Lorne MacDougall seems to occupy his very own sphere in the world of bagpipe music, as he blends his life as a piper and traditional musician with TV and film soundtrack work from the BBC, ITV, Netflix, Disney and DreamWorks.  Stuart Robertson spoke to Lorne about tune composition in this Nine Notes and More article, and Lorne gave us his tune Scalasaig and the story behind it.

by Stuart Robertson.
Piping Today
#46 2010.

Born and brought up in Carradale, in Kintyre, Lorne has performed at many local and international festivals and has been involved in a number of recordings including UK Top 40 hits and albums achieving platinum disc status.

On leaving school, he studied for a BA in Scottish Music at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, graduating with honours in 2005. He has played in Grade One pipe bands at World Championship level from an early age, joining the David Urquhart Travel Pipe Band (where we first met) while still at school and has also played with Glasgow Pipes and Drums and the ScottishPower Pipe Band, providing the musical arrangements for the latter’s competition and concert repertoire in 2005.

He has toured Scotland and Europe with his folk band Canterach and has also performed at many significant festivals including Lorient, Aviles, Celtic Connections, Mull of Kintyre, Jura, and Orkney Folk Festival and the Cambridge Folk Festival.

A versatile musician who plays Highland bagpipes, smallpipes, Border pipes, whistles, piano and keyboards, Lorne has made frequent radio appearances, including live sessions on BBC Radio Scotland’s Travelling Folk, A Bit of a Blow and Pipeline, and as a session musician has appeared on albums by the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Brian McNeill and Jeana Leslie and Siobhan Miller.

As a composer his tunes have featured on albums from such artists as Skerryvore, Deoch ‘n’ Dorus, Stuart Cassells, the House of Edgar Shotts and Dykehead Pipe Band and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers. They have also been used in various media events such as the theme music for Sky Sports’ Scottish football coverage.

When not playing music he is the presenter and producer of the highly popular internet radio show PlanetPipe with Bees Nees Media in Glasgow. He also teaches with various organisations throughout Scotland such as Tarbert Music Centre and the Glasgow Fiddle Workshop. As always, we offer the usual questions:

When did you start composing?

I started composing at school, when we had to submit a portfolio of tunes for Standard Grade.  I developed a bit more when I studied Higher Music and borrowed an old tape multi-track recorder from the school over an Easter holiday.  That’s when I began experimenting with harmonies and adding basic accompaniment.

When composing tunes at school, I seemed to be writing some nice simple melodies but coming across the problem that they had all been effectively composed before.

What inspired you to write?

The idea of using technology was a big part of my interest in writing music.  I think I watched a documentary on how the music was made for Doctor Who which featured composers using synthesizers and multi-tracks — that’s what got me really into music technology. So I got hold of some very basic recording equipment and some computer recording software and began to experiment.

I was being taught at the time by Ian McKerrell, pipe major of the Kintyre Schools Pipe Band.  He’s a great composer and through him he introduced me to the works of local composers such as George McIntyre (Loch Ruan, Lucy Cassidy) and Ronnie Fleming (Bengullion).

Through Ian, I got a bit more into writing tunes for performance with other instruments — at the time it was particularly through ceilidh bands and that’s when I started to think about keys and modes.

What are your influences?

Until I was about 16 I rarely listened to anything other than pipe band music.  My favourite albums at the time were Robert Mathieson’s The Big Birl and also Victoria Police Pipe Band’s Live in the Rockies and Masterblasters.  These albums include a wide range of simple and complex tunes of high quality that I loved to listen to and play.  I was playing in the David Urquhart Travel Pipe Band at the time, and its performance material was being devised by Douglas Campbell, who is also a keen composer.  Through Dougie, I was introduced to groups such as Shooglenifty, Capercaillie and Blair Douglas – this is what broadened my mind when it came to composing.

What’s your opinion on modern composers, and who impresses you?

As I said, the Victoria Police guys were a big influence, particularly Murray Blair and Mark Saul.  They are both very creative and clever composers, but also very musical.  They don’t write clever tunes for the sake of being clever — they work well melodically and harmonically.  Don Bradford is another of my favourite modern composers. He finds a hook, and develops it — sometimes throughout an entire suite.

There are some composers who come out with otherworldly tunes — Gordon Duncan and Allan MacDonald for example.  It’s difficult to imagine how they came up with some of the tunes they have — they’re simply mind-blowingly melodic.

How do you mould a tune, from concept to completion?

This varies a lot.  Sometimes I will have a reason to compose a tune such as a birthday or for a present. Other than starting from scratch, I’ll perhaps develop a tune it around a hook (a strong melodic phrase). I often sing hooks into my phone if they come into my head whilst out running or, more likely, in the pub. These tend to end up as slightly stronger tunes, but still not my best.

In my opinion, the strongest tunes I have composed took a good few weeks of being focused on to develop.  I still have the first keyboard I bought, and I’ll usually find a phrase that I like on that first. I’d leave it for a few days then if it develops in my head, I’ll come back to it.  If not, I’ll leave it perhaps for another time or perhaps never to be used again.

How did you come to write the tune published in the magazine?

I remember writing this tune on New Year’s Day 2007.  I had been experimenting hooking my cheap keyboard into my computer and getting better piano sounds on it.  I was using a programme called The Grand to get a lovely grand piano sound.  That’s when I came up with the first part, but as a slow air.  I wanted it to get a bit sadder in the second part, so started on a high G — I really liked the wee runs through the tune, so kept them prominent in the second part.

I shared a flat with Stuart Cassells, and he’s constantly recommending and borrowing my ideas.  When Robert Mathieson requested the music from our suite The Lost, we suggested some openers for him – Scalasaig was one of them but I only had two parts.  

In Germany at a College of Piping School, Stuart and Robert added the third part with a key change up to B minor then a sneaky wee C sharp in the last part pushing it into A major.  At the time of doing this I have still to hear the final product — I’m sure I’ll be proud!

The day I composed it I had just come back from a gig in a hotel with Canterach and we had a guest fiddler from Colonsay for the evening who is a good friend of mine, so I named it for her home village on Colonsay.

Find out more about Lorne on his website at www.lornemacdougall.com

Other articles in this series published so far:
Chris Djuritschek with The Pingat Jasa Malaysia

Stuart Robertson is originally from Ardrossan in Ayrshire and was previously Pipe Sergeant with Torphichen & Bathgate Pipe Band in Grade 2, and played under Robert Mathieson at Shotts & Dykehead Pipe Band in Grade 1. He moved to Australia in 2010 to work for WAPOL as a piper in the band and was Pipe Sergeant under PM Jim Murray and Pipe Major for seven months until a full time replacement for Jim could be found. He is currently at the police mounted section.

Stuart released a solo album called North to South last year which can be downloaded at all the usual streaming platforms (Apple Music, Spotify etc) and also available from Bandcamp. He is also a member of the high octane traditional music band, Spirit of Alba, who are currently recording a few tracks for release sometime in 2022. You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram @spiritofalbaband. He is still enjoying life down under and composing now and again.