variation. These four players were all conspicuously free from the reproach of slow playing in their grounds and non-stereotyped variations, a fault which was apt to intrude itself in a number of worthy performances heard at Oban. Some of the playing labelled as ‘slow’ by any individual may fairly be placed in the ‘no man’s land’ where personal taste can legitimately operate, but there must come a point when an adjudicator can with confidence condemn a performance as too slow, and that point was reached all too often in the Oban Competitions.
“The boundaries of slow and fast playing are impossible to define, and if the more common tendency at the moment is towards the slow it must not be forgotten that an excess of speed can be equally destructive of the balance of a ground, as was demonstrated by Pipe Major MacLeod’s playing of The MacDougalls’ Gathering at Inverness. This distinguished piper will, I hope, excuse me for singling him out for criticism in an article which is not primarily concerned with the playing at Inverness, but the point is of such general interest and importance that one seeks the most striking example at hand in order to bring it home.
“The Open Competition attracted 18 entries of whom 13 played. There were ten set tunes, of which four had to be submitted. The tunes were short and, with one or two exceptions, difficult to play. Strangely enough the easiest of the ten tunes, the Lament for the Castle of Dunyveg, was not submitted by any competitor at Oban or Inverness. The Sister’s Lament appeared in only two lists at the two meetings but this, having regard to the difficulty of the tune, is less surprising. The other eight tunes found equal favour with the competitors. Of the first six competitors in the Open Competition at Oban, only Ronald MacCallum showed any sufficient grasp of his tune to be considered as a candidate for a prize, and he handicapped himself by omitting a bar in his ground. Thereafter the standard of playing improved considerably. Donald MacLeod made an excellent job of The Flame of Wrath to win the first prize. William MacDonald, who was second, played The Groat well, if a little lacking in punch in the doublings of his variations.
“Kenneth MacDonald, with the easier Lament for Captain MacDougall, was third. This was a careful and commendable performance which to my mind was much marred by the timing on the crunluath breabach with the emphasis thrown onto the low A at the expense of the theme note. In this connection it is suggested that those who seek guidance in the handling of the crunluath breabach from the way in which it is printed in the Kilberry book, should do so with reference to the explanatory note which appears at page 19 of the introduction.
“… In the Gold Medal Competition, John MacLellan gained a deserved victory with MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute. He seemed to be deliberately holding back the time in the ground and thumb in order to effect a contrast of speed in the variations, and though this treatment may not ordinarily be to everybody’s taste there was no doubting its effectiveness on this occasion, and the tune as a whole hung together well. His pipes and execution left nothing to be desired, and the same can be said about the second prize winner, John MacFadyen, who played The Battle of Auldearn. This tune too was carefully conceived but the overall impression was less favourable, due, it is thought, to an insufficient contrast in time between the singlings and doublings of the variations.
“Seumas MacNeill, who was third, played Siubhal Sheumais well, slightly slow in the ground, but steadily in the variations. His crunluath note was apt to stick (it was an early morning tune) and as a matter of taste it is suggested that he might consider playing the grace note combinations in the 1st Variation a bit ‘heavier’. Fourth was John MacDougall who, with the disadvantage of playing first, was rather slow and laboured throughout the Earl of Seaforth’s Salute’, though he showed that he had the music in him.
“Duncan MacFadyen was fifth with a workman-like performance of a difficult tune Lady Margaret MacDonald’s Salute in the latter stages of which he was battling against the handicap of his drones going off.”
The results were:
Ceòl Mòr (The Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal) – 1. R.S.M. John MacLellan, Seaforth Highlanders; 2. John MacFadyen, Glasgow; 3. Seumas MacNeill, Glasgow; 4. John MacDougall, Bucksburn; 5. Duncan MacFadyen, Glasgow.
Ceòl Mòr (The Kenneth Cup) – 1. Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. 2. William M. MacDonald, Inverness. 3. Kenneth MacDonald. 4. Willie Connell.
Hornpipes. 1. 1. R.S.M. John MacLellan (Jacky Tar);2. Pipe Major Donald MacLeod (Dr MacInnes’ Fancy); 3. James Young, Edinburgh (Willie McKillop).
The results on the second day were:
Marches (TheRoyal Scottish Pipers’ Society’s Star) – 1. R.S.M. John MacLellan; 2. Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. 3. James MacGregor, Alyth. 4. Lewis A. Turrell, New Zealand. 5. William Connell.
Strathspeys and Reels (TheArgyllshire Gathering Silver Medal) – 1. Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. 2. James Young. 3. Cpl. D. Rodden, Black Watch. 4. Sgt. K. Roe, Scots Guards. 5. A/Cpl. A. MacDonald, 1st Bn. The Scots Guards.
March, Strathspey and Reel (Former Winners) – 1. Ronnie Lawrie. 2. Pipe Major Donald Morrison. 3. Pipe Major Ronnie MacCallum.
Marches (Local),The Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society’s Miniature Star – 1. Piper R. MacDonald, 8th Bn. A. & S.H. 2. L Cpl. J. Henderson, 8th Bn. A. & S.H. 3. Ian MacDonald, Dunoon.
Strathspeys and Reels (Local) – 1. Piper R. MacDonald; 2. Ian MacDonald; 3. L/Cpl. J. Henderson.
Pipe Major Robert A Barron was Bert Barron, born 1926 in Dundee, who was Pipe Major of the Black Watch during World War Two and had 36 years service with the Territorial Army. He was the Piping Instructor at Madras College in Dundee, St Andrews University OTC, RAF Leuchars, and Strathallan School. He was awarded the BEM. He died in 1996 in St Andrews.
James Young was born in 1929 at Carstairs. He was taught by his father and by his uncle, Pipe Major William Young. During the 1950s Jimmy played with the Edinburgh Police band. He was an engineer with British Rail after National Service with the Royal Scots then with NCR in Edinburgh. He lived in the USA from 1961-2 then worked as an insurance salesman in Perth. Then from 1965-8 he was in South Africa working in the accounts office of a mining company and was Pipe Major of the 1st Bn. Transvaal Scottish. On returning to Scotland he worked for NCR in Stirling. Jimmy was Pipe Major of the 153 (Highland) Regiment, Royal Corps of Transport from 1971-1974. He was an piping instructor at the College of Piping from 1996 to June 2005. Although he never won the Gold Medal he was placed second four times. At the Northern Meeting he won the Strathspey and Reel in 1957 and the March in 1961. He died in Cumbernauld in 2017.
John MacDougall was born in Aberdeen in 1936. He began piping with the Boys’ Brigade then the Bucksburn band, aged 13. He had tuition from Pipe Major D Duncan and Robert U. Brown. Following his National Service he was with the Camerons from 1958-60 under Pipe Major Evan MacRae then he had one year with the Edinburgh Police before returning to Bucksburn. Later, he played with Invergordon Distillery. John was a printer by trade. From 1973 to 2001 he was the schools Piping Instructor in Badenoch and Strathspey District. At the Northern Meeting he won the Gold Medal in 1960 and the Clasp in 1978. He died in 2016 at Kincraig.
Kenneth James MacLean was born in Glasgow in 1932 and was taught at the College of Piping, continuing afterwards to teach evening classes there for 60 years. By profession he had a computer systems business and later became a schools instructor in Ayrshire.
Frederick Stewart Sandeman was born in Edinburgh in 1893 and was a cousin of the Sandeman family noted for their wine and spirit business. He spent some time in Canada but returned to Scotland to enlist in 1914. He served firstly as a Corporal with the Army Service Corps before being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on October 21, 1915 and then transferring to the 6th Cameron Highlanders. At Ypres he was taken prisoner on August 1, 1917 and spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp before being repatriated on December 1, 1918. Fred was awarded the Military Cross. In 1926 he settled in Rhodesia as a farmer. One of several return visits to Scotland was in 1957 when he attended many of the Highland Games. In Rhodesia he made several bagpipes as a hobby, including one made entirely from ivory. Fred died in Rhodesia in 1976.
Angus MacDonald was born in Glasgow in 1938. His father Alexander MacDonald was a piper with the Glasgow Police. When Angus was nine his mother died so he was sent to the Queen Victoria School where he had tuition from George Sanderson. Angus became the school’s boy Pipe Major. He joined the Scots Guards as a boy piper in 1953 and had further tuition from John and Kenneth Roe, Alex MacDonald (the King’s piper) and John A. MacLellan. He was appointed Pipe Major in 1965 and served until 1983. He was awarded an MBE. After leaving the army he worked with Grainger and Campbell bagpipe makers (1984-6) then as an instructor at the College of Piping (1988), Piping Instructor in Oman (1988-89) then the College of Piping from 1990-96, moving to the Piping Centre (1996-99). Angus played with British Caledonian Airways from 1974-90, Glencorse from 1990-93 and Callander and District from 1994-99. He won numerous prizes including the Clasp at the Northern Meeting in 1982 and the Former Winners’ MSR in 1975, 1978 and 1979. He composed many tunes and published two collections. Angus died in Edinburgh in 1999.
Lewis Turrell was born in Wanganui, New Zealand in 1935 but moved to Auckland when aged eight and later to Wellington. After tuition from Bill Kennedy, George MacLennan and Bill Boyd he moved to Scotland in 1957 and had tuition from Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. He won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1958. Lewis later returned to New Zealand where he played with several bands including the City of Wellington as Pipe Major. He was Queen’s Piper in New Zealand and in 1982 was awarded the MBE for services to piping. He died in 2011.
Robert Liddle Kilgour was born in Edinburgh in 1924. He started piping as a boy then joined the Scots Guards in 1944. He was PM of the 2nd Battalion 1962-1966. He was awarded the MBE. After the army he worked in the Civil Service for 11 years then worked with his brother George making bagpipes from 1977 until in 1979 he went to Denmark where he lived until 2003, working in a theatre and teaching piping in Denmark and Sweden. He died in Edinburgh in 2017.
James MacGregor was born at Balmoral in 1915. He had tuition from R. B. Nicol, John MacDonald (Inverness) and Willie Ross (1939). He was Pipe Major of the 5th/7th Gordon Highlanders during the Second World War. James – Jimmy – was Piper to the Royal Family from 1931 and after the war until 1955, then Piper to the Earl of Airlie 1955-65. He also had a small shop. He was the piping instructor at Glenalmond College from 1969-85. At the Northern Meeting he won the March in 1973 and the Gold Medal in1974. He died at Blairgowrie in 1991.
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