BY JEANNIE CAMPBELL MBE.
More changes were brought to the competitions at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1980. For the Gold Medal, first prize winners of this event at the Argyllshire Gathering were excluded and entry was restricted to those who had won a prize in a Gold Medal competition at a former gathering at Oban or Inverness and previous first prize winners in the Silver Medal competition at the Argyllshire Gathering. A new trophy, The Grant’s Whisky Senior Piobaireachd Trophy, was awarded in addition to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Cup for the event open only to previous Gold Medal winners. This event took place in the Phoenix Cinema beginning at 9.30am. The programme listed nine competitors, Iain Morrison, Edinburgh; Malcolm McRae, Strathglass; Iain MacFadyen, Kyle of Lochalsh; John MacDougall, Kincraig; Finlay MacNeill, Inverness; Donald Morrison, Aberdeen; Hugh MacCallum, Bridge of Allan; Dr. William Wotherspoon, Tyne and Wear; Duncan MacFadyen, Johnstone, but a tenth competitor, Murray Henderson, was added.
The tunes set for the Gold Medal in 1980 were four from this list of eight: The Battle of Bealach nam Brog, Beloved Scotland, The Gathering of Clan Chattan, Isabel MacKay, Lachlan MacNeill of Kintarbert’s Fancy, The Lament for the departure of King James, Lament for John Garve MacLeod of Raasay, and Lament for MacSwan of Roaig.
For the Senior Piobaireachd, four from this list of seven: Hihorodo Tra Cherede Che, Hindro Hindro, Lament for the Dead, Lament for Lord Breadalbane, My Dearest on Earth Give Me Your Kiss, The Red Hand in the MacDonalds’ Arms, and The Young Laird of Dungallon’s Salute.
For the Silver Medal, six tunes of the players own choice.
The Gold Medal competition took place in the Corran Halls at 9.15am. The competitors listed in the programme were: Piper R. Barnes, Royal Guard Regt., Oman; Lt. J. M. Allan, Scottish Division School of Music; D. B. MacNeill, Edinburgh; P/S John Wilson, Strathclyde Police; Dr. William Wotherspoon, Tyne and Wear; Tom Speirs, Edinburgh; Colin C. Drummond, Bathgate; E. D. Neigh; Wellesley, Ontario; Ian Duncan, Perth; Jackie Pincet, Brittany; Ronald McShannon, Glasgow; Christopher Terry, Grahamstown, South Africa; Duncan Watson, Aberdeen; Piper Bruce Hitchings, Queen’s Own Highlanders; E. MacRae, Fort William; Donald Morrison, Aberdeen; but two more were added, being Murray Henderson and Patricia Henderson.
The Silver Medal began at 9am in the Dunollie Halls. There were 29 names in the programme, Piper D. M. MacMurchie, Royal Scots Dragoon Guards; Piper T. Wilson, Royal Scots Dragoon Guards; Cpl. Iain Macey, 4th Royal Tank Regt.; Robert MacRae, Beauly; Christopher Jensen, Illinois, U.S.A; Miss Anne Stewart, Carnoustie; William MacCallum, Campbeltown; Alan MacDonald, Glasgow; Miss Kathleen Paterson, St. Catherines; Dr. Iain Cameron, Glasgow; John W. Riach, Balloch, Inverness; George Lumsden, Edinburgh; Neil B. Gillies, Edinburgh; PM Gavin Stoddart, Royal Highland Fusiliers; D. M. Low, Inverurie; Euan Anderson, Edinburgh; Miss Anne Sinclair, Glasgow; Dr. Angus MacDonald, Glasgow; Neil Jones-Sexton, Little Brechin; Robert Wallace, Glasgow; D. W. MacFarlane, Scots Guards; James MacDonald, Glasgow; Colin MacLellan, Brockville, Ontario; Edward Clark, Pitlochry; Sir Patrick Grant, Glasgow; John MacKenzie, Agincourt, Ontario; James B. Hood, Bonnyrigg; John M. Campbell, Bowmore, Islay; and Cpl. T. Cornwall, Royal Scots.
Seven more names were added on the day.
The Junior March, Strathspey and Reel was in the Phoenix Cinema at 2.45pm or after the Senior Piobaireachd competition. The competitors were, Colin Cameron, Strachur; Neil MacKinnon, Oban; Thomas Gorman, Dunoon; Anne Munro, St. Catherines; Angus MacColl, Benderloch; Duncan Luke, Strachur; Ewan Paterson, St. Catherines, Elaine Black, Strachur; Steven Limbert, Strachur; and David Peter, Strachur.
The biggest change was on the second day with the move from the Argyllshire Gathering Ground to Mossfield Park. After leaving the square and going along Combie Street, instead of taking the right fork on to Soroba Road and walking up past the High School to the old ground, the parade now took the left fork at the church and went up the steep hill of Glencruitten Road to the new ground. As the parade of the stewards and 50 pipers reached the ground it began to rain. Instead of the advertised 10.15 starting time the commencement of the piping events was delayed until 11.30am. The Oban Pipe Band was again present and played at 12.45 and 3.10pm.
Another change was the addition of three new dancing events for girls, Highland Fling, Seann Truibhas and Flora MacDonald’s Fancy. The previous events for Men, Boys and Ladies continued as before. The names of the piping competitors were listed in the programme but in addition there were seven more names added to the lists on the day, bringing the total numbers to 56 for the March and 54 for the Strathspey and Reel. There were six entries in each of the local events and eleven in the Former Winners MSR.
The Gathering was reported as follows in the Piping Times: “At the end of August nowadays comes the first of the premier gatherings for pipers, and the warm sunshine on Wednesday, the 27th gave a real welcome to pipers from all over the world who had gathered to take part in the famous festivities.
“The first day of course is given over entirely to piobaireachd, held in three separate halls. The premier event, for the master players, is sponsored by Grants’ Whisky and it attracted an entry of nine pipers – all previous winners of the Gold Medal at Oban and/or Inverness.
“First to play was Pipe Major Iain Morrison of the Queen’s Own Highlanders, and the tune chosen by him was Hihorodo Tra Cherede Che, the shorter of the two nameless tunes in Book 12 which had been set this year. This was a very good performance considering that it was at the start of the competition, and the bagpipe as usual was in first class order. Perhaps a little more time could have been given at the ends of the phrases in the ground, and the crunluath movement was a little soft-sounding, with one important G gracenote missed completely. Nevertheless it was a most enjoyable performance and set a high standard for the competition.
“Malcolm McRae was second to play, his tune being The Lament for the Dead. The alternative name for this piece is The Rout of Bendoeg, and it was just a little bit difficult to know whether Malcolm had intended to play the tune as a lament or as a rout. More change of tempo between Variations 1, 2 and 3 would have helped, and the taorluath and crunluath movements were just a little bit on the clumsy side. He did have the courage however to play a crunluath a mach variation which was hardly necessary, and was marred by a change of mind at the start of the second bar.
“The bagpipe again was in perfect condition and although this was not a tune to be remembered in years to come, it was sound enough throughout.
“John MacDougall gave a rather dull and uninspired interpretation of The Lament for Lord Breadalbane. He had some very good phrasing in the ground but the variations were treated too evenly. As always he played the triplets extremely well but he was too fast coming down in hiharin – perhaps because the movement is wrongly written in the book. He tended to rush hindaridin and played che en odro instead of hienodro each time, which he is perfectly entitled to do but it did not, to some ears, sound quite so musical.
“As always his crunluath fosgailte was quite magnificent; it is hardly necessary to say that the bagpipe was of the top class.
“He was followed by Murray Henderson who gave a good, competent performance with My Dearest on Earth give me your Kiss. He had a very strange intro to the tune, holding the E cadence gracenote longer than is usual. If he does this then surely he should make the D gracenote much bigger, as for example in the Donald Mor run-down.
“His ground was a little bit uncertain throughout, lacking the confident assertion which we remember from John MacFadyen on a famous occasion at Inverness. Thereafter the tune was played well, but the unexpected low G to E which recurs was not played cleanly every time. He did try to show us where the ends of the lines were in each variation, but he should realise that resting on the last note, or as sometimes happened on the second last note, is a very artificial and unsatisfactory way of indicating the end of the musical phrase.
“He played an a mach variation, which was fine since the bagpipe was staying perfectly in tune.
“Hugh MacCallum, as always, gave a competent, confident and professional performance on a first-class bagpipe. His tune was The young Laird of Dungallon’s Salute, and it was very hard to find anything wrong with it, although at the same time it was hard to feel any great excitement or elation in listening to this steady performance. The only flaw perhaps was a tendency to get off the high G note too quickly, as so often happens in tunes of this kind.
“Dr. William Wotherspoon played Hin dro Hin dro, the longer of the two nameless pieces. Tackling a tune which presumably no living piper has ever played before is always a difficult task, but Bill gave quite a musical and intelligent rendering of it. The fingering throughout however lacked crispness, and he really must put some work into this side of his playing if he is to excel in the highest competitions.
“Last to play was Duncan MacFadyen who started off with a brilliant and apparently quite original interpretation of The Red Hand in the MacDonald’s Arms. It seemed that nothing could stop this from being the winning tune, because it had all that we look for in this standard of event. Strangely however, Duncan played the variations rather slowly and carefully and this treatment did not match with his confident start. Towards the end he went badly off the tune, although he did manage to finish in good order.
“The other two competitors were Iain MacFadyen and Donald Morrison, both of whom were given tunes they had not quite mastered; they decided not to devote too much time to exploring the possibilities of their pieces.
“The prize list was announced as follows: 1. Pipe Major Iain Morrison; 2. Murray Henderson; 3. Hugh MacCallum; 4. Malcolm McRae. The judges were Mr. James Campbell, Seumas MacNeill and Captain Andrew Pitkeathly.”
The Gold Medal
“Entry for this prestigious event was restricted, but it seems as if restrictions could be eased considerably in the future since only 18 pipers had put their names forward. Each submitted four tunes from a list of eight which had been set. The standard throughout was very good, and the introduction of the Silver Medal event has certainly made this contest a much more enjoyable one for the average listener.
“First prize went to Murray Henderson who has been one of the most consistent competitors in recent years. His tune was the very musical Lachlan MacNeill Campbell of Kintarbert’s Fancy, and on an excellent bagpipe he gave a flawless interpretation. In recent years he has been near the top in this event several times, but this time he made absolutely sure.
“Second prize went to John Wilson from Campbeltown, now pipe-sergeant in the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band. John also has been knocking at the door to add the Oban medal to his Inverness one, but once again he had to settle for the unenviable position of runner-up.
“He was asked to play the same tune as the winner, so the task of separating these two fine performances was slightly simplified. Nevertheless this was another great interpretation produced by flawless fingers on an outstanding instrument.
“In third place came Chris Terry from South Africa, playing the big tune, Beloved Scotland. He showed good mastery of this difficult piece and linked the variations well together. There was however some signs of tiring and perhaps loss of concentration towards the end of his performance.
“Fourth prize went to Robert Barnes for his interpretation of the somewhat controversial tune Lament for MacSwan of Roaig. As always his fingering was of the highest standard but he rather lost the lament sound through some jerky timing, and the bagpipe did not stay as well in tune as he would have wished.
“Others who merited serious consideration from the judges included Lt. Jock Allan, who tended to cut Beloved Scotland in the early stages but gave a good overall performance; Ed Neigh who did not quite get the smoothness of interpretation which is so necessary for Lament for the Departure of King James; Jakez Pincet who played an outstanding Beloved Scotland but was criticised for some too fast crunluaths to the low G; Patricia Henderson, Beloved Scotland, who as always gave a very musical performance on an excellent bagpipe; and Evan MacRae, Isabel MacKay, who had the best bagpipe of the day but made some slips in his tune later.
“A surprising feature was that Pipe Major Iain Morrison had not entered for this event. Presumably he had been unable to find time to learn two lots of set tunes, and decided to concentrate on the Senior Piobaireachd rather than the Gold Medal, probably a wise decision as it turned out.
“The judges were Capt. Iain C. Cameron, Pipe Major Ronald MacCallum and Capt. D. R. MacLennan.”
The Silver Medal
“A total of 32 pipers had entered for the third level piobaireachd event, which was won rather comfortably by Pipe Major Gavin Stoddart of the Royal Highland Fusiliers. His tune was the long and beautiful Lament for Ronald MacDonald of Morar, and he showed that he will not be out of place competing for the Gold Medal next year.
“The standard throughout was somewhat mixed as might be expected, ranging from the very good to the frankly awful. The prize-winners however all played exceptionally well, with Dr. Angus MacDonald giving a high standard Battle of Waternish to maintain a good Scottish representation in face of the strong overseas challenge.
“Third prize went to Doug Thoresen who is here from New Zealand on a Churchill scholarship to study piping this year. He gave a good interpretation of Kinlochmoidart’s Lament No. l.
“Fourth prize also went to a New Zealander, Mr. John Hanning whose two sons were also playing in the competition. His Donald Duaghal MacKay was highly commended by all who heard it and might have gained a higher place on the prize list but for a rather obvious choke near the end.
“Fifth place went to Cpl. Iain Macey of the 4th Royal Tank Regiment playing The Lament for the Viscount of Dundee, but he also suffered a lack of concentration and had a stumble in the tune near the end. The judges in this event were Dr. Leslie Craig and Dr. Robert Frater.”
“The news that the old Argyllshire Gathering field had been sold and that the Games on the second day would be held for the first time ever, in Mossfield Park, had most of us feeling that the Argyllshire Gathering would never be quite the same again. In fact however the change of venue was a big improvement. Mossfield Park is quite close to the traditional home of the Games, but it is much bigger, better laid out and in much more beautiful surroundings. We look forward to really enjoyable times there once some of the snags of organisation are ironed out, and the weather improves.
“After the march of the pipers and stewards there was quite a delay before the events started. The weather was only partly to blame for this, but eventually events were in full swing on three different platforms.
“Perhaps in future years one or two of these platforms could be situated outside of the running track in order to give the audience a chance to hear the piping a bit better. The size of the field now is so large that it is just impossible to know what is going on, but the very size lends itself to better planning in situating the platforms.”
March, Strathspey and Reel
“The premier event on the second day is of course the March, Strathspey and Reel confined to former first prize winners of either the March or the Strathspey and Reel. This is the biggest test of light music playing in the world, each competitor having to submit six of each type of tune, and then play the chosen pieces twice over each. Even the Northern Meeting is not so demanding, their lists consisting of four tunes of each kind only.
“Ten pipers played in this event and in spite of the weather and the distractions the standard was very high. The major distraction was the way the heavy athletes used the platform as a seat, a store for their gear and a place to stand and chat. This criticism does not apply to the experienced men like Bill Anderson for example; who is as considerate of other competitors as he no doubt would like them to be of him. But it was unusual, to say the least, for the judges to have to shoo away the big men at regular intervals.
“First to play in the competition was John Wilson who set a splendid standard with a well controlled performance. As always the fingering was excellent but just a little tight in the doublings at times. His bagpipe had the big band sound and stayed well in tune throughout.
“Dugald MacNeill had some trouble in getting the pipe to his satisfaction, but even then the drones did not stay in tune throughout. This perhaps unsettled him but he played well enough in the circumstances.
“Pipe Major Iain Morrison began his march with a surprising and uncharacteristic fluffed doubling and then decided after he had played the tune once over that that was enough for the day and came off.
“Ed Neigh put everything into his selection, as is his wont, but over-reached himself in the reel and sadly lost the place. Donald Morrison followed and although he gave much evidence of the great brilliance of which he is capable, he seemed to be lacking match practice and had several flaws.
“It was a relief to find another player – Iain MacFadyen this time – who could be cool, competent and totally in charge of his tunes from beginning to end. He was a little apt to rush his strathspey and the balance of his chanter was not as good as usual, but this was a good performance and likely to feature in the prize list.
“Malcolm McRae also kept good control of his tunes through out but his playing was a bit laboured and not up to the standard necessary for a prize in this event.
“Tom Speirs has apparently dropped The Brown Haired Maid from his list of tunes (why should he attempt sixteen parts of a reel when the others are playing eight?) but in spite of that he was unfortunate enough to suffer a lack of concentration and crashed when he was going exceedingly well.
“Second last to play was Robert Barnes whose clean and accurate fingering is always a delight to hear, but unfortunately his performance was marred by a tragic slip near the end of the reel.
“Last to play was Hugh MacCallum who gave his usual steady performance – good solid fingering on a well tuned and balanced bagpipe.
“The results were announced as follows: 1. Hugh MacCallum, Southall, The Ewe with the Crookit Horn and John MacKechnie; 2. John Wilson, Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban, Maggie Cameron and Major Manson; 3. Iain MacFadyen, The Braes of Castle Grant, Inveraray Castle and Captain Lachlan MacPhail of Tiree.
“The judges were Pipe Major Ronald MacCallum and Seumas MacNeill.:
“Over 50 pipers had entered for this event and for the Strathspey and Reel, but fortunately not all of them turned up. No short leets were held, the judges being confident that they could do it in a wanny.
“The result was: 1. John Wilson, The 51st Division at Beaumont Hamel; 2. Alasdair Hanning, Allan Dodd’s Farewell to Scotland; 3. Murray Henderson, Glengarry Gathering; 4. Iain MacFadyen, Southall; 5. Pipe Major Gavin Stoddart, The Crags of Stirling.
“Apart from the winners, this was not a high standard of competition, but then we do not often hear really great march playing nowadays.
“It was particularly interesting to hear Alasdair Hanning from New Zealand. His father had been placed in the Silver Medal competition the day before, and in this event the father John was in competition with his two sons, Alasdair and Ross. All of them played well. The judges were Dr. Leslie Craig, Dr. Robert Frater and Capt. Andrew Pitkeathly.”
The Strathspey and Reel
“Here again, the prize winners excepted, the standard was well below what we would expect at the Argyllshire Gathering, with many breakdowns and frequent errors even from those who managed to finish their tunes. The damp cold weather was obviously partly to blame, but in doubling the entry over the past 20 years, the ladle has obviously had to descend closer to the bottom of the barrel. Congratulations however can be awarded, with a clear conscience, to the prize-winners, who were: 1. Pipe Major Gavin Stoddart, Blair Drummond and The Sheepwife; 2. Robert Barnes, The Piper’s Bonnet and Mrs. Macpherson of Inveran; 3. Robert Wallace, Susan MacLeod and John Morrison of Assynt House; 4. Dr. Angus MacDonald, Delvinside and John MacKechnie; 5. Walter Cowan, Caledonian Society of London and Major Manson. The judges were Capt. Iain C. Cameron and Capt. D. R. MacLennan.”
“Only five young people came forward to play in the local March competition, and with one less in the Strathspey and Reel event it did not appear that local piping in the Oban area is in a very healthy state. It is however a little confusing to know who in fact is eligible to play in these events, because the principal march and strathspey contests have special prizes in them for local pipers. Also the juvenile piping of the first day takes care of all those who are under 16, so perhaps things are not so bad as one might fear. In any case the number of pipers entering for the local events has never at any time been very large. It cannot be said with honesty that the standard in these competitions was very high. All the competitors were young people and most of them had a lot of difficulty in getting their pipes in good order. Two who impressed particularly were James Beaton and Sine Stewart, but how Miss Stewart can bear to play on such a badly-tuned bagpipe beats all reason. The results were: March – 1. B. Hutcheson; 2. G. Lang; 3. Sine Stewart. Strathspey and Reel- 1. Sine Stewart; 2. B. Hutcheson; 3. J. Beaton. The judges were Pipe Major Ronald MacCallum and Seumas MacNeill.”
Junior March, Strathspey and Reel
“This event was held on Wednesday afternoon, following the Senior Piobaireachd. The competition was confined to boys and girls under 16 years, natives of or residents in the county of Argyll. It is almost always a pleasure to hear young people at the start of their competitive career, and this was no exception to the rule.
“The winner was Angus MacColl from Benderloch and rumour has it that he is a far out relative of the great John MacColl – certainly he comes from the same area. His tunes were Kilbowie Cottage, John Roy Stewart and Mrs. Macpherson of Inveran. Apart from a bad start to his strathspey he played extremely well throughout, and no doubt we will hear a great deal of this young man in the future.
“Second prize went to Thomas Gorman from Dunoon, playing Loch Katrine, The Shepherd’s Crook and Loch Carron. He had difficulties with a double-toned drone and had a slight slip in his strathspey, but again this was quite a nice performance.
“Elaine Black from Strachur played The Men of Argyll, The Caledonian Canal and Thomson’s Dirk and was placed third. Her reel was weak and this time the strathspey was a bit too fast and tending to go out of control, but she is a promising young player too.
“Playing the same tunes, Duncan Luke from Strachur was placed fourth. His was a much flatter toned bagpipe, which was not in itself unpleasant but he could have improved the overall sound if he had blown a bit more firmly throughout. He went slightly off in the reel, but his main worry should be to improve his technique with a bit more practice.
“A notable feature of this event was the help that almost all competitors had to have in the tuning of the bagpipe. It is a tremendous drawback for any piper anywhere not to be able to tune his own bagpipe, no matter how young he or she may be. Everybody should be taught and should persevere with attempts to tune, as soon as they are able to play on their own. All teachers tend to become exasperated and rush in to do the tuning, but this is not a kindness to the young pipers. The judges in this event were Mr. James Campbell and Captain Andrew Pitkeathly.”