The history of the Argyllshire Gathering, part 29

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1960-1961

By Jeannie Campbell MBE

At the Argyllshire Gathering in 1960, as in previous years, tunes were set for the Open competition but not for the Gold Medal. Four out of the nine were to be submitted. The tunes were The Prince’s Salute, Scarce of Fishing, The Blue Ribbon, The End of the Great Bridge, The Finger Lock, John Garve MacLeod of Raasay’s Lament, In Praise of Morag, Mary’s Praise and The Vaunting.

There were so many competitors on the first day that there was no time for the March competition in the evening. One critic calculated that if all who had entered in the ceòl mòr competitions had actually competed, the events would have finished about four o’clock the following morning. In fact, the ceòl mòr finished close to midnight.

John MacFadyen pictured at Oban in 1960.

The Piping Times reported that “the Gold Medal produced a disappointing standard, with one outstanding tune, and a great deal that was no better than mediocre. The winning tune was played by John MacFadyen … John has several times in the past come close to winning this prize, but he left no doubts about it this time with a masterly rendering of Black Donald’s March. He showed by his expression, technique and control of the tempo of the variations that he is indeed a master of ceòl mòr. In particular, his fingering of the crunluath and the crunluath a-mach variations was a lesson to old and young alike.

“… Chief interest in the Open competition centred on the return of Donald MacPherson to competing piping, and when it came his turn to play the hall was packed with an expectant audience. The piece chosen for him was Mary’s Praise and it was only a minute or two before everyone realised that the old magic of the instrument had not vanished … his performance was a real masterpiece.

“The result caused the biggest sensation in piping since the Northern Meeting in 1956. Expert pipers who had listened attentively to the proceedings were quite bewildered, and kept seeking reassurance from one another long after the result had been announced.

“The winner of the competition was young Hugh MacCallum of Campbeltown who is a member of the famous MacCallum piping family. His winning tune was In Praise of Morag, and certainly all who heard it agreed that he gave promise of a distinguished piping career. Second prize went to John MacDougall whose Scarce of Fishing was a little disappointing when one knows the brilliance of which this young man is capable. Third prize went to Donald MacPherson, and fourth to Iain MacFadyen who played the same tune and who, if a majority vote had been taken, would have gained second prize. It is quite strange, incidentally, that at Inverness shortly afterwards the placing in the Open Piobaireachd event was first, Donald MacPherson, second, Iain MacFadyen.

“As usual the Campbell luck held for the games, and a glorious day of sunshine made this an excellent spectacle for everyone. The chief prize-winner was Ronnie Lawrie who captured first in the March, Strathspey and Reel for former winners. This was an excellent competition with no one breaking down and a very high standard throughout. In the other events Sergeant Angus MacDonald was the outstanding competitor and carried off first prize in both the March and the Strathspey and Reel.  Many others played well, and altogether a good day’s piping was enjoyed. A good deal of sympathy was felt for Allan Dodd who got into the short leet of the March competition, but unfortunately broke down. This was quite hard lines in view of his impended departure.”

The full results were:

Gold Medal – 1. John MacFadyen; 2. Donald Morrison; 3. Ronnie Lawrie; 4. Jimmy Young; 5. John Graham.
Open – 1. Hugh A. MacCallum; 2. John MacDougall; 3. Donald MacPherson; 4. lain MacFadyen.
March, Strathspey and Reel – 1.Ronald Lawrie; 2. Pipe­ Major John MacLellan; 3. Donald Morrison.
March – 1. Sgt. Angus MacDonald; 2. John Graham; 3. Hector MacFadyen; 4. Hugh MacCallum; 5. lain MacFadyen.
Strathspey and Reel – 1. Sgt. Angus MacDonald; 2. John MacDougall; 3. Hugh MacCallum; 4. John MacFadyen; 5. John Graham.

In the 1961 Gold Medal competition, the Piping Times report stated: “First prize was awarded to Ronald Lawrie for a very fine rendering of MacDougalls’ Gathering on an instrument which was without doubt one of the best in the competition. Ronnie is, of course, a native of Oban, which made his success all the more popular, although he is now one of the mainstays of the Glasgow Police pipe band. This well-deserved honour was the culmination of a very successful year’s competing and is in fact a good example of how to reach the heights in piping. Our best congratulations on a fine effort.

“Runner-up is always an invidious position,” reported the Piping Times “but no doubt once the first prize in the competition has been announced every competitor except one wants to be runner-up. The honour this time fell to Sgt. William MacDonald of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, who gave a pleasing performance with The Big Spree. Willie has been playing very well indeed this year, and although his tune lacked perhaps the fire in it that might have carried it to the top, it was obviously well up on everybody’s list.

‘Neil MacEachern of Islay (now resident in Shotts) was placed third with an enjoyable rendering of Cille Chriosd, while George Lumsden of Edinburgh received fourth prize for his Piper’s Warning to his Master. This latter tune was one which we enjoyed very much indeed, being clearly and intelligently played on a very good pipe.”

The judges in the Gold Medal were J. Graham Campbell of Shirvan, James Campbell of Kilberry and Captain D. R. MacLennan. The results were:

1. – Ronnie Lawrie; 2. Sgt. Wm. MacDonald, 4/5 Cameron Highlanders; 3. Neil MacEachern; 4. George Lumsden, Edinburgh; 5. Thomas Pearston, Glasgow.

The Open event was held in the evening, and an exciting competition it turned out to be. The stage was all set with two competitors, Donald MacPherson and John MacLellan each requiring only one more wins to make the trophy his own. To make the picture complete, Donald MacPherson was appearing for his first competition of the season.

Pipe Major Donald MacLeod pictured in 1961 at Oban.

“The competition got off to a good start with John MacFadyen playing Mrs. Smith’s Salute, at rather a cracking pace for him. There were, unfortunately, the usual number of breakdowns, and mistakes without breakdowns, due no doubt to the unusual tunes which had been set. Notable among these was Donald MacPherson himself who went off The Gathering of the MacNabs in the last variation. Good performances were put in however by Queen’s Own Highlanders’ Pipe Majors Donald MacLeod and John MacLellan, and when the battle was over, Donald MacLeod with The Lament for the Laird of Annapool was preferred to John MacLellan with The Battle of Bealach nam Bròg.  This now adds Donald MacLeod to the list of those who have won the event twice before, and it looks as if the Kenneth Cup has little chance of surviving after 1962.”

The omission of James MacColl, home on a short visit from Los Angeles, from the prize list, was quite a mystery to those who heard the competition. His tune was Welcome Johnnie and not only was it flawless it was also very enjoyable to hear.

The judges of the event were J. P. Grant of Rothiemurchus, Charles D. MacTaggart and Major Archie MacNab.

Oban was fortunate in the day chosen for the games at the field, and although one or two showers helped to keep the dust down, on the whole, the sun shone and spirits were high. The Piping Times, like most of the piping fraternity objected to what was a recent practice of holding three events simultaneously. Formerly, the March, Strathspey and Reel for Former Winners was held in the afternoon, commencing at 1.00p.m. By that time the March, and the Strathspey and Reel events had been completed. “Nowadays, it’s a mad rush for about three hours, and then the piping is finished. None of the competitors hear very much of anything, and the piping enthusiasts in the audience can hear one event and the locals for the price of their admission. It’s almost like being a supporter member of the College of Piping – you don’t get very much for your money.”

The competition for former winners was reportedly a very good one, with ten competitors all giving high class performances. The judges were J. Graham Campbell of Shirvan, Charles D. MacTaggart and Captain J. Maxwell MacDonald of Largie, and the results were: 1. Pipe Major Donald MacLeod; 2. Seumas MacNeill; 3. Donald Macpherson.

The March, and the Strathspey and Reel competitions produced a most unusual result in that four pipers were awarded prizes in both events. Usually the lists are quite different, but this year they were almost interchangeable.

“The events were a personal triumph for Hector MacFadyen of Pennygael, who has performed so consistently throughout the summer. He had the unusual but very pleasing experience of being placed first in both competitions. On a first-class pipe he gave four fine performances which obviously commended themselves to the six judges concerned.

Hector MacFadyen.

“Close on his heels came young Kenneth MacDonald of Glasgow who obtained the two second prizes. It is, of course, financially better to be second every time than to be first once, but this is an attitude which does not receive any attention from the competing pipers and, no doubt, Kenneth will be all out to win at least one of these events next year. The other pipers of this interesting quartette were John Graham of Avonbridge who fingered very well but was inclined to be lacking a little in expression. He was placed third in the March and fourth in the Strathspey and Reel. Iain McLeod, Pipe Major of the Edinburgh Police band, played very well on an excellent pipe for third prize in the Strathspey and Reel, and fifth in the March.”

The full results were as follows:

March – 1. Hector MacFadyen; 2. Kenneth MacDonald; 3. John  Graham; 4. Sgt. Wm. MacDonald; 5. Iain McLeod.
Strathspey and Reel – 1. Hector MacFadyen; 2. Kenneth MacDonald; 3 Iain McLeod; 4 John Graham; 5. William M. MacDonald, Inverness.

The local events were judged by Captain J. Maxwell MacDonald of Largie, Major Archie MacNab, and Capt. D. R. MacLennan. The results were as follows:

March – 1. Dugald MacColl, 8th Batt. A.& S.H.;  2. Hugh M. MacDougall, Glasgow; 3. C. MacPhedran, 8th Batt. A. & S.H.
Strathspey and Reel – 1. Dugald MacColl; 2. Hugh M. MacDougall; 3. C. MacPhedran.

lain McLeod was born in Edinburgh in 1931 and was taught piping by Jimmy Sutherland and Angus Ritchie, both ex-Argylls, then had a year of tuition from William Ross in 1945 and a year with Donald MacLeod in the 1960s. After two years’ National Service with the Royal Scots 1949-1951, he joined the Edinburgh Police and completed 25 years of service in 1976. He was Pipe Major of the police band from 1959 to 1976 and led them to World Championship wins in 1963, 1964, 1971, 1972 and 1975. As a solo competitor at the Northern Meeting he won the March, and the Strathspey and Reel in 1963 and the March, Strathspey and Reel for former winners in 1969, 1970 and 1973. He died in Edinburgh in 2017.

George Lumsden* was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife. On leaving school, he joined The Black Watch and later joined the Edinburgh City Police under Pipe Major Donald Shaw Ramsay. He was the band’s Pipe Major from 1984-88. After retirement he was a reed maker.

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• Part 27
• Part 28