History of the Argyllshire Gathering part 47

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• 1982 •

BY JEANNIE CAMPBELL MBE.

There were no set tunes in 1982. Competitors for the Senior event were to submit twelve tunes, for the Gold Medal eight tunes and the Silver six tunes. The list of tunes submitted was published and showed a total of 101 different pieces. Again, the Senior was in the Phoenix Cinema at 9.30am, the Gold in the Corran Halls at 9.15am and the Silver in the Dunollie Halls at 9am.

There were eighteen entries for the Gold Medal. They were: Cpl. B. Hitchings, Queen’s Own Highlanders; Colin Drummond, Bathgate; Ronald McShannon, Glasgow; Dugald Murdoch, Christchurch, N.Z.; Iain Hines, Pencaitland; Christopher Terry, Grahamstown, S.A.; Anne Sinclair, Glasgow; Patricia Henderson, Elkton, Maryland,; P.M. R.H. MacPhee, Penicuik; Sgt. John Wilson, Strathclyde Police; Dugald B. MacNeill, Edinburgh; P.M. Iain Morrison, Queen’s Own Highlanders; Jackie Pincet, Brittany; E.D. Neigh, Wellesley, Ontario; Robert Wallace, Glasgow; Wilson M. Brown, Inverness; Tom Speirs, Edinburgh and Evan MacRae, Fort William. Of these, Iain Hines, Anne Sinclair, R H MacPhee and Iain Morrison did not play.

The Senior Piobaireachd had thirteen entries: Hugh MacCallum, Bridge of Allan; P.M. Iain Morrison, Queen’s Own Highlanders; Finlay MacNeill, Inverness; Iain MacFadyen, Kyle of Lochalsh; John MacDougall, Kincraig; Sgt. John Wilson, Strathclyde Police; Duncan MacFadyen, Johnstone; Malcolm MacRae, Cannich; Murray Henderson, Elkton, Maryland; Tom Speirs, Edinburgh; Andrew Wright, Dunblane; Kenneth MacLean, Glasgow and P.M. Angus MacDonald, Scots Guards. Three of these, Hugh MacCallum, P.M. Iain Morrison and P.M. Angus MacDonald, did not play and two, Finlay MacNeill and Tom Speirs, broke down.

There were 37 entries for the Silver Medal: Neil Smith, Glasgow; Cpl. Iain Massie, Royal Scots Dragoon Guards; Robert Stewart, Glasgow; David M.Low, Inverurie; R.G. Stewart, Corby;  Bruce Gandy, B.C.; Iain Stuart Loan, Wellington, N.Z.; Sandy MacKenzie, Alness; A.D. Smith, Grahamstown, S.A.; W. Gass, Bath; Alistair Melrose, Kirriemuir; William MacCallum, Campbeltown,; Roy Gunn, Wellington, N.Z.; Anne Spalding, Broughty Ferry; John W. Riach, Inverness; Dr Angus MacDonald, Richmond, Nova Scotia; Edward E. Clark, Pitlochry; Catherine MacInnes, Strachur; Lezlie Paterson Jones, Norwood, Massachusetts; Sgt. Iain Macey, Royal Tank Regiment; Joyce E. MacFarlane, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Patrick W. Regan, Texas; Leslie S. Watson, Annan; L.Cpl. R. MacCourt, Queen’s Own Highlanders; Kim Greely, Windsor; Euan D. Anderson, Edinburgh; Colin MacLellan, Brockville, Ontario; George R. Stewart, Inverbervie; Neil B. Gillies, Edinburgh; Michael F. Cusack, Jr., Houston, Texas; James B. Hood, Bonnyrigg; Michael Grey, Rexdale, Ontario; James E. Stack, Pequannock, N.J.; Roderick Livingstone, Norwich; William MacLean, Glasgow; John M. Campbell, Bowmore and Cyril Hall, Umvukwes, Zimbabwe.

The Junior MSR was held in the Phoenix Cinema after the Senior. There were nine competitors, Steven Limber, Strachur; John MacNaughton, Strachur; Heather Macinnes, Lochgoilhead; Ian MacCallum, Dunoon; Charles MacLaren, Newton; Angus MacColl, Benderloch; John Montgomery, Strachur; Colin Cameron, Strachur and David Peter, Strachur.

On the second day there were twelve names listed for the Former Winners MSR, 49 for the March and 46 for the Strathspey and Reel.

The Piping Times reported: “Once again the end of August brought the piping year back to Oban and to the important competitions which are for all pipers a major highlight. Merely to compete at the Argyllshire Gathering is the ambition of every lad (and now lassie) in the south, west and north-west of Scotland.

“The stewards at Oban have not yet found it necessary to restrict the entries to any great extent. The Senior Piobaireachd competition, sponsored by William Grant and Sons, is confined to former winners of the Highland Society of London Gold Medal, at either Oban or Inverness. This produced thirteen entries but only ten competitors. The Gold Medal contest is confined to former prize-winners in this event at either Oban or Inverness (excluding first prize-winners of course) or first prize-winners in the Silver Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering. We understand that in future years this latter restriction is being relaxed in order to allow first prize-winners of the Silver Medal at Inverness also to compete. Eighteen pipers entered and fourteen of them actually played.

“The Silver Medal Piobaireachd competition was open to all pipers not eligible to play in the two other events.”

Senior Piobaireachd results

  1. Andrew Wright, Earl of Seaforth’s Salute
  2. Murray Henderson, His Father’s Lament for Donald MacKenzie
  3. lain MacFadyen, The Battle of Auldearn
  4. John MacDougall, MacDougalls’ Gathering
    Judges: Dr L. M. Craig, Robert G. Hardie and Major General Frank M. Richardson

“This was a ‘rest’ year for all piobaireachd players so far as the Music Committee of the Piobaireachd Society was concerned. No set tunes had been intimated and pipers in this senior event were simply required to put forward twelve tunes of their own choice.

“It might have been expected that the standard would as a result have been exceptionally high but such was not the case. Nevertheless the prize-winners all played well and the contest was obviously enjoyed by the audience.”

Gold Medal results

  1. Evan MacRae, Squinting Patrick’s Flame of Wrath
  2. Ronald McShannon, The Battle of the Pass of Crieff
  3. Chris Terry, Lord Lovat’s Lament
  4. Wilson Brown, Lament for lain Garve Macleod of Raasay
    Judges: John D. Burgess, Dr R. Frater and Ronald MacCallum

“Over all this was generally a poor standard of competition, with only the winner emerging unscathed by the critics. Many of the performances were well below the normal standard of the competition, as they themselves would be first to admit. Eight tunes of one’s own choice should not be too big a test for those with Gold Medal aspirations, but it may have been that conditions in a large and mainly uninhabited hall were not conducive to bring the best out of the pipers.

“Exempt from all criticism is Evan MacRae who played a memorable Squinting Patrick’s Flame of Wrath, to win in what might be considered the twilight of his competing career the one prize he would value above all others.”

Silver Medal results

  1. James Stack, The Wee Spree
  2. Mike Cusack, Lachlan MacNeill Campbell of Kintarbert’s Fancy
  3. Sgt. lain Macey, Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay
  4. Leslie Watson, MacGregors’ Gathering
  5. Eddie Clark, Lament for MacSwan of Roaig
    Judges: Dr Colin Caird, Seumas MacNeill and Capt. Andrew Pitkeathly

“Being effectively a free-for-all the entry was far in excess of the ideal – thirty-seven in all – but by good fortune there were nine “no shows”. The standard was agreeably high, with some very good performances even apart from those which were awarded prizes.

“Easily the best performances were given by two Americans. James Stack from New Jersey produced an excellent rendering of The Wee Spree, with first-class technique on an excellent bagpipe. A slight tendency to get into too steady a rhythm in the doubling of the ground was the only feature which kept this from being perfect.

“Mike Cusack from Texas was comfortable and competent with Lachlan MacNeill Campbell of Kintarbert’s Fancy but it may be he has been playing this tune too long without help, because his feeling for the phrases tended to disappear at times.

“Sgt. lain Macey played competently but he has a real problem with his taorluath and crunluath movements if he wishes to advance into higher standards of competition. On the other hand Leslie Watson does these movements well but he must learn to avoid crossing noises D to E in the crunluath a mach.

“Eddie Clark was just a little bit hurried with his tune and the timing was occasionally erratic but this was an enjoyable performance.”

“Others who played well included Roy Gunn, John Riach and Euan Anderson. Dr Angus MacDonald would certainly have featured in the prize-list but he missed out a complete line in the crunluath variation.”

•March to the Argyllshire Gathering games in 1982. From front left: Evan MacRae, James Stack, Iain MacFadyen, John MacDougall and Malcolm McRae.

March, Strathspey and Reel results

  1. Hugh Macinnes, The Crags of Stirling, Tulloch Castle, Lochcarron
  2. Dr Angus MacDonald, The Braes of Castle Grant, Cabar Feidh, John Morrison of Assynt House
  3. Iain MacFadyen, Pap of Glencoe, lnveraray Castle, Dolina MacKay
  4. John MacDougall, Colin Thomson, Blair Drummond, Mrs Macpherson of lnveran
    Judges: Robert G. Hardie, Ronald MacCallum and Major General F. M. Richardson
•Dr Angus MacDonald at the Argyllshire Gathering games in 1982

“The second day of the Gathering is held in the open, in Mossfield Park, which is almost ideal for such an occasion. The arena itself is so large that the stewards have very considerably arranged the three piping platforms to be outside the running track. With the judges placed between the track and the platform it is now possible for the audience to enjoy the playing without straining the ears and without missing the bits which the tent used to cut off. All that remains to be done now is to provide small seating stands for the piping enthusiasts and to put the judges at the side so that the piper does not, in strathspey and reel playing, turn his back to the paying audience.

“The major event in the light music (confined to previous winners of either the March or the Strathspey and Reel) attracted twelve entries, of whom ten actually played. A very worthy winner was Hugh Macinnes, but the standard throughout was very good.”

•Dr Robert Frater, Dr Colin Caird, Andrew Pitkeathly at the Argyllshire Gathering games in 1982

March results

  1. Walter Cowan
  2. Iain MacFadyen
  3. Robert Wallace
  4. Murray Henderson
    Judges: Dr Colin Caird, Dr R. Frater and Capt. Andrew Pitkeathly

“A total of forty-nine entered for this event, which is open to all except former first prize-winners of it. About a dozen did not play but this still left a formidable array of talent to stretch the judges.”

Strathspey and Reel results

  1. Walter Cowan
  2. Murray Henderson
  3. Robert Wallace
  4. James Stack
  5. Ed. Neigh
    Judges: John D. Burgess, Dr Leslie Craig and Seumas MacNeill
•Leslie Craig, Seumas MacNeill, and John D. Burgess at the Argyllshire Gathering games in 1982

“From a slightly smaller entry a total of thirty-five pipers competed. In something of a novel experiment the pipers were advised that there would be a short leet in which the tunes would be played twice over; that in the first run through they would be played once only; and that no account would be taken of tuning until the short leet.

“This turned out to be very successful, so much so that this event finished long before the March did. Others in the short leet were Barry Donaldson and Mike Cusack.”

In addition to the report above the Piping Times published a piece by Ian K Murray under the title Those Dunollie Hall Blues.


Those Dunollie Hall Blues

“When top piobaireachd competitions are mentioned in conversation it comes naturally to bracket Oban and Inverness. Since I had been to Inverness regularly in recent years it seemed only right to take the opportunity which arose this year to attend the competitions on the first day of the Argyllshire Gathering.

“Arriving in Oban early on Wednesday, August 25, I was faced with a choice of three competitions starting simultaneously: the Senior, the Gold Medal and the Silver Medal.

“I opted for the Senior in the Phoenix Cinema where the first competitor was due on the boards at 9.30am. Being a picture house there were no windows, the lights are dim and the decor dark. The temperature was well below a tolerable level. The first two competitors were unable to be present, the third went astray in the first variation and by 11.10am the half dozen or so who comprised the audience had heard two complete tunes. As my hands and knees were beginning to assume the hue of the cinema (midnight blue and magenta) I decided to retreat to the Silver Medal at the Dunollie Halls.

“The door steward at the Halls explained that although they had tried they had been unable to find either the heating control switch or the hall keeper. Inside there was a desolate scene. Two judges sat huddled in overcoats, the third braved the antarctic conditions with a stoical expression which Captain Oates would have envied. The interior of Dunollie Halls has seen better days. It is now shabby and depressing, one wondered about the tuning facilities. The audience was again a handful.

“On to the Corran Halls. At least they were warm, bright and comfortable with bar and restaurant facilities. The main hall, however, was designed on a scale which had the closing concert of the Mod in mind. The Gold Medal competition looked lost in the vast arena. The playing in the afternoon was well worth listening to, culminating in a splendid Flame of Wrath which will no doubt be reported in greater detail elsewhere.

“There is something inherently wrong with the piobaireachd competitions at the Argyllshire Gathering.  Despite its historical prestige and the numerous prizes to compete for there is no sense of occasion. The ambience cannot help the competitor and positively deters an audience. It is unreasonable to expect to hear competitors at their best especially when they are consigned to the Phoenix Cinema and the Dunollie Halls. No other musician would tolerate this treatment. Why should those who chose the Highland bagpipe as their instrument be expected to do so?

“It would seem that the whole format for these competitions requires to be carefully re-thought from scratch.

“The air of excitement and enthusiasm which one can detect at the Northern Meeting and the pursuit of excellence so evident at the Grants’ Championship are surely not the monopoly of Inverness and Blair Atholl. Nor for that matter do these qualities emerge accidentally: they are the product of reflection and careful planning.” by Ian K Murray


By this time the newspapers, apart from the Oban Times, took very little interest in reporting the Gathering unless something unusual took place. The Evening Post on August 27 1982 reported on a series of programmes called Russell Harty at the Seaside. After visiting a lighthouse maintenance ship he went to Oban where he met ‘the fishy folk’ then ‘lastly, it’s off to the fun and Highland Games of the Argyllshire Gathering with its kilts, tartans, flings, tug-o-wars and, of course, caber tossing.’

Roddy Livingstone, Archie Kenneth, James Campbell at the Argyllshire Gathering games in 1982