Willie Gray interview / Jouez-vous de la cornemuse?


A reader in North America has contacted us regarding the book, The Piobaireachd of Simon Fraser and about Fraser’s controversial theories on ceòl mòr.

Simon Fraser had a remarkable piping background. He was a pupil of Charles MacArthur’s great grandson and his father had seemingly been a pupil of lain Dùbh MacCrimmon. Simon himself was a pupil of Peter Bruce, Glenelg, who in turn was a pupil of Donald Ruadh MacCrimmon and learned canntaireachd from Captain Neil MacLeod of Gesto. Simon immigrated to Australia.

Last April, we uploaded the letters of Simon Fraser to Bagpipe.News.

Simon Fraser photographed in 1908.
Simon Fraser photographed in 1908.

The Piobaireachd of Simon Fraser was written by Dr. Barrie MacLachlan Orme (with an update by Geoff Hore), an Australian piper who had received instruction from Simon Fraser’s son, Hugh. Unfortunately, the book has been out of print for many years

Last April we intimated that we hoped to make available a recording of an interview with Pipe Major Willie Gray in which he talks about the Frasers. We have now uploaded the sound files to Bagpipe.News.

Willie Gray began a correspondence with A. K. Cameron of Montana who was born near Beauly and who knew Simon Fraser.

Dr. John MacInnes (Iain MacAonghuis) of the School of Scottish Studies conducted the interview in 1961 shortly before Gray died but a recording was in the possession of the late Bridget MacKenzie. This recording formed the basis of a presentation on Willie Gray that Bridget and Jeannie Campbell gave to the Piobaireachd Society at its annual conference in 2001 that was held at the Royal Hotel in Bridge of Allan.

In the interview, we hear Gray recount some fairly incredible tales such as how one of his ancestors prepared supper for the great Montrose who was being held prison at Skibo Castle and who hit the English guard, who objected to Montrose being offered to sit at the head of the table, with a leg of mutton!

However, his thoughts on ceòl mòr, which he dubbed “pattern music” are interesting and in the wide-ranging interview he also talks about the Frasers, religion and cainntaireachd which he received from the Frasers. Seemingly, Gray, along with Malcolm MacPherson, actually visited Simon Fraser in Australia but left believing that Fraser didn’t know much about ceòl mòr or that he wasn’t prepared to tell them what he did know.

We are pleased to make these recordings freely available:

VisitScotland, the national tourism organisation for Scotland, is looking for French-speaking, Scottish based pipers to help a French journalist.

The journalist intends to film a segment about the traditions around the instrument at the end of November.

Contact us in the usual way if interested.