by Stuart Robertson.
Piping Today
#47 2010.

Bob Worrall is one of North America’s leading teachers, adjudicators, performers and composers and is the weel-kent face of the BBC’s World Pipe Band Championships programme.  Prior to retiring from competitive piping in 1983, Bob won the North American Professional Championship an unprecedented seven times and held the Ontario Championship Supreme title for 12 of his 13 years in professional competition.  In 1977, he was winner of both the March and the Strathspey and Reel events at the Northern Meeting in Inverness.

He is highly sought-after as a teacher, both for bagpipe workshops and private tuition and he presents recitals throughout North America and elsewhere.  All of this has taken him in recent years to 35 states in the US, coast to coast in Canada, to Uruguay, Brittany, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland.  

He has also adjudicated piping events at the Argyllshire Gathering in Oban, served on the judges’ panel for solo events at the Cowal Championships and for events at the World Pipe Band Championships.

His judging background includes previous Cowal and Ulster Championships and the National Pipe Band Championships in New Zealand.  Bob is on the panel of senior adjudicators for The Piobaireachd Society, qualified for both piobaireachd and light music.  In 2000 he judged the Bratach Gorm in London, becoming the first overseas adjudicator ever invited to judge a major solo event in the UK.

Bob’s compositions appear in several contemporary piping collections and he has published The International Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music books in three volumes.  He has recorded The Classical Bagpipe, was included on the Lismor recording, An Evening of Champions, and is featured, along with Willie McCallum, on volume one of The National Piping Centre’s 1997 recording series.

When did you start composing?

I was playing with the General Motors Pipe Band  at the time.  I had a couple of parts of a jig swimming around in my head but I knew full well that it was a third/fourth part combination.  I was still searching for the first part.  So, the first composition kind of happened in reverse order.  That summer I was  adjudicating at the Antigonish Highland Games in Nova Scotia.  The Barra MacNeils were performing at the evening ceilidh in St Ninian’s Parish Centre.  They did an instrumental jig number that had the entire hall just rocking.  Something about the first tune in their selection triggered a phrase in my head and gave me the first two parts to St Ninian’s Parish Centre Ceilidh.

What inspired you to write?

That’s such a difficult question for me to answer.  Sometimes it’s an event; sometimes a special atmosphere or environment; sometimes an emotion. What I can tell you is that phrases start bumping around in my head when I’m free of all other distractions.  I’m usually alone.  Quite often, it happens when I’m on a long flight or driving along in the car.  So I tend to keep manuscript paper close to hand when I’m travelling.  That’s when From Maui to Kona happened during a Christmas vacation in Hawaii.

What are your influences? 

I love a wide variety of music. I like Latin music, Asian music (have a listen to Anushka Shankar’s recording, Rise) and a great deal of classical music.  Many of today’s contemporary composers have, without question, worked their way into the way my mind hears music. My exposure to Breton music over the years has also had a major impact and was probably what triggered Salute to Cap Caval.  Fifteen years of teaching at the Gaelic College in Cape Breton allowed me to get totally immersed into the fiddle music associated with the culture of Cape Breton.  Nevertheless, I keep being drawn back to the great compositions of Donald MacLeod, Duncan Johnstone, P/M Angus MacDonald and GS McLennan.

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

Contemporary composers like R. S. MacDonald, Angus Lawrie, Michael Grey, Bruce Gandy, Gordon Duncan, Fred Morrison and Allan MacDonald are all going to be recognised as true innovators and “classics” in the years to come.  Their compositions are going to stand the test of time.

Many modern composers are, unquestionably, writing for the pipe band genre. Many of these  tunes work within the entire pipe band ensemble but on their own they tend to lack in melodic strength. Great compositions are great melody lines. These melody lines have great flexibility and can move effortlessly from one idiom to another.  A great example of this is Cabar Feidh.  Gordon Walker’s Fiddlers’ Rally started as a jig and now Gordon has allowed the tune to morph into a hornpipe. 

Some of our top Grade 1 pipe bands have discovered this and have managed to come up with great arrangements of some of these classics.  One that quickly comes to mind was the jig arrangement that ScottishPower did with The Shepherd’s Crook.  Brilliant!

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

I never force it.  Once I have a key introductory two-bar phrase or a unique concluding phrase, the entire musical package usually emerges quite quickly. Undoubtedly, I play around with contrasting keys between phrases. This really enhances the question/answer structure within the tune.

The other thing that I think really makes for a strong melody line is the use of ascending and descending melody lines. With nine notes to play with, why not use them to their fullest.

How did you come to write the tunes published here?

Sometimes I can remember exactly where I was when a  phrase and tune came into my head. Honestly, I cannot remember what triggered The Last Train to Malaga or specifically when it happened or where I was.  That’s probably the case with most of the tunes I’ve put together. 

I do remember what was behind the title. We were having our usual week of vacation in Spain after the conclusion of the World Pipe Band Championships. We were heading to Malaga for the festival that was taking over the centre of the city.  With the indulging that was going to take place we decided we had best not drive and were best advised to take the train.  We were running behind schedule and it was announced that we had best get a move on if we were going to catch The Last Train to Malaga.

Bob Cooper was a friend who passed away in 2021.

Simon Fraser University Pipe Band playing Bob Cooper of Winnipeg as they marched off the field at the Victoria Highland Games in May 2022. SFU Pipe Band commented on their Facebook page: “Bob was a well-known and well-loved member of the pipe band community and member of the SFU Pipe Band family through his son, Blair, who was a long-time member of the band.

Other articles in this series published so far:
Chris Djuritschek with The Pingat Jasa Malaysia
• Lorne MacDougall with Scalasaig
• Murray Blair with Ross’s Farewell to Pangnirtung, New Year in Noosa and PTE Joe McConnell

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.