History of the Argyllshire Gathering part 38



By Jeannie Campbell MBE

In September 1972, under the headline ‘Girl Pipers to Breach Male Stronghold’, The Press and Journal had this: “Two girls will challenge a men-only bastion when they enter one of the top piping competitions at the National Mòd in Inverness on October 7. And the girls hope that if they do well, the organisers of other major piping competitions will end their ban on women entrants.

“The girls are 22-year-old Jennifer Hutcheon, a physical education teacher at Inverkeithing High School, Fife … and Miss Anne Sinclair (18), a bank clerkess, from Tiree, who now lives in Glasgow.

“Jennifer feels strongly about the ban on women entering the senior piping events of the Argyllshire Gathering at Oban and the Northern Meeting at Inverness. She said: ‘There may not be many girl pipers in the top flight of players but there are enough to make this an out-of-date rule.’”

An editorial by Seumas MacNeill on the same subject appeared in the Piping Times of November 1972: “In August two Canadians came to Scotland to take part in the major piping competitions. Both were 21 years of age; both had been playing pipes for about ten years and piobaireachd for the last six of these. Their repertoires were very similar and their records in solo competitions were just about equal. Piping is their main interest and in recent years the thought of competing in Scotland had become a major obsession with them.

“One of these young Canadians was allowed to compete at Oban and Inverness. The other was not. The unfortunate one sat at the back of the hall, fingering the tunes somewhat wistfully, while the succession of first class citizens paraded on the platform, each with a chance of a prize and piping immortality. The barrier which allowed one Canadian in but kept the other out was not ability or money or moral turpitude. It was sex. The boy was allowed to compete. The girl was not. To us today it seems almost unbelievable that there was a time when women had no vote, when they couldn’t own property, and indeed had hardly any greater rights than cattle. And yet, 20 years from now pipers will look back on us and remember that in our bigoted times women were not allowed to compete in the important piping competitions. To them it will be incredible that any adult male was permitted to play, no matter how rotten a performer he was, while other adults, with real talent, were excluded on the grounds of a difference in physical make-up.”

Angus J.

For 1973 the list of tunes for the Open and Clasp events was a long one and competitors were required to submit six from a list of 18. The tunes were Lament for the Children, Craigellachie, The Blue Ribbon, Lament for Colin Roy MacKenzie, The Daughter’s Lament, Lament for the Earl of Antrim, The Laird of Anapool’s Lament, Ronald MacDonald of Morar’s Lament, Donald Gruamach’s March, Nameless (Cherede Darievea), Lament for the Harp Tree, The Unjust Incarceration, Lady Margaret MacDonald’s Salute, In Praise of Morag, The Park Piobaireachd No 2, My King has landed in Moidart, MacLeod of Colbeck’s Lament and The Finger Lock. No tunes were set for the Gold Medals.

The report in the Piping Times was as follows: “The excitement of the piping world begins to build up each year as the month of August comes round. Skye, with the many competitors at Portree and the Silver Chanter contest at Dunvegan, is rapidly coming to the forefront as a major event on the piping calendar, but the climax of the season is still occupied by the two established meetings at Oban and Inverness.

The 29th and 30th were the dates to be in Oban this year, with a wealth of piobaireachd playing on the Wednesday followed by the colourful and popular games on the Thursday.

The Gold Medal. The gold medal was won by Angus J. MacLellan of the Glasgow Police with a splendid rendering of Glengarry’s March. Angus was second in this competition last year and was a clear and popular winner this time.

“Second prize went to James MacGregor for his playing of The Earl of Seaforth’s Salute.  Again this was a first class performance on an excellent bagpipe, and one can only commiserate once again with Jimmy for coming so close without actually gaining the coveted award.

“Although the rest of the competition included some very good piping there was not really anything which came up to the standard of these two. Young Iain Larg of Dundee gained third prize with a competent Black Donald’s March, which however was somewhat wooden in its treatment, and lacking in the finer touches which Iain will no doubt show in a few years once he gains some maturity.

“In fourth place came Arthur Gillies of Kilchrenan,playing MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart No. 1 – a performance which started very well but faded a little towards the end.

Murray Henderson.
Murray Henderson pictured recently.

“The overseas challenge totalled one quarter of the entire entry, but it would seem that some of them only entered in order to get their names on the programme. Those who did play gave a good account of themselves however, including William Livingstone, Stuart MacBride, Murray Henderson and Ed Neigh who was placed fifth for a spirited rendering of MacNeill of Barra’s March.

“Thirty-seven pipers actually played out of the forty-eight entered, and it would seem that something must certainly be done next year to reduce the number of people taking part in this event. The judges were Mr. James Campbell, Pipe Major Nicol MacCallum and Dr. Robert Frater.

“The Open Piobaireachd. The tunes set for the open event this year were long and heavy, but on the whole well-known, and well worth knowing. As a result we had the biggest entry in recent years, and it was apparent that all the pipers had a good grasp of their tunes.

Many fine performances were heard, but it was an extremely difficult competition to judge, because there was no outstandingly brilliant piobaireachd to settle the issue without doubt.

“First prize went to William MacDonald (Benbecula) playing Donald Gruamach’s March. This was quite an amazing performance, because it started with a succession of finger faults which would normally be enough to put a piper right off. Williem however, is a seasoned campaigner and he settled in to give a steady interpretation of this big tune, improving noticeably as it went along.

“Second prize went to Duncan MacFadyen playing Lady Margaret MacDonald’s Salute. Duncan is often criticised for playing uninspired grounds, but in this tune – which is undoubtedly one of his favourites – he played a splendid urlar, though just perhaps a shade on the slow side. His variations one and two likewise inclined more to a lament than a salute, but thereafter he was a true master in his interpretation and presentation. Indeed, there are few pipers competing today who can present a piobaireachd so well from the middle variations onwards as Duncan can.

Bob Nicol and Jimmy.
Bob Nicol and Jimmy McIntosh pictured in the early 1970s.

“There must have been many candidates for the third and fourth positions, but third eventually went to James MacIntosh playing The Park Piobaireachd No. 2. This was a singing tune played on a very good pipe, but his fingers sounded cold or stiff at times, and the overall impression was that he was just taking too much care, when a bolder approach might have been more successful.

“Another rather square and careful tune took fourth place – The Daughter’s Lament played by Hugh MacCallum. Perhaps Hugh had not quite recovered from his flight from California, because he did not sound too comfortable with the tune, and – most unusual for him – his bagpipe began to go out towards the end.

“Easily the best playing of the whole competition was heard from John Burgess – in the first half of his In Praise of Morag. This was a brilliant presentation by a master, but unfortunately, from the taorluath doubling, a drone started to go slightly out, and perhaps for that reason he accelerated the tune almost out of sight.

“The other piper from whom the younger competitors could have learned a great deal was Finlay MacNeill. His tune, The Lament for Colin Roy MacKenzie, obviously suited him perfectly, but his drones were not quite in tune from an early stage and this tended to mar the overall effect. Nevertheless his variation one and doubling were played with a great deal of personal expression, and his taorluath and crunluath timing – emphasising the theme notes without sacrificing the technique- were a model of what should be done with these variations.

“Ed Neigh gave a good account of himself with The Blue Ribbon, even although his chanter sounded a bit flat on the bottom hand. He started well, but the second variation was much too slow – he obviously hadn’t heard the description, as even as a wheel on a mill lade. Variation two doubling and variation three and doubling were very good, but thereafter the tune was rather uninspired.

“William Livingstone was handicapped by a high G which was both flat and devoid of tone quality, and by an F which was slightly flat. He played the ground of the big Nameless tune much too evenly, and we were left wondering where the majesty of this great tune had gone.  Several finger faults (a waver on F, several missed Dtaorluaths, a low G for low A in line three of variation one doubling) did not help in the least. The crunluath singling was too fast but the crunluath doubling was very well played.

“The trouble with these big tunes is that although they enhance the piper’s repertoire tremendously, they all require a great deal of study- more than perhaps any of the younger pipers had time to give them. They are music for the mature and the experienced, not to be confused with the pot boilers which normally win the average competitions.

“Murray Henderson was just a bit overawed withCraigellachie, and although his technique and his pipe were very good (apart from his edres) the ground was too close to the book, and the first three variations were definitely not a success. Malcolm MacRae was also rather a slave to the printed page, but gave a sweet enough performance. His fingering however was clumsy at times, and if he wants to play in top competitions he must do something about practising his birl.

“George Lumsden also had finger difficulties with his tune, The Unjust Incarceration. The technical problems of the third line each time brought out the sweat on all of us. Dugald MacNeill made a surprisingly good attempt at The Lament for the Children, with a fine ground and a commendable first variation. His finger technique in variation two, however, could still improve, and the expression was a bit lacking. The taorluath and crunluath variations tended to be on the even side, but on the whole this was an enjoyable performance.

Seumas MacNeill and John D. Burgess pictured at the 1973 Argyllshire Gathering.

“John MacDougall was well below his normal standard with Lament for Ronald MacDonald of Morar. At no time did he sound as if he knew where the tune was going, and a reasonable deduction would be that this was definitely not the tune he wanted.

“In the same way, Iain MacFadyen was not too comfortable with The Lament for the Earl of Antrim, partly perhaps because his chanter was a shade flat on top. The early variations did not flow as they should, and an unfortunate slip in the taorluath cancelled the later variations.

“Jack Pincet was asked to play MacLeod of Colbeck’s Lament but after a passable ground, his variations became dreich and dreicher.

“One was left with the impression that it is not a good idea to let this event at Oban be open to all.  It would be better to reserve it – like the clasp at Inverness – for those who have already won a gold medal, for although not all of the non-medallists were out of their depth, none of them won a prize, and all of them would have been better concentrating on their medal tunes.

“It is perhaps significant that the first four in the medal competition did not dissipate their efforts by entering for the open event.

“The judges in this competition were Pipe Major Ronald MacCallum, John MacFadyen, and Seumas MacNeill.

“The Games. Thursday was a pleasant day with quite a lot of sunshine, and although the march to the games was a bit damp, the rest of the day stayed fair and sunny. A feature of the gathering this year was the appearance of a junior pipe band from San Francisco. It is to be hoped that this will not be repeated.

“The March. Twenty-four competitors played in the march event, which is confined to those who have not won it before. Eight were placed in a short leet and asked to play again. The general standard was disappointing, due partly to the refusal of many competitors to march. They moved about the boards all right, in several peculiar ways, but they might as well have stood on the grass for all the help they gave the tune. We sawpipers marking time at every corner, we had them striding diagonally across the boards, we had back and forward on one plank only.

“One observer remarked that we had had everything except a piper going round the wrong way – and the next competitor did just that.

“The pipers who made the leet were lain MacFadyen (The Pap of Glencoe), Angus MacLellan (South Hall), Thomas Morris (Leaving Lunga), Colin Drummond (John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage), Murray Henderson (Pipe Major John Stewart), Hugh Macinnes (Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban), Dugald B. MacNeill (John MacDonald of Glencoe), and William Livingstone (Bonnie Ann).

Dugald MacNeill pictured in 2002.

“In the play-off Dugald MacNeill and Angus MacLellan were quite outstanding. Murray Henderson played well, but his Braes of Castle Grant was a dog’s breakfast of an arrangement. William Livingstone had splendid rhythm with John MacFadyen of Melfort and if he had been able to play a double C he would have been much higher in the prize list. Tom Morris was also weak with his double C but he has good fingers and we should hear a lot of him in the future.

“Iain MacFadyen played MacLean of Pennycross but his execution was surprisingly weak and his birl distressingly so. Colin Drummond was a shade too fast with Glenfinnan Highland Gathering, and he had one or two missed gracenotes. It is possible that he is still having difficulty in adjusting from band playing to solo work. Hugh Macinnes played quite well but he had odd slips in his execution.

“The result was: 1.Dugald MacNeill (Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban); 2. Angus MacLellan (Charles Edward Hope de Vere); 3. Hugh Macinnes (Jeannie Carruthers); 4.  Tom Morris (Bonnie Ann); 5.William Livingstone (John MacFadyen’s Farewell to Melfort).

The judges in this event were Pipe Major Nicol MacCallum and Seumas MacNeill.

“Strathspey and Reel. In this event – again confined to pipers who had not previously won it – the tunes were played twice over and there was no leet. The standard again was not particularly high, although the winner, Dugald Ferguson, gave a very fine rendering of Delvinside and The Man from Glengarry.

The results were: 1. Dugald Ferguson; 2. Tom Morris; 3. William Morrison; 4. Hugh Macinnes; 5.William Livingstone. This event was judged by Mr. James Campbell and Mr. Archie Kenneth.

“March, Strathspey and Reel. This event, the Masters’ one for the light music, is confined to previous first prizewinners of either the march or the strathspey and reel, and a very high standard is usually heard. A clear and popular winner was Hugh MacCallum with a splendid presentation of John MacFadyen of Melfort, Bogan Lochan and Willie Murray. Second prize went to John Graham, and third to Iain MacFadyen. Judges in this event were Dr. Robert Frater and Pipe Major Ronald MacCallum.

“The Royal Celtic Society prize for the best all round senior piper went to Hugh MacCallum.   The local prize in both the march and the strathspey and reel went to Henry MacGuiness from Kilmartin.

“The local march and the local strathspey and reel were judged by Mr. James Campbell and Mr. Archie Kenneth, and the results were as follows: March – 1. Charles Ferguson, Lochgilphead; 2. Ronald MacShannon, Campbeltown; 3. Neil Gillies, Connel. Strathspey   and Reel – 1. Ronald MacShannon; 2 K. A. MacDonald, Bridge of Orchy; 3. Neil Gillies. The cup for most points in local events was awarded to Ronald MacShannon.”

Jakez Pincet is from Brittany where he began piping. He served his National Service in the French navy tutoring Bagad Lann-Bilhoue and the band took part in the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 1963 playing a repertoire of Scottish tunes. In 1967 he established and led An Ere, the first Breton band to compete in Scotland, which in 1970 at Cowal gained second place in Grade 3. He spent a year in Scotland and had tuition from R. U. Brown and R. B. Nicol from 1969 to 1971. He competed in Scotland for several years and was placed many times in the Gold Medal events without winning the top prize. 

Murray Henderson was born in New Zealand in 1952. His teachers were his father, Donald Bain, David Boyle, James MacIntosh, James MacGregor and Robert Nicol. He came to Scotland in 1973. He was a partner in MacIntosh and Henderson and afterwards in business with his wife Patricia (Formerly Innes) as Henderson Reedmakers and later Strathmore Bagpipes. He won the Northern Meeting Gold Medal in 1975 and the Clasp in 1976, 1979, 1991, 1995 and 2003.

Ronald McShannon, from Campbeltown was born in 1956 and is a cousin of the MacCallum piping family. He later moved to Glasgow where he played with British Caledonian Airways and Scottish Power. He is in business as a partner in Pipe Dreams, makers of bagpipe reeds.

James Campbell at Oban in 1985.

Following the report two letters appeared in the Piping Times. The first was from James Campbell, Pembroke College, Cambridge who wrote: “Your interesting account of the playing at the Argyllshire Gathering raises a point of which there may be more than one opinion.  I refer to the criticism of certain entrants in the Open Piobaireachd Competition. It was said that they would have been better concentrating on their medal tunes. Fair enough, if the achievement of a medal prize is the only object of the exercise. But I suppose that everyone would agree that the thing that counts far more than anything in competitive playing is experience. And for those who are taking a long term view of their prizewinning prospects, it strikes me that there is much to be said for entering for as many tough competitions as is possible. I would like to pay a tribute to the ‘non-medallists’ mentioned in your review. They all played well in the Gold Medal Competition, and their further enterprise in tackling the big stuff is much to be commended. I certainly agree that the risk of over-loading the Oban Open competition has to be watched, but most of the time the set tunes policy looks after this.”

The second was from Murray Henderson, Middleton Farm Dundee: “In your October 1973 edition of the Piping Times the writer of ‘The March’ referred to the setting of the Braes of Castle Grant that I played as ‘a dog’s breakfast of an arrangement.’

“I would like to inform your anonymous contributor that I got this setting from Pipe Major R.  B. Nicol – who told me that was the way the late John MacDonald (Inverness) played the tune. Pipe Major Nicol also said that G. S. MacLennan played a very similar setting.

“I think it is a pity if the old settings of the tunes aren’t played, as they are so musical.”

This reply was printed below the letter: “If it’s old settings you want why not play it as it was composed, with two parts only? Or as John MacColl played it, with his own third and fourth parts? G. S. MacLennan’s is a later still version, and is published clearly as the first tune in his book, but that is not what you play.”

• Part 1
• Part 2
• Part 3
• Part 4
• Part 5
• Part 6
• Part 7
• Part 8
• Part 9
• Part 10
• Part 11
• Part 12
• Part 13
• Part 14
• Part 15
• Part 16
• Part 17
• Part 18
• Part 19
• Part 20

• Part 21
• Part 22
• Part 23
• Part 24
• Part 25
• Part 26
• Part 27
• Part 28
• Part 29
• Part 30
• Part 31
• Part 32
• Part 33
• Part 34
• Part 35
• Part 36
• Part 37