History of the Argyllshire Gathering: the 1986 competition


• PART 51 •


The Argyllshire Gathering saw another year of change in 1986. Numbers had got out of hand, so in order to accommodate everyone the Gathering was extended to three days.

Silver Medal

The set tunes for the Silver Medal were Castle Menzies, Clan Campbell’s Gathering, Hector MacLean’s Warning, The Company’s Lament, Struan Robertson’s Salute, Chisholm’s Salute, MacLaine of Lochbuie’s Lament, The Massacre of Glencoe.

The Silver Medal was divided into two sections each of 19 competitors, both commencing at 10am. Section A in the Corran Halls was judged by Captain Iain Cameron and Robert Hardie. They chose these competitors to go through to the final:

  • Corporal Gordon Lang, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
  • Catherine MacInnes, Argyll
  • Scot Walker, USA
  • Michael MacDonald, Canada
  • Donald Lindsay, USA

Silver Medal section B was in St Columba’s Cathedral Hall and the judges were Captain Andrew Pitkeathly and Ronald Morrison. They chose these competitors to go through to the final:

  • Alasdair Gillies, Queen’s Own Highlanders
  • Bruce Woodley, Canada
  • Robert Stewart, Glasgow
  • Andrew Young, Glasgow
  • Angus MacColl, Benderloch

The Silver Medal final began at 9.15am in St John’s Cathedral the following day. The judges were PM Evan MacRae, James Burnet and Captain John MacLellan [results are further down this webpage].


The competitors for the Marches were also divided into two sections both beginning at 10am. Section A in the Phoenix Cinema had 31 competitors listed in the programme, with one extra added. The judges were Andrew MacNeill and Neill Mulvie. They chose this list for the final:

  • George Taylor, Broughty Ferry
  • Alfred Morrison, Bishopton
  • Andrew Young, Glasgow
  • Bruce Woodley, Canada
  • Gordon Walker, Cumnock
  • Corporal Gordon Lang, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
  • Colin MacLellan, Canada
  • K MacDonald, Glasgow
  • Colin Gemmell, USA
  • John MacKenzie, Canada

Section B in St John’s Cathedral had 31 competitors and was judged by Captain John MacLellan and James Burnet. Their choices for the final were:

  • Murray Henderson, USA
  • Eric Rigler, Wishaw
  • Logan Tannock, Clackmannan
  • Angus MacColl, Benderloch
  • James McGillivray, Canada
  • Michael Cusack, USA
  • Colin Drummond, Bathgate
  • Bain MacGregor, Blackford
  • Ronald McShannon, Glasgow
  • Lachlan McCabe, Drumnadrochit

Junior MSR

Also on Tuesday, the Junior under 16 MSR had eight competitors, and it took place in the Argyllshire Gathering Hall at 11am:

  • Heather MacInnes
  • Alistair McKechnie
  • Sheila Tinto
  • Charles Ferguson
  • Stuart Liddell
  • Lorne Cousin
  • Shona MacLeod
  • Campbell Birnie

MacGregor Memorial Piobaireachd

The MacGregor Memorial Piobaireachd began at 2pm in the Argyllshire Gathering Hall. Competitors were to submit four tunes of their own choice, one of which they would be required to play.

The judges were Pipe Major John Burgess, Pipe Major Evan Macrae and Mr William M. MacDonald. The four competitors were:

  • Cameron Currie, Maybole
  • Darren Banister, Perth
  • Lachlan McCabe, Australia
  • Neil R McNaughton, Campbeltown

Gold Medal

On Wednesday the Gold Medal began at 9.15am in the Corran Halls, with judges Andrew MacNeill, Ronald Morrison and Neill Mulvie. The set tunes for the Gold Medal were Little Prince – You are my choice, Lament for Finlay, The Boat Tune, Ewen of the Battles, Sir Ewen Cameron of Locheil’s Salute, Nameless C.C. Hiharin Himtra.

The competitors were:

  • Lance Sergeant Brian Donaldson, Scots Guards
  • Gordon Walker, Cumnock
  • Dugald McNeill, Edinburgh
  • Ronald McShannon, Glasgow
  • Ed Neigh, Canada
  • Jackez Pincet, France
  • Dr Angus Macdonald, Canada
  • James McGillivray, Canada
  • Alfred Morrison, Bishopton
  • Scott McAulay, Canada
  • Patricia Henderson, U.S.A.
  • Colin MacLellan, Canada
  • Andrew Berthoff, U.S.A.
  • W Gass, Edinburgh
  • Amy Garson, Canada
  • Lance Sergeant Roger Huth, Scots Guards
  • Roy Gunn, New Zealand
  • Duncan Watson, Aberdeen
  • Logan Tannock, Clackmannan
  • William McCallum, Campbeltown
  • Roderick MacLeod, Glasgow
  • Colin Drummond, Bathgate
  • Allan MacDonald, Glasgow

Senior Piobaireachd

The Senior Piobaireachd was held in the Phoenix Cinema at 2pm with PM John Burgess, Captain Andrew Pitkeathly and Robert Hardie judging. The set tunes were: The Sister’s Lament, The Old Woman’s Lullaby, The Park Piobaireachd No. I, Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor MacLeod, Nameless – (Hio Tro Tro), Nameless-A   Lament Bk. 13, The Blind Piper’s Obstinacy. The competitors were:

  • Colin McLellan, Canada
  • James McGillivray, Canada
  • Andrew Wright, Dunblane
  • Kenneth MacLean, Glasgow
  • Iain McFadyen, Kyle of Lochalsh
  • Duncan McFadyen, Johnstone
  • Kenneth MacDonald, Glasgow
  • John McDougall, Kincraig
  • Murray Henderson, U.S.A.
  • Insp. John Wilson, Glasgow
  • Hugh MacCallum, Dunblane
  • Malcolm McRae, Strathglass
  • Robert Wallace, Stepps
  • Donald MacPherson, Powys
  • Michael Cusack, U.S.A.
  • Allan MacDonald, Glasgow

Strathspey and Reel

The Strathspey and Reel was also run in two sections, both starting at 2pm. Section A was in St John’s Cathedral where the judges were William M MacDonald and Captain Iain Cameron. There were 29 names in the programme. The ten chosen for the final were:

  • Michael Cusack, USA
  • Scot Walker, USA
  • Lance Sergeant P MacInnes, Edinburgh
  • John MacKenzie, Canada
  • Eric Rigler, Wishaw
  • Scott MacAulay, Canada
  • Michael Macdonald, Canada
  • Cameron Currie, Maybole
  • Allan MacDonald, Lochailort
  • Robert Wallace, Glasgow

Section B was in St Columba’s Cathedral Hall and was judged by Captain John MacLellan and James Burnet. There were 28 names in the programme, with one more added later. The ten chosen for the final were:

  • George Taylor, Broughty Ferry
  • Colin Drummond, Bathgate
  • James McGillivray, Canada
  • Roderick MacLeod, Glasgow
  • Lachlan McCabe, Drumnadrochit
  • Corporal Gordon Lang, Dumbarton
  • Logan Tannock, Clackmannan
  • Stuart Shedden, Glasgow
  • Alfred Morrison, Bishopton
  • J D Bayne, Montrose

Piping Times report

The Piping Times reported on the piobaireachd events of Day Two: “The first of the Meetings took place on the 26th, 27th and 28th of August – an extension of one day to accommodate the huge entry. It is still the policy at Oban to accept all entries for the light music, and not to grade the pipers. As a result, sixty-one competitors were expected for the march and fifty-three for the strathspey and reel. Former winners of these events are excluded from playing in them again, which accounts very slightly for the difference in numbers, but there were nevertheless some people who had the courage to enter for the march at Oban but not the ability apparently to play in the strathspey and reel.

“These two events were run off in two separate sections, with ten from each (in the case of the  march) and five from each (in the case of the strathspey and reel) going forward to the finals on the field at the Gathering proper.

“Main interest however is always in the piobaireachd events, of which there are now four at Oban. The MacGregor Memorial competition is confined to pipers who have not reached their 22nd birthday on September 12th, and they submit four tunes of their own choice. The Silver Medal contestants were required to offer four tunes also, from a published list of eight. All pipers who are not eligible to enter for the Gold Medal or the senior piobaireachd are permitted to play in this event. (This ruling does not apply at the Northern Meeting). Thirty-eight pipers had entered and it was divided into two sections of nineteen each, with a play-off of the final ten taking place on the second day.

“The principal interest of audience and reporters seems always to be in the Gold Medal event, from which of course former winners are debarred. At Oban this contest is restricted to those who have won a prize in the Gold Medal event at either Oban or Inverness, plus previous first prize winners of the Silver Medal at either of these two meetings.

“Twenty-three pipers (nine of them from overseas) entered, each of them having to submit three tunes from a list of six.

“What is really the most important event, the Senior Piobaireachd, is confined to former winners of the Highland Society of London Gold Medal, either at Oban or Inverness. Thirteen of these distinguished pipers entered for the event but only nine of them actually played. They had been asked to submit four tunes from a list of seven.

“The set tunes for Oban and Inverness (and also for the Piobaireachd Society Gold Medal and Clasp in Ontario) are chosen by the Music Committee of the Piobaireachd Society each year. Always there are discussions and debates as to how these gentlemen arrive at their lists of tunes. This year the puzzlement has probably been greater than average, because, although all the tunes set were simple ones, the easiest were the ones set for the senior event, and the hardest ones were those which the intending Silver Medallists were asked to play.

“There are reasons of course for everything, even although they may not be very convincing at times. Presumably the Senior tunes, the ones without taorluath or crunluath variations, are looked on as being very important, and worthy of an airing every dozen years or so. The ones the candidates for the Gold Medal had to face were mostly unknown pieces dug up from dear knows where. These too deserve a hearing but it was perhaps more a case of letting the enthusiasts in the audience hear the obscure tunes, rather than the more important purpose of setting a good test to determine who would be a worthy addition to the list of Gold Medallists.

“The first event to start on Wednesday morning, and the first to finish, was the play-off of the Silver Medal contest. This was judged by Mr James Burnet, Captain J.A. MacLellan and Pipe Major Evan MacRae. The result was:

  1. Donald Lindsay (Struan Robertson’s Salute)
  2. Andrew Young (Chisholm’s Salute)
  3. Alasdair Gillies
  4. Catherine Macinnes
  5. Gordon Lang

“Meantime the Gold Medal event went on with some very mixed performances.  Brian Donaldson began with The Boat Tune but it was so slow that it consisted of only a succession of long notes. Gordon Walker followed and did nothing to raise the standard. His Sir Ewan Cameron of Lochiel was again a succession of notes with no discernible phrasing.

“To show that the Army does not have a monopoly of uninspired playing Dugald MacNeill got through The Lament for Finlay, but it was really a bit of a grind. Ronald McShannon raised the standard a bit with Little Prince You Are My Choice, on a very good bagpipe spoiled however by a lot of croaking on the high A which should have (and apparently did) cost him dearly.

“The first really good tune came from Ed Neigh who took the opportunity to remind us that he is not a good candidate for invitation events in view of the very long time that he takes to tune. This is not helped by the fact that he stops drones every now and again, which only unbalances the instrument. Nevertheless his Hiharin himtra was well played throughout although he could have shown more change of tempo between taorluath and crunluath.

“Jackie Pincet gave us Ewan of the Battles on a bagpipe which (for the first time in my hearing) was really the great Highland one and not its Breton little sister. His view of the tune was determined and very attractive.

“Dr Angus MacDonald played The Boat Tune on an excellent instrument – perhaps a bit slow, but the main fault was that the drones went out of tune towards the end. Pipers travel better than bagpipes do.

“A splendid tune was rendered by James McGillivray – Hiharin himtra. From beginning to end he showed understanding, maturity and control with perhaps the only slight criticism being a startling dash into the crunluath movement.

“Fred Morrison is another of the long-tuner brigade, but to begin with he showed that he had decided to give us musical phrases instead of skirl-dirl. Just when we were congratulating him mentally, he went into the skirl-dirl routine. Although he is always a class performer, on this occasion it did not seem that Fred was playing at his best, with a number of missing gracenotes in both taorluaths and crunluaths.

“He was followed by Scott MacAulay who has magnificent fingers but does not know quite yet what to do with them. He played The Lament for Finlay and although he won the Gold Medal in Ontario with this tune, Oban is a quadruped of a different ethnic origin, and a good deal more finesse would be needed in order to reach the prize list.

“Of the others there were some fair and some disappointing performances. Colin MacLellan, William Gass, William McCallum and Logan Tannock all played well but the others seemed to have difficulty in putting their tunes together. Perhaps the Gold Medal event is not the place for obscure and unknown tunes – it might have been much better to have let the top men have a shot at some, because many of these competitors must have been in the unenviable position of not themselves being able to do much with the tunes, and being well aware that hardly anyone alive has ever played them or heard them played. The result was announced as:

  1. Alfred Morrison
  2. James McGillivray
  3. William McCallum
  4. Logan Tannock

“The judges were Andrew MacNeill, Ronald Morrison and Neill Mulvie.”

The Senior Piobaireachd. The main event of the day began after lunch, with the probably very old piobaireachds on display. Colin MacLellan was first on with the Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor. His bagpipe was absolutely first class, a great advertisement for a reed maker, but unfortunately he went slightly astray in line 2 of the Ground.

“Next to play was Jim McGillivray who followed his excellent tune of the morning with another fine performance, this time the Old Woman’s Lullaby. His interpretation was so successful that several members of the audience were seen to have nodded off.

“Andrew Wright gave a musical interpretation of Hio tro tro. He had one slight choke but otherwise his performance must have been high in the judges’ lists.

“A real blinder of a tune came from lain MacFadyen (as on so many occasions), appropriately enough the Blind Pipers’ Obstinacy. His F was very slightly flat but as there are only three F notes in the whole tune we had forgotten about it by the time he came to them. Throughout he kept the exasperation and frustration going at a fair old pace, exactly as the tune should be played.

“Another Salute on the Birth came from John MacDougall who did not seem to be very sure of his tune because he added an E at the end of line one of the Ground and had some occasional careless positioning of gracenotes – some added where they should not have been and some omitted.

“As an aside, if we are to take seriously the remarks regarding dress by the President of the Piobaireachd Society (himself another ex­-Cameron Highlander) then it is surely time that John got himself a new kilt.

“No complaint can be made about the appearance of Murray Henderson, always dressed, like most of the pipers, immaculately. The Park Piobaireachd No. 1 was not a very inspiring performance, partly because of the big production he makes out of the throw on D in hiarara. Some of his changes in the timing were good, others not so.

“Next to play was Hugh MacCallum with again Hio tro tro. As was to be expected Hugh gave an excellent performance although there might have been some signs of tiring near the end.

“Malcolm McRae was given Nameless – A Lament, which perhaps we should call Gun Ainm. We can hardly label it by its opening phrase, since that particular MacArthur flourish is unknown elsewhere in piobaireachd and we would probably all have different canntaireachd for it.

“Malcolm had made his own translation from the MacArthur manuscript, which did not agree entirely with that of the Piobaireachd Society Music Committee. This in itself should have given him a 20% to start but the performance was really a bit heavy handed and not very exciting. Again the clumsy throw on D did not help.

“In passing, it seems to be a mystery where this throw in D, in piobaireachd, originated. It is certainly the best one to play in light music but in piobaireachd it lacks finesse. The Kilberry Book and the Piobaireachd Society Collections all show the lighter throw very clearly, so one might imagine that this was a Cameron style. On the other hand, the Binneas is Boreraig books, showing the playing of Malcolm Macpherson, also indicate clearly the light throw. Malcolm Macpherson was taught by his own family and by John MacDonald, so there would seem to be a good case for arguing that Bob Brown invented the heavy throw in piobaireachd.

“Next to play was Robert Wallace who also was given Salute on the Birth. He too had an odd gracenote in the wrong place, also a wavering C in line one of the Ground and his drones went slightly out.

“Donald Macpherson gave us a splendid Sister’s Lament, the only flaws being that he does not now do the full throw on F (dare) and his F to D grip was not as accurate as of yore.

“Mike Cusack played a very fine Old Woman’s Lullaby which apart from some awkwardness at the end of line one of the Ground had no discernible flaw. Allan MacDonald brought the competition to a close with the edited version of Gun Ainm but he had a few of his own edits and the pipes did not last.

“The judges were John D. Burgess, Robert G. Hardie and Andrew Pitkeathly. The result was announced as:

  1. Donald Macpherson
  2. Hugh MacCallum
  3. Iain MacFadyen
  4. John MacDougall.”

The Games

The Games were not reported in the Piping Times but the day began as usual with the march to the field. The programme stated: “Competitors are required to parade in front of the Bank of Scotland Buildings by the railway station at 9.45am, and will form the pipe band for the March to the Games Ground at Mossfield Park. The winner of the Piobaireachd Gold Medal on the previous day will be the Pipe Major. The final march to be played on entering the Games Ground will be The Argyllshire Gathering.” As it happened, the Gold Medallist, Fred Morrison did not appear so the Senior winner Donald MacPherson led the band.

•The march to the Argyllshire Gathering Games in 1986, led by a front rank of Donald Macpherson, Kenneth MacDonald, Colin Drummond, Donald Lindsay and Jim McGillivray.

In the local March and Strathspey and Reel there were two competitors, John Donaldson and Janet MacLeod. The three judges were PM John D Burgess, Captain Andrew Pitkeathly and Ronald Morrison.

The Former Winners followed on the same platform, with the same judges. The competitors were:

  • Donald McPherson, Powys
  • Iain McFadyen, Kyle of Lochalsh
  • Malcolm  McRae, Strathglass
  • Hugh MacCallum, Dunblane
  • Ed Neigh, Canada
  • John MacDougall, Kincraig
  • Robert Wallace, Stepps
  • Dugald MacNeill, Edinburgh
  • Hugh Mclnnes, Glasgow
  • Inspector John Wilson, Glasgow
  • Alasdair Gillies, Queen’s Own Highlanders
  • Lance Sergeant Brian Donaldson, Scots Guards
  • Dr Angus MacDonald, Canada
  • Murray Henderson, U.S.A.
  • Kenneth Macdonald, Glasgow

The result was 1. Brian Donaldson, 2. Alasdair Gillies, 3. Murray Henderson.

The final of the March was judged by Captain Iain Cameron, William M MacDonald and James Burnet. The winner was Murray Henderson.

The final of the Strathspey and Reel was judged by Andrew MacNeill, Neill Mulvie and Robert Hardie. The winner of this event was James McGillivray.

With both events starting at 10.15am on different platforms the piping was over by 1pm and the field afterwards seemed to be rather quiet. The Oban pipe band played at 1pm and 3.15pm.

Donald Macpherson and Kenneth MacDonald in the front rank