By Jeannie Campbell MBE

For 1968, competitors in the Open Competition at the Argyllshire Gathering and in the Clasp Competition at the Northern Meeting were required to submit four tunes from a list of six. The tunes were: Mrs. MacLeod of Talisker’s Salute, Rory MacLeod’s Lament, MacDonald’s Salute, Lament for the Laird of Anapool, The Sound of the Waves Against the Castle of Duntroon and My Dearest on Earth, Give Me Your Kiss. Competitors in the Northern Meeting Gold Medal were required to submit four tunes from a list of six but this did not apply to the Argyllshire Gathering.

The Gathering was held in August on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27. Seumas MacNeill himself penned the Piping Times report that year, which is worth quoting in full:

“Highland Games at Oban in August are going to take a bit of getting used to, but nevertheless, everything seemed to go off pretty well this year. The weather man was kind, which was just as well, because the one fly in the ointment was that no tuning facilities were available on the first day. The piobaireachd competitions were held in the Church Hall, and it was a choice of the churchyard, the street, or the Ministry of Agriculture parking lot so far as tuning was concerned. For the Gold Medal competitors it wasn’t so bad, but a clammy evening with hoards of midges made the situation rather desperate for competitors in the Open event.

Tommy Pearston pictured in 1968.

“The obvious thing of course would have been to have held the competitions in the games field, running the two piobaireachds simultaneously as in former days before the war.  Apparently this had been suggested, but had been vetoed by some of the judges.

“The Gold Medal competition was a triumph for Thomas Pearston. After many years and many near misses the award which he probably wanted most to win became his with a vigorous and quite unique rendering of one of his favourite tunes, Mellbank’s Salute.

“Second prize went to John MacDougall of Arbroath with Beloved Scotland. His playing was as immaculate as ever, but his phrasing lacked adventure and his timing was not what we have been accustomed to with this tune in recent years. Sgt. John Slattery of the 1st Scots Guards was placed third for a rather unusual interpretation of Lament for the Only Son. John Wilson of Campbeltown who played Glengarry’s March had a well-tuned pipe and fingers to match, but again his interpretation was a little bit unusual at times. Malcolm MacRae of Australia played quite a good Lament for Patrick Òg MacCrimmon for fifth prize, although  his technique was a little bit slack at times and he did not get the real beauty out of variation one and doubling.

“The Open Piobaireachd competition reached a much higher standard than last year, but again there was evidence that not all the competitors had done their homework. Too often in this competition a piper is sure of a prize if he finishes his tune without a mistake. Sad to say, this was the position once again, but the first prize winner, John MacFadyen, gave an outstanding rendering of Rory MacLeod’s Lament, which was certainly good enough to win any competition in Scotland. His timing of the first variation was in the opposite sense from the published version, and to many minds not so musical, but that and another small emendation he introduced showed that he had made a thorough study of the piece and was playing what he judged to be the best version of the tune. His confidence and ability were justly rewarded.

“John MacDougall was again second with a very commendable Lament for the Laird of Anapool, a tune which requires the highest degrees of technique and understanding. Malcolm MacRae again featured in the prize list, this time with My Dearest on Earth, thus showing that the time he has spent in Scotland has certainly not been wasted. Fourth prize went to Duncan MacFadyen for a sterling rendering of MacDonald’s Salute. The judges at this event were Mr. A. G. Kenneth and Mr. James Campbell.

“The Games proper were held in scorching weather, the best that the Argyllshire Gathering has ever experienced probably. Certainly there were many people present who had never attended Highland Games under such conditions, and they probably never will again. Instead of sliding in the mud we were skidding over the bone hard turf.  Instead of coping with wet reeds, we had to contend with drying up bags. As a result, the standard of playing was above average, the only drawback from the audience point  of  view being  that it is not all that easy to hear piping competitions in the Argyllshire Gathering field. (But having said that, it must be noted that it is a great deal harder to hear piping competitions in most other Highland Games fields.)

“The principal competition, the March, Strathspey and Reel for former winners, attracted the biggest entry ever, and in a very keen contest Iain MacLellan of the City of Glasgow Police carried off the premier prize. He was closely followed home by Hector MacFadyen and Hugh MacCallum.

“The system of having no short leets in the March and in the Strathspey and Reel events is, I think, a backward step, both from the point of view of reaching the correct result and from the stand-point of the audience. Listening to short leets at Oban has been one of my favourite occupations for a very long time, and I can remember very clearly some wonderful competitions over the years. Nowadays the scheme of having a long, sudden death event means that the audience must either suffer the good, bad and indifferent, or else, as many do, abandon any hope of listening to the competition at all.

Willie Morrison as he is today.

The results were:

Ceòl Mòr (The Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal) – 1.Thomas Pearston, Glasgow (Melbank’s Salute); 2. John MacDougall, Arbroath (Beloved Scotland); 3. Sgt. J. Slattery, 1st Bn. Scots Guards (Lament for the Only Son); 4. John Wilson, Campbeltown (Glengarry’s March); 5. Malcolm MacRae, Hamilton (Lament for Patrick Òg).
Judges: Capt. D. R. MacLennan, Lt. John A. MacLellan and Peter Bain.

“The cream of course always comes to the top, and congratulations were in order to James MacIntosh from Dundee for winning the March event, and to Iain MacFadyen for a similar feat with the Strathspeys and Reels. Consolations once again to John Graham of Avonbridge (2nd in the Strathspey and Reel) who again just missed the premier prize, and a big hand to William J. Morrison from Bornish, South Uist, who with his second  prize inthe March  event showed that here is a piper of whom a great deal will be heard in the future.”

Open Piobaireachd (A. & S. H. Cup) – 1. John MacFadyen, Glasgow (Rory MacLeod’s   Lament); 2. John MacDougall, Arbroath (Lament for the Laird of Anapool); 3. Malcolm MacRae, Hamilton (My Dearest on Earth); 4. Duncan MacFadyen, Johnstone (MacDonald’s Salute).
Judges: Archie G. Kenneth and James Campbell.

March, Strathspey and Reel (Former Winners) – 1. lain A. MacLellan; 2. Hector MacFadyen, Pennyghael; 3. Hugh A. MacCallum, Bridge of Allan.
Judges: Major L. Balfour-Paul and Lt. John A. MacLellan.

Marches (The Argyllshire Gathering Silver Medal) – 1. Jimmy MacIntosh, Dundee; 2. William J. Morrison; 3. Arthur G. Gillies, Kilchrenan; 4. Kenneth Macdonald, Glasgow; 5. Capt. Ian C. Cameron, Edinburgh
Judges: James Campbell and Capt. D. R. MacLennan.

Strathspeys and Reels (The Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society’s Star) – 1. Iain MacFadyen, Glasgow; 2. John Graham; 3. Malcolm MacRae; 4. Kenneth Macdonald; 5. Andrew Wright, Paisley.
Judges: Archie G. Kenneth and Peter Bain.

Marches (Local) – l. William D. MacLean, Tiree; 2. George F. Crawford, Oban; 3. Alastair MacFarlane, Oban.
Strathspeys and Reels (Local) – l. William D. MacLean; 2. Alastair MacFarlane; 3. George F.  Crawford.
Judges: Archie Kenneth and Major L. Balfour-Paul.

Malcolm McRae.

Malcolm McRae was born in Australia in 1942 and was taught originally by Peter Davidson of New Zealand. He came to Scotland in 1967 and had tuition from Robert U Brown. He returned to Australia in 1969 but came back to Scotland in 1973 and had further tuition from Robert B. Nicol. By profession he was a lawyer in practice in Inverness. He retired in 2004 and returned to Australia but continued to spend the summer in Scotland each year.

William John Morrison was born in 1948 at Locheynort, South Uist and was taught by his grandfather, Donald John Morrison. Willie was a crofter and fisherman until aged 22 when he moved to Ayrshire to work at the Johnnie Walker distillery. He played in the Johnnie Walker pipe band then later moved to Glasgow where he played with British Caledonian Airways and Scottish Power. He worked as a reed maker and as an instructor at the College of Piping and the National Piping Centre.

Andrew Wright was born in Govan in 1936. He started piping with the Boys’ Brigade then had tuition from Peter MacLeod Snr. and Jnr. 1954-58, then Donald MacLeod (1964-82) and Robert B Nicol (1970-78). He played with Red Hackle then did National Service as a piper with the Royal Scots and played again with Red Hackle afterwards. He won both Gold Medals in 1970. By profession he was plant manager in a Woollen Mill. Andrew lives in Dunblane in Stirlingshire.

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