Famous pipers: Andrew Pitkeathly

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When it comes to conversations about great pipers, Andrew Pitkeathly is sometimes overlooked, particularly by younger pipers today. A military man, he had modest competitive success: he won the Gold Medal at the 1949 Northern Meeting when a young Corporal, the same year in which he joined the Pipe Majors’ Course at Edinburgh Castle and the year before he won the Open Piobaireachd in London. He placed third in the Bratach Gorm in 1950 and won the Strathspey & Reel there in 1956. At the 1956 Argyllshire Gathering he won the March.

Like many pipers in the armed forces, his military career took him abroad frequently and his competing career was accordingly much shorter than might have been expected from one who showed such talent so early.

Andrew was appointed Pipe Major of the 1st Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders in 1952 and travelled with them extensively: in Hong Kong, Korea, British Guiana, Germany, Suez, Cyprus, Malaya and Borneo.

In addition to being an outstanding solo player he was also an extremely successful Pipe Major whose band was always of the highest standard. He was appointed Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant in 1964.

Andrew Pitkeathly photographed at Balmoral Castle sometime during his tenure as Piper to the Sovereign.

As a composer his contribution was also fairly modest: Renfrew Pipe Band, RSM Boyd DCM MM, Jessie Henderson, Heather Hills of Home and Holyrood Park.

However, it is through the pipers that came under his tutelage that we can really gauge the impact Andrew Pitkeathly has made on piping. It’s an impressive list. Among others it includes Angus MacDonald (who wrote a lovely 9/8 march for Andrew which can be found in Book 1 of Angus’ collection), Jimmy Banks, Bruce Hitchings, Gordon Walker, Iain Macey, Mark McKenzie, Michael Elder … and Ian McLellan who has stated that he modelled himself on Andrew as a Pipe Major (Ian was a piper in the Argylls during Andrew’s tenure as Pipe Major).

To the list can be added Alasdair Gillies who went to Andrew from 1989 and whose pibroch playing became noticeably more musical.

Andrew Pitkeathly was born in the Perthshire village of Coupar Angus on December 30, 1928. His paternal grandfather, maternal uncles, father and brother were all pipers. His father, Robert, taught him from age nine then Donald MacLeod (from 1947-49) shortly after he joined the Argylls in 1946. He then received tuition from the great Willie Ross (from 1949-50).

In 1966 Andrew was appointed Piper to the Sovereign, a position he held until 1973 when he was commissioned and posted to the Band Company at Dreghorn Barracks in Edinburgh. In 1976 he was appointed Director of the Army School of Piping in succession to Captain John MacLellan MBE from which post he retired in 1981.

In retirement, Andrew was in demand both as a teacher and judge, being particularly associated with the Argyllshire Gathering and the Braemar Gathering. His integrity as a judge was transparent; he never sought to dominate a bench and would listen courteously and attentively to his fellow judges’ opinions. He was equally courteous to competitors. Stories abound about his unassuming manner and disdain for pomposity. Although a quiet and undemonstrative man, he was the first to see through sham and pretence. He loved the music. He would play for pleasure and not simply because he had to.

Andrew Pitkeathly died on January 6, 1994 in his 65th year. The funeral took place in Currie Kirk in Midlothian where he had been an elder.