In 1979 the programme cover for the second day changed from a plain cover to an illustration of the fiery cross surrounded by the heraldic banners of some of the Argyllshire families long associated with the gathering. The gyrony of eight and sable of Clan Campbell can be seen on many of the banners.

The set tunes for the Gold Medal in 1979 were: The Battle of Waternish, The Groat, The Lament for Mary MacLeod, The Lament for the Only Son, MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart, Glengarry’s March, Corrienessan’ s Salute, Mackay’s  Banner, MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute, Too Long in this Condition, and five were to be submitted.

The tunes for the piobaireachd confined to former winners of the Gold Medal were: I Got a Kiss of the King’s Hand, The Lament for the Children, Ronald MacDonald of Morar’s Lament, My King has Landed in Moidart, The Old Men of the Shells, In Praise of Morag (Marion), Scarce of Fishing, The Unjust Incarceration, and four were to be submitted.

For the Silver Medal the requirement was six tunes of the competitor’s own choice. According to the programme in the Gold Medal competition first prize winners in the Argyllshire Gathering Gold Medal were excluded and entry was restricted to those who had won a prize in competition for the Gold Medal at a former gathering at Oban or Inverness. Despite this statement Robert Barnes, the Silver Medal winner from the previous year, must have been eligible as he entered for the Gold. The rules on eligibility for the other events were as in the previous year.

The events on the first day were the Gold medal commencing at 10am in the Corran Halls,  the Piobaireachd for previous winners of the medal at 930am in St Columba’s Cathedral Hall, the Silver Medal at 9.45am in the Dunollie Halls, and the Juvenile March, Strathspey and Reel at 2.45pm at St Columba’s Cathedral Hall. The prize money was as before except that the piobaireachd confined to former winners was sponsored by Grant’s Whisky this time.

The 19 competitors for the Gold Medal were: Ian G. Duncan, Perth; Evan Macrae, Caol, Fort William; John M. Allan, Edinburgh; Duncan Watson, Aberdeen; William Livingstone, Whitby, Ontario; Tom Speirs, Edinburgh; Robert S. Barnes, Kelty, Fife; R. H. MacPhee, Penicuik; Patricia Henderson, Eassie, Angus; George Lumsden, Edinburgh; E.D. Neigh, Glasgow; Jackie Pincet, L’Hermitage, Brittany; John Wilson, Strathclyde Police; PMG. A. MacRae, London; C. I. Terry, Grahamstown, South Africa; Murray Henderson, Eassie, Angus; Donald Bain, Eassie, Angus; Colin C. Drummond, Bathgate; and PM Iain Morrison, Kirknewton, Midlothian. The judges were Dr R. Frater, Capt. J. MacLellan and Dr L. Craig.

Patricia Henderson’s third place in the Silver in 1977 at the Northern Meeting qualified her to play in the Gold Medal competition at the Northern Meeting in 1978, in which she won 4th prize. It was this prize in the Gold Medal which qualified her to play in the Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering.

There were 15 entries for the Piobaireachd open to Gold Medal winners. They were Duncan MacFadyen, Johnstone, Renfrewshire; William Livingstone, Whitby, Ontario; Malcolm McRae, Cannich, Inverness-shire; Kenneth MacDonald, Glasgow; William MacDonald, Murthly, Perthshire; Iain MacFadyen, Kyle of Lochalsh, Hugh MacCallum, Bridge of Allan; John Burgess, Invergordon, Ross-shire; Andrew Wright, Bishopton, Renfrewshire; Angus MacLellan, Strathclyde Police; PM Angus MacDonald, Scots Guards; PM Iain Morrison, Queens Own Highlanders; John McDougall, Kincraig, Inverness-shire; Finlay MacNeill, Inverness; and Murray Henderson, Eassie, Angus. The judges were Dr J. Caird, Capt. Cameron, PM MacCallum.

The Silver Medal had 28 entries and was judged by Seumas MacNeill and Captain Pitkeathly. The list of competitors was L. R. May, Kirriemuir, Angus; Patrick Grant, Conon Bridge, Inverness shire; David M. Low, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire; Christopher Jensen, Park Ridge, Illinois; Iain T. Cameron, Edinburgh; Albert McMullin, Eassie, Angus; George R. Stewart, Stonehaven, Kincardineshire; Ian McKay, Eassie, Angus; George Robertson, Ottawa, Ontario; Neil B. Gillies, Wishaw; T. Cornwall, Edinburgh; Sgt. J. Banks, Scots Guards; Euan D. Anderson, Edinburgh; Anne Stewart, Carnoustie; Archie McIntyre, Camberley, Surrey; Edward E. Clark, Strathtay, Perthshire; William McCallum, Campbeltown; Robert MacRae, Strathglass,  Inverness-shire; Ronald J. Bisset, Inverness; Roy Gunn, Eassie, Angus; Donald McBride, Glasgow; John MacKenzie, Glasgow; John M. Campbell, Bowmore, Islay; D. W. MacFarlane, Scots Guards; Robert Wallace, Glasgow; James MacDonald, Drumchapel, Glasgow; Derek Fraser, Dumfries; and Piper B. Hitchings, Queens Own Highlanders.

The juvenile MSR had 14 entries and was again judged by Captain MacLennan. The pipers were: Colin Cameron, Strachur; Eilidh Paterson, St. Catherines; Mary McLachlan, Strachur; Angus MacColl, Benderloch; Thomas McCrindle, Oban; Duncan Luke, Strachur; George Bell, Oban; Ewan Paterson, Cairndow; Steven Limbert, Strachur; Elaine Black, Strachur; Tom Gorman, Dunoon; Neil MacRaild, Strachur; Donald Black, Strachur; and David Limbert, Strachur. The result of this event was: 1. Angus MacColl, 2. Tom Gorman, 3. Elaine Black, 4. Thomas McCrindle.

The Piping Times reported: “The last Wednesday and Thursday of August found all pipers in Oban. If not there in body, then they were certainly there in spirit, for the Argyllshire Gathering is the first of the two major Meetings each year. An annual get-together of pipers:  past, present and future, where in addition to the competitions the great tales are told. Where legends are not only handed down, but created.

“In recent years it has been with some trepidation that the competing pipers have trodden the familiar paths to the west. For the memories of model aeroplanes flying over the platforms are still fresh, and the disorganisation of the events caused by having no names in the programme last year loomed large in the minds of the serious contenders.

“Lack of tuning facilities on the Wednesday has also been a worry, but Oban has been lucky for many years and the luck continued this time. Tuning up in the streets of Oban is not ideal, but so long as the weather stays fine it is possible. One shudders to think what will happen to the competitions when we get a rainy Wednesday – as we surely will some day.

“However, it was with the usual optimistic, happy hearts that we all set out for the various halls on the morning of August 29. A glance at the programme informed us that, whatever the method was of dividing the competitors into the three piobaireachd events, it had worked out exceedingly well. The biggest entry was for the Silver Medal and that was a manageable 28.”

The Senior Piobaireachd

“The problem is to know what the name of this event should be. We used to call it the “Open” piobaireachd, but that was a carry-over from the years after the war when, to get a big enough entry, anyone was allowed to play in it. Now it is confined to former winners of the Gold Medal at Oban or Inverness, and so is equivalent to the Clasp at Inverness – but there is no clasp awarded, so we can’t call it that. This year it was sponsored by Grant’s Whisky, so maybe that is a solution to the problem.

“Of the fifteen top pipers who entered, only one – Pipe Major Angus MacDonald of the Scots Guards – failed to turn up. As a result the standard of playing was the best in recent memory, with no less than nine of the competitors in serious contention for a prize.

“In such a competition it would be invidious to search for the details of technique or expression which determined the order of merit, because no player can be outstanding when all give so much pleasure to an enthusiastic and knowledgeable audience.

“In the end the award went to Hugh MacCallum for a splendid rendering of The Unjust Incarceration. Second came Iain MacFadyen whose rendering of I got a Kiss of the King ‘s Hand was considered by the judges to be just marginally less pleasing than the winner’s tune.

•Iain MacFadyen and Hugh McCallum in 1979

“Third prize went to Pipe Major Iain Morrison of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, playing The Old Men of the Shells, and in fourth place was John D. Burgess with Ronald MacDonald of Morar’s Lament.

“The other players with their tunes, in order of appearance were as follows: Duncan MacFadyen – My King has landed in Moidart. William Livingstone – Scarce of Fishing. Malcolm McRae – The Unjust Incarceration. Kenneth MacDonald – The Old Men of the Shells. William MacDonald (Benbecula ) –  In Praise of Morag. Andrew Wright – I got a Kiss of the King ‘s Hand. Angus MacLellan – Lament for the Children. John MacDougall – Lament for the Children. Finlay MacNeill – In Praise of Morag. Murray Henderson – Scarce of Fishing.

“The judges were Dr. Colin Caird, Capt. Iain C. Cameron and Pipe Major Ronald MacCallum.”

•Hugh McCallum with Tom Speirs in 1979

The Gold Medal

“Presumably because of the magic associated with the name Gold Medal this is the event which always attracts the most attention and usually gets the best publicity in the press. As usual the Corran Hall, the biggest one in Oban, was given over to this particular struggle, and a large number of enthusiasts were present even from the start at 10am.

“Ten tunes had been set, of which the competitors had to submit five. All ten were compositions which every good piper will eventually have in his repertoire, so a high standard of playing – reflecting many months of careful study and practice­ was expected.

“In fact, apart from the four prize-winners, this is what we did not get. Perhaps the preparations are aimed more at Inverness than Oban, or perhaps the Argyllshire Gathering comes too soon after the summer spade-and-pail holiday with the weans down at Saltcoats, or is it Majorca nowadays? Whatever the reason, an unexpected number of mistakes made the task of the judges nice and simple.

“Of course the pressure is harder in the gold medal event than in any other piping competition. To get into the history books as a piper of note you have to win a Highland Society of London Gold Medal, so nerves and imagination play a big part in the final results.

“Four of the competitors had already won the gold medal at Inverness. One of them (Pipe Major Iain Morrison) broke down. The other three took the top places in the contest, so there may well be something in what old Angus Macpherson used to say­ The cream always comes to the top.

“Winner of the coveted award was William Livingstone from Canada playing Lament for Mary MacLeod. Any one of the tunes could of course have won the competition, but perhaps Mary MacLeod was the one most pipers hoped to get. Bill played it as it appears in the Kilberry book and gave a fine, competent performance from beginning to end.

“In second place came John Wilson of the Strathclyde Police, a young man who has as good fingers as anybody treading the boards today. His tune was The Groat.

“Third prize went to Murray Henderson, who as always gave an interesting interpretation of his tune. One is almost tempted to conclude that the pipers from Angus and the Mearns will, other things being equal, always play the obscure or non­ standard setting of a tune – which is an attitude to be admired, although it may be a bit risky at times. Murray’s tune this time was MacLeod of Raasay ‘s Salute  and he played it, as indeed is suggested on the right hand page of the Piobaireachd Society collection, as a lament. This was the view favoured by John MacFadyen, and it has a great deal to commend it. The only snag in presenting it that way is that it is so much easier to play the tune as a lament than as a salute.

“Fourth prize went to the other Canadian in the competition, Ed Neigh, also from Ontario.   His tune was The Battle of Waternish, which he played with his usual keen mental concentration, and total physical commitment.

“The judges were Dr. Leslie Craig, Dr. Robert Frater and Captain J. MacLellan.”

The Silver Medal

“The third of the three piobaireachd events was for the Silver Medal of the Argyllshire Gathering. In fact 24 pipers competed for it. The standard on the whole was very good for such an event, with many fine performances and many which although only good in part were what one could confidently describe as promising. On the other hand a bouquet must be awarded to whoever did the grading, because none of the players in this event would have gained a prize in the Gold Medal event. The function of the Silver Medal is to give the younger or less experienced pipers an opportunity to try themselves out at a major meeting so that in due time they can compete for the Gold Medal and higher awards.

“The winner of the competition was Cpl. Bruce Hitchings of the Queen’s Own Highlanders playing Rory MacLeod’s Lament. Bruce was last to play in the competition and so might be considered to have had a lucky draw, but his performance was quite clearly the best. On an excellent bagpipe he kept the lament going well from beginning to end. In two respects however he could improve on his playing of this and other tunes. The fingering of the throw from E to high G was correct but much too slow. His throw from low G to high G was by contrast so quick that it was impossible to say whether the fingering was accurate or not, although one suspected the latter. Practice will eventually overcome this fault.

“The other flaw was that he rests inordinately long on the low A after every taorluath and the E after every crunluath. This is a style of playing which may well have been popular in some parts 50 years ago but has never been pretty and is not favoured at all today. The important thing is to rest on the theme note each time, and cut the last note of the movement so that the next theme note is heard very soon.

“Second prize went to young William MacCallum from Campbeltown playing The Battle of Auldearn, No. 2 setting. William has the basic requirements of a very good bagpipe and splendid fingers, and his performance over all was very enjoyable. He did however seem to be a little bit nervous about the whole affair, and started the ground a shade too fast. Variation two would have been better if divided into bar phrases, and he could do a lot more with changes of tempo.

“Iain T. Cameron from Edinburgh was third with The Lament for Mary MacLeod.  His long tuning was a bit wearisome and possibly quite unnecessary because the bagpipe held up well. In the ground his low G gracenotes were too light and he held the F’s in lines 2 and 3 too long. Some timing problems were evident throughout, the worst of which was his phrasing of the crunluath doubling.  He should have read the article on the subject in the Piping Times of June this year.

“Cpl. Banks was placed fourth for a very slow rendering of MacDougall’s Gathering. His throws on F are missing one gracenote, and although this is a common fault in pipers he should not follow the crowd. Some crunluaths were missed also but the main drawback to his tune was that in the crunluath doubling the leaps which are a characteristic feature of this piece were like the legendary leaps of Nijinski – a long time was spent in mid-air.

“Fifth prize went to Derek Fraser (second last to play) whose tune was Corrienessan’s Salute.   This was pleasant playing on a sweet pipe. The phrasing in the ground was a bit amateurish but the tune improved greatly as he went along.

“Others who must have been considered for a prize included Patrick Grant (MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute) whose pipes were not quite spot on from the beginning and he played a bit square; Euan Anderson (MacLeod ‘s Controversy) who had excellent fingers and bagpipe but played with very little feeling for the tune; Edward Clark (Black Donald’s March) who must  be the most improved piper in Scotland this past year but who played a bit stodgy and finished with a weak crunluath a mach; John MacKenzie (MacLeod’s Salute) who was tentative in the ground and had Bruce Hitching’s fault with the taorluath and crunluath variations; and Robert Wallace (MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart) whose phrasing at times, and in particular his handling of the lead-up to cadences, was not good.

Mention must also be made of the man who started as if he were the best player in the competition, as well he may have been. This was Roy Gunn from Australia whose tuning phrases were most impressive. His ground of I Got a Kiss of the King’s Hand was quite splendid but unfortunately he made a mistake in the next variation and broke down.

The judges in this event were Seumas MacNeill and Captain Andrew Pitkeathly.”

The March

“With better luck than last year the Games day turned out to be one of the best of the summer (although that is not saying much). Warm sunshine made piping a pleasure, and in general the pipes and the pipers went exceedingly well.

•Bill Livingstone, John D Burgess, Iain MacFadyen and John Wilson in 1979

“A nice touch was that the march up to the games, led by the stewards and then the pipers, had Bill Livingstone in the pipe major’s position. This is the first time that the honour has gone to an overseas piper, and undoubtedly it is one richly deserved by this fine Canadian player.

“A good standard was heard in the march, but once again one has to lament the absence of great genius in this branch of pipe music. We await with some nostalgia the appearance of someone with brilliance of both fingering and expression. Perhaps the influence of the pipe band is being felt more here than elsewhere.

“Competitors had submitted six tunes each, one of which was chosen by the judges for them to play twice over. There was no short leet. The result was as follows: 1. Cpl. Robert Barnes, Queen’s Own Highlanders; 2. Donald Bain, New Zealand; 3. Murray Henderson, Angus; 4. John MacKenzie, Ottawa; 5. Walter Cowan, Dumfries. The judges were Dr. Colin Caird, Dr. R. Frater and Capt. D. R. MacLennan.”

The March, Strathspey and Reel

“This event, for former winners of either the march or the strathspey and reel at the Argyllshire Gathering, is the biggest test of light music which we have. Many pipers who have not reached the dizzy heights of being permitted to play in it often feel that the test is too severe, but those who have taken part enjoy the challenge to the full.

“At Oban six of each type of tune has to be offered by the piper, so that this makes it an even tougher test than at Inverness where four are considered sufficient. The tunes are chosen by the judges in any order, and each tune is played twice over.

“A high standard was enjoyed by the big crowd who strained at the ropes to try to hear every note – a task made rather difficult by the presence of the judges’ tent between them and the competitors.

“The results were as follows: 1. Sgt. James Banks, Scots Guards, with Abercairney Highlanders, Susan MacLeod and The Smith of Chilliechassie. 2. Pipe Major Iain Morrison, Queen’s Own Highlanders, with Capt. Carswell, Lady Louden and Broadford Bay. 3. Hugh MacCallum, Renfrewshire Militia, Tullochgorm and Lexie MacAskill.

“Others who played well included John D. Burgess, Ed Neigh and John MacDougall.

“The judges were Capt. John MacLellan, Pipe Major Ronald MacCallum and Capt. Andrew Pitkeathly.”

The Strathspey and Reel

“To have a short leet or not, that is the question?   It seems that most of the judges (at least at Oban this year) prefer a straight run-through and the hell with it.  Nevertheless, since only forty had entered for the event and apparently about half­ a-dozen of these had not turned up, it was decided that the tunes would be played once over each, and that there would be a short leet. It must be admitted that this decision was a minor disaster. Although in fact only twenty-seven played in the event – and it started ten minutes early – the leet was still going on at six o’clock when everybody else had left the field.

“Admittedly there were several interruptions – a lunch break, two performances by the Oban Pipe Band, a presentation to heavy athletic champions and a parachute drop on to the field. But once again the pipers’ names did not appear on the programme, and the two young stewards, who did not know any of the pipers, soon lost heart. Long gaps developed between the competitors, until one might have imagined one was judging in Ontario instead of Scotland. After the first run-through, one third (!) of the competitors were asked to play again. This time the tunes had to be played twice over, but they were allowed to pick their own tunes provided that these came from the lists already submitted.

“The result was announced as follows: 1. Sgt. J. Banks, Susan MacLeod and The Sheepwife, then Susan MacLeod and The Smith of Chilliechassie; 2. Cpl. Robert Barnes, The Piper’s Bonnet and Willie Cummings, then The Piper’s Bonnet and The Sheepwife; 3. Ed Neigh, The Bob of Fettercairn and Mrs. Macpherson of Inveran, and then Lady Loudon and Willie Murray’s Reel; 4. Murray Henderson, Maggie Cameron and Sandy Cameron, and then Arniston Castle and Mrs. Macpherson of Inveran; 5. William MacCallum, The Ewe with the Crooked Horn and Lochcarron, and then The Ewe with the Crooked Horn and Lexie MacAskill.

“The others who reached the short leet were Ed Clark, Derek Fraser, Walter Cowan and Ann Stewart.

“The standard of playing was very good overall and that of Sgt. Banks was particularly impressive. Robert Barnes played well also, although in the short leet he did not manage to get his pipes properly in tune at the start. Ed Neigh, after some very long tuning, gave an outstanding performance of Willie Murray’s Reel, a tune which really requires great study in the presentation. Murray Henderson had some unclear birls in his strathspey, and William MacCallum was a bit untidy at the end of his strathspey second time round.

“Of the others, Ed Clark lost a bit of concentration in the third part of his reel, Walter Cowan was unsteady in the fifth part of his reel, and Ann Stewart had a slight fumble near the end of her performance. Walter also should beware of what was called at the beginning of last century playing short. In these days that meant missing out variations of piobaireachds, and although all Walter does wrong is to omit the last note of the reel each time, it is still a breach of contract. The judges in this event were Dr. Leslie Craig, Seumas MacNeill and Captain Andrew Pitkeathly.

“The local competitors were mostly all younger people, and they put up a very good show on the whole. The march result was 1. Alastair Currie, Bowmore, Islay; 2. Neil Johnstone, Oban; 3. Allen Clement.

“Strathspey and reel: 1. Neil Johnstone; 2. Alastair Currie; 3. James Beaton.

“Of those not placed, Sine Stewart was unfortunate in that she was the best player in the competition but had the worst pipes, and probably as a result her fingering was a bit careless at times. The judges were Seumas MacNeill and Captain Andrew Pitkeathly.”