BY JEANNIE CAMPBELL MBE
This year there was a change in the rules for the major competitions. Competitors in the Open event at the Argyllshire Gathering and the Clasp at the Northern Meeting were required to submit six tunes from this list of twelve: Craigellachie, Lament for Colin Roy MacKenzie, The Daughters Lament, Lament for The Earl of Antrim, The Laird of Anapool’s Lament, Nameless (Cherede Darivea), Lament for the Harp Tree, Lady Margaret MacDonald’s Salute, The Park Piobaireachd No. 2, MacLeod of Colbeck’s Lament, The Finger Lock, Donald Gruamach’s March. These had all been set in the previous year.
For the Gold Medals at both the Argyllshire Gathering and the Northern Meeting competitors were required to submit four tunes from a list of ten. The tunes were: The Battle of Bealach Nam Brog, The Battle of the Bridge of Perth, The Battle of Sheriffmuir, The Lament for the Castle of Dunyveg, The Gathering of Clan Chattan, The Gathering of the MacNabs, Isabel MacKay, Queen Anne’s Lament, The Piper’s Warning to his Master, Nameless(Hiharin Dro o Dro).
The Gathering was reported in the Piping Times as follows: “The Gold Medal Piobaireachd. The prescribing of set tunes for this competition, and for the similar event at Inverness, had the pleasing effect of cutting down the number of entrants – which was presumably one of the reasons behind the decision. A total of thirty-two people entered for this prestigious event, and of these twenty-eight actually played.
“The standard was not perhaps the highest in living memory, although a lot of good piping was heard and there are indications that the future for piobaireachd playing is reasonably bright. On the other hand several experienced players disappointed us on this occasion, and the expected challenge of the Canadians did not quite materialise.
“An examination of the list of entries provided at least two interesting pieces of information. One quarter of all the entries were from overseas – Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand all being represented (but nobody from Brittany this year). And one third of the entries came from around the Dundee area, indicating that the centre of piping might well be shifting slightly eastwards.
“In spite of all that, the winner of the competition was Kenneth J. MacLean from Glasgow, who has twice had the disappointment of being runner-up for a Gold Medal, but now has joined the select club. His tune was The Battle of Bealach nam Brog; played on an excellent, although somewhat quiet pipe. He was perhaps the one person in the competition who played his tune exactly as he intended, showing a real maturity in his phrasing of the ground and his linking of the variations, and a refreshing disdain for the timings suggested on the printed page.
“Second prize went to Arthur Gillies playing The Lament for the Castle Dunyveg. Arthur seemed to be a bit unsettled at the start, with some finger faults in the third line of the ground, some nervous clipping of the hiharin movement and a slip in the dithis. The tune improved tremendously as it went on, finishing with first class taorluath and crunluath variations.
“The same tune was given to John Wilson, who in fact has won his Inverness medal with this composition. John’s bagpipe was as always immaculate, but his fingers are perhaps just too good for lament playing. He tends to play some of his movements (for example darado and the crunluath) too quickly and so losing the full effect. And he could have made more of the tempo changes, but this was nevertheless a brilliant and effective performance.
“Dugald MacNeill gave us a good solid performance of the nameless tune Hiharin Dro o Dro, but although he had some nice touches and showed thought in the handling of the cadences, there was more competence than brilliance in the rendering.
“The same tune was played for fifth prize by James MacIntosh, on as always a very fine bagpipe. After the ground his tune was splendid, but his interpretation of that important foundation to the tune left a lot to be desired. In it there was too strong a feeling that he was playing to the book, with some unnecessary hurrying, and rather unmusical endings to the first and second line.
“Several not on the prize list gave a lot of enjoyment in their playing, although in one way or another they had faults of which they are no doubt well aware. Malcolm MacRae gave us a pleasant Clan Chattan but he must strengthen his fingering and get a crisper sound from the embellishments. (It is also not a good idea to turn your back to the judges when playing the crunluath a mach, unless you have something to hide).
“Murray Henderson played competently, taking no chances, but this is not the way to win prizes in a big competition. His valve needs a bit of attention, because the clack gave a slightly upsetting accompaniment to the tune.
“George Robertson from Ottawa played a steady Battle of the Bridge of Perth – rather a bit even in places with doublings of the variations a shade on the slow side. Ed Neigh was again unfortunate in that his bagpipe was not steady and he gave a rather subdued performance, which from him was quite unexpected. His birls were a bit heavy to start, and in hihorodo he played the D gracenote too long – rather as one would play it in a lament.
“Jack Taylor’s Battle of Sheriffmuir was a very gentle and tentative affair with the ground much too even, and variation three likewise. The battle nearly started in the triplet variation, but this was a false alarm and we were soon back to the gentle touch once again. David Martin played an interesting Clan Chattan, but his alternate timing of the bars in variation one and doubling sounded too artificial to be enjoyable. John Graham was handicapped with a flat F and high G, but in spite of playing a G gracenote for a dre in line one of the ground he did know the tune thoroughly.
“One of the minor tragedies of the competition was the playing of The Gathering of the MacNabs by James MacGillivray from Canada. This was a splendid performance from a young lad.
“So that was the Oban Gold Medal for 1974, but the report would not be complete without mentioning the most peculiar accident which happened to George MacRae from London. There are of course many hazards in competitive piping, but in one of the strangest ever seen, in the middle of a very creditable performance of Clan Chattan, George was forced to abandon the platform because he was bitten on the back of the leg by his own teeth.
“The Open Event. This was undoubtedly one of the most disappointing competitions ever held at Oban. The twelve set tunes were a carry-over from the previous year – certainly the less popular ones, but still well known to most of our expert players.
“In spite of that, only eleven pipers entered for the event, and only six of them competed. The start of the event was delayed two hours (absolutely unheard of at a premier meeting). Asked for a comment on the playing one adjudicator replied tersely, ‘Two very good tunes, two not bad, and two not good’.”
THE RESULTS WERE: 1. Hugh MacCallum (The Daughter’s Lament); 2. Duncan J. MacFadyen (Lady Margaret MacDonald’s Salute); 3. Murray Henderson (Park Piobaireachd No. 2); 4. Iain Bruce (MacLeod of Colbeck’s Lament).
“The overseas entry in this competition was again formidable. Murray Henderson of course is from New Zealand, and Iain Bruce is a recent arrival from Australia.
“It was pointed out by one observer, with some astonishment, that no entry in this event came from Glasgow for perhaps the first time in history.
“The Games. Once again Oban was fortunate with the weather, and a rather dull morning eventually blossomed forth into a real scorcher of a day. Over forty competitors had entered for the march and the strathspey and reel, but barely two thirds of them turned up. This is always an annoying state of affairs, although with such a large entry probably nobody was sorry to see it cut down in some manner.
“The standard of playing in all the light music was probably just about average, with some outstanding performances and a great many which, with a bit of application and assistance, could be improved a great deal. In passing, there is obviously a crying need for a short sharp course on the playing of ceol beag, both for the boys in the army and for those pursuing the civilian life. A two-week intensive school could raise the standard of this type of music about one hundred per cent.
“The March. An easy winner in the March competition was Lance Sergeant J. Banks of the Scots Guards, playing John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage. This was as near perfect a demonstration of how to play a bagpipe march as one could hope to find. It should have been filmed and recorded for the benefit of all the other players.
“Second prize went to James MacGillivray from Canada, playing a very creditable Jeannie Carruthers. He seemed slightly affected by nervousness, and he could have got more of a swing into the tune if he had gone round the platform instead of up and down, but it was a good clean performance. With experience, Jim will do very well in these competitions. Third prize went to a very experienced campaigner, John Wilson, playing Willie Gray’s Farewell to the Glasgow Police. He was a little unsteady at times and seemed at one point almost unsure of the tune – hesitating over a birl and then deciding to leave it out, and no doubt realising immediately that it should have stayed in.
“Duncan MacFadyen was placed fourth with a very steady rendering of MacLean of Pennycross. Duncan has always been a very good march player, but in this tune he tended to rush the endings of each part. Fifth prize went to Murray Henderson playing Pipe Major John Stewart, rather early in the day and so a little bit cold and stiff at times.
“Of the others, Bill Livingstone played a good Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban, but although there is no second time to the second part he decided to put one in – but only when playing the tune through for the second time. Pipe Major Ingram of the 2nd Scots Guards is also a fine march player, but his Royal Scottish Pipers was cut and pointed just a little bit too much for a cold morning, and the result was one or two misfingerings. Iain Bruce handicaps himself by not marching – he gets round the boards eventually but in a very artificial manner which makes the tune sound likewise.
“The strathspey and reel. Two players dominated this competition, John MacDougall and Ed Neigh, and eventually it was the home Scot who was given the preference. As always, John played with great care on an immaculate instrument and on such form he was hard to beat. Ed Neigh was more adventurous in his treatment, and obviously his day will come.”
THE RESULTS WERE: 1. John MacDougall; 2. Ed Neigh; 3. James MacGregor; 4. Murray Henderson; 5. John Graham. The judges were Pipe Major John MacKenzie and Dr. Robert Frater.
“Former winners. This event was played in the afternoon, in fine weather, to a big and appreciative audience. Once again John MacDougall came out on top, with a fine selection including a most accurate rendering of John Morrison of Assynt House. Arthur Gillies was placed second. His march was, as always, outstanding, but he cuts a high G to nothing in the fourth part of the strathspey. And playing a G gracenote on F instead of the beautiful double Fs in The Man from Glengarry is a real disappointment. John Burgess, rushing things a bit, was placed third.”
THE RESULTS WERE: 1. John MacDougall (Lonach Gathering, Caledonian Society of London, Thomson’s Dirk); 2. Arthur Gillies (MacLean of Pennycross, Arniston Castle. The Man from Glengarry); 3. John D. Burgess (John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage, The Shepherd’s Crook, Mrs. Macpherson of Inveran). The judges were Col. David Murray, and Pipe Major Nicol MacCallum.
The Press and Journal reported the heavy events in some detail but made no mention of the piping, although the report did include this: “The march to the games park from the Station Square was led by His Grace the Duke of Argyll, who is President of the Argyllshire Gathering. The weather was fine and about 3,000 people attended. Last night 430 members of the gathering attended a ball in the town.”
After the competitions a survey of the tunes submitted for the Gold Medal was carried out. The most popular of the set tunes, by a short head, was the Nameless one (Hiharin dro o dro), being chosen by twenty-one out of twenty-eight contestants. Close behind came The Gathering of Clan Chattan, as one might well have expected, with 19 votes. The Gathering of the MacNabs scored 16, The Piper’s Warning 15, The Battle of Sheriffmuir 14, Isabel MacKay 11, The Battle of the Bridge of Perth 8, The Battle of Bealach nam Brog and Queen Anne’s Lament 6 each, and in last place Lament for the Castle of Dunyveg, which was surprising since it had already won at least one Gold Medal.
James McGillivray was born in 1955 in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His tutors were Frank Scheiser, John McIntyre, Colin Miller, Ed Neigh, John MacFadyen, William Livingstone, and Andrew Wright. He played with the Guelph pipe band and the 78th Fraser Highlanders. At the Northern Meeting he won the Gold Medal in 1985 and the Clasp in 1987.
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