Piping 100 years ago: 1923 part one



Looking back one hundred years to 1923 shows that some events were similar to those of today but there were many differences. In 1923 the piping world had to rely on word of mouth or the newspapers to hear the results. There was no instant news to be had. Only a few photographs were taken and these were much more formal with pipers posed, usually holding their pipes, or with trophies on a table beside them. Bands were lined up, with the front rows sitting and the back rows standing. There was no smiling, and certainly no waving of trophies or jumping around.

It was now five years since the end of the Great War and events were getting back to normal. Several newspapers reported on piping although the Oban Times was one of the best sources for piping news as it carried reports of all the main events around the country. There were regular reports from Glasgow and Edinburgh and a letters page which often included discussions on piping. Regular advertisers through the year were R.G. Lawrie who could supply ‘Highland dress and Bagpipes’. Also Douglas & Son Ltd, Brunswick Street. Glasgow, ‘Est. 1850, Who Sold Bagpipes and all Accessories. Violins, Melodeons and everything musical’. Donald McPhedran’s Collection of Bagpipe Music was advertised regularly throughout the year, available from John McPhedran.

The main prize winners through the year were GS McLennan, William Ross and Robert Reid but many names who would later become famous were making an appearance in the prize lists.

Robert Reid

Scottish Clans Association Ball

1923 opened with a report of the Scottish Clans Association Ball held in London on Monday evening 1st January. The guests were piped in by PM William Meldrum and later in the evening the Association’s pipers played for dancing.

Scottish Pipers’ Association AGM

This was followed by a report of the AGM of the Scottish Pipers’ Association held on 23rd December 1922 at 202 Renfrew St Glasgow with the President John MacDougall Gillies in the chair. The treasurer, Malcolm MacLean Currie, gave a report of the year’s activities and the balance sheet showed that the Association was in a flourishing condition. The chairman announced the election of new office bearers for 1923 as follows:

  • Hon President, Sir Bruce Seton Bt
  • President Pipe Major J MacDougall Gillies 5th HLI
  • Secretary PM Malcolm MacLean Currie
  • Treasurer Mr R Munn
  • Trustee Mr J McIvor

Vice-presidents: Pipe Majors J MacKenzie, Wm MacLean, Wm Gray, A McPhedran

Working committee: PM H Graham, PM A Hutcheon, Messrs H Lothian, N MacDonald, John McBride, H McTavish, C McEachearn, J Turner, R McEachearn and James Johnstone.

It was intimated that the piobaireachd playing competition for the Sir Bruce Seton Bt Trophy, confined to boys not over 18 years of age and the juvenile march, strathspey and reel, would be competed for on the same date, possibly early in March. All boys under 18 years of age intending to compete were asked to apply to the secretary for particulars and to become members of the Scottish Pipers’ Association at once. It was reported that the members’ piobaireachd competition held on Saturday 9th December 1922, resulted as follows:

  1. Angus Campbell, Lochaber
  2. H Kennedy, Tiree
  3. R McEachearn, Islay
  4. C McEachearn, Islay
  5. PM A McPhedran, Glasgow.
    The judges were PM Duff, Edinburgh; Mr George Joss, Edinburgh and Mr D Caird, Bellahouston Hospital.

Piobaireachd Society Amateur competition

An Amateur piobaireachd competition organised by the Piobaireachd Society had been held in the Drill Hall, Edinburgh in late December 1922, but the report did not appear until early in 1923: “The competition was of unusual interest since it is the first piobaireachd competition organised for amateurs by the Piobaireachd Society. It is to be hoped that the competition may now be an annual one for it is an indisputable fact that genuine amateur piping competitions are too few and far between. It is understood that the competition was held largely owing to the efforts of Mr Somerled MacDonald and Mr Seton Gordon. Each player was required to hand in a list of three piobaireachd to the judges (PM Wm Ross, PM Geo. M’Lennan, and PM John MacDonald, Inverness) and some of the playing was quite good, though each player had a certain amount of trouble with his pipes, due perhaps to the dry atmosphere of the hall. It is probable that under more favourable conditions the playing could be considerably improved on a future occasion. One of the best of the competitors, Mr Somerled MacDonald, had an unfortunate breakdown just when he was apparently well set for his tune, The Groat. Amongst the tunes played were The Lament for Mary MacLeod, Glengarry’s Lament, The Lament for the Castle of Dunyveg and The Groat. That the competition was a popular one amongst pipers was shown by the well-known players who were present. Amongst them were Lieutenant I. M’Lennan of the Edinburgh Police (father of PM George M’Lennan), PM Reid (the most successful piobaireachd player last season at Oban and Inverness), PM Duff, Capt. G.M. Usher (Gordon Highlanders) and many others. After the close of the competition the judges were good enough to play a selection of their favourite airs, to the great enjoyment of the onlookers and amateur competitors alike.”

Another interesting feature was the reversal of roles. The gentlemen who were competing would, during the competition season be judging the pipers who were on this day judging them. The result of the competition was:

  1. Dr. J. Colin Caird
  2. Major David Huie
  3. Brigadier-General Cheape.”

Highland Concert and Kintyre Highland Gathering

On 27th January the Campbeltown Courier reported that the local Pipe Band had held a Highland Concert in the Good Templar Hall on Thursday of the previous week. Prior to the concert the band marched through the principal streets and the piping and drumming were the subject of very favourable comment. The purpose of the concert was to help the band fund and to enable them to give a donation to the Good Templars in return for the free use of the hall for practices. The concert opened with the pipe band and this was followed by various vocal solos and a duet, all by local talent. A special feature was the demonstrations of Highland dancing given by the pupils of Mr Peter McCallum. The concert was followed by a dance.

The paper also reported that the third of the annual entertainments and competitions of the Kintyre Highland Gathering had been held on Thursday of the previous week in the Victoria Hall. There were songs and musical items, including selections from Pipe Major William Fergusson of the City of Glasgow Pipe Band, which had held the World Championship for the last two years, and exhibitions of Highland dancing. There was also a piping competition with the results:


  1. Piper Thomson, Glasgow
  2. Piper McQueen, Glasgow
  3. Piper Campbell, Glasgow

Strathspeys and Reels

  1. Piper Thomson, Glasgow
  2. Piper McQueen, Glasgow
  3. Piper Campbell, Glasgow

Winner of the Rose Bowl for the championship of the Gathering, Piper Thomson. Winner of the Eitman Challenge Trophy confined to the native securing the most points, Piper Angus Campbell, Glasgow.

MacKenzie Pipe Band, Dundee

On January 31st the annual social gathering and piping competition of the MacKenzie Pipe Band was held in the Dundonald Street Hall in Dundee. There were 16 entries for the contest and the result was:

  1. J B Morrison
  2. Arthur Scott
  3. R Chalmers

The premier award carried with it the cup gifted by the Dundee Branch of the Seaforth Association and had been won in 1922 by the brother of this year’s winner Mr D Morrison who had recently gone to India. The judges were Messrs. D Bain and W Salmond. After supper an enjoyable evening was spent in dancing, the accompanist being Miss Gill.

Scottish Pipers’ Society

In February it was reported that the Scottish Pipers’ Society in Edinburgh had held their first ball since the war. The organiser was Dr. G.L. Malcolm Smith and the pipe band was led by the Hon. Pipe Major Dr. J. Colin Caird.

The City of Glasgow Pipe Band

•The City of Glasgow Pipe Band photo from Oban Times in 1923.

The City of Glasgow Pipe Band, the world champions were featured in the Oban Times on 10th February. The band members were John Paterson, H Wilder, C. Thompson, David Clark, John Anderson, Jas Thomson, Wm McLellan, Wm Christieson, Jas Crawford, Wm Francey, Hamish MacColl, John C MacColl (son of champion piper John MacColl). Alex Finlayson, John Nicoll, Pipe Major Fergusson, Donald M’Intosh, Jas Carruthers, Chas M’Intosh, Jas M’Nair. The article read: “The City of Glasgow Pipe Band was instituted in the spring of 1914 by the late Pipe Major Farquhar MacRae, whose death in 1916 was lamented by a wide circle of Highlanders. The call of War came and was heard so that the band was dismembered until 1920, when it was re-united with Pipe Major Fergusson as its worthy head. PM Fergusson, who is a Perthshire man, served in the war as PM of the 7th Highland Light Infantry in Gallipoli, Palestine and France, and of the 52nd Divisional Pipe Band in Egypt. Unassuming to a degree, his practical and theoretical knowledge of the elements essential to the success of a pipe band are second to none, and the continued superiority of his band is, in great measure due to the fine spirit of emulation which he has instilled into his pipers and drummers. A good player himself, he is also a composer of merit, and greatly esteemed by all who know him. The excellency of the band is evidenced by the following results: 1921 Winners of the S.I.M.A. contest, Scotstoun; the Polmaise Challenge Trophy, Stirling, and the Sir Harry Lauder and Argyll Shields at Dunoon. The band has every reason to be proud of its achievements and of the fact that no band has ever before won both the Sir Harry Lauder and Argyll Shields on more than one occasion. Apart from the actual playing, no band can carry out its functions without a good organiser, and in this respect it has been singularly fortunate in having had from its inception, Piper Donald M’Intosh of 30 M’Aslan Street, Glasgow, as its secretary and treasurer. The band is giving its services at the Grand Highland Concert to be held in the St Andrews Hall, Glasgow on the 10th October next in aid of the Highlanders Institute bazaar.”

Pipe Band Championship of New Zealand

The following week the Oban Times reported: “The outstanding event at the Annual Gathering held recently in New Zealand was the competition for the Pipe Band Championship of New Zealand. Five bands took part and it is a point of interest that the music judges in this competition are not allowed to see the competing bands, the awards for music being adjudged in a covered tent adjoining the track. Five additional judges make the awards for military bearing. The result of the championship was as follows:

  1. Wellington Caledonian – 211 points
  2. Dunedin Scottish – 202 points
  3. Southland Band – 199 points
  4. Wellington Scottish – 181 points
  5. Christchurch Highland – 152 points

The Pipe Major of the winning band is Pipe Major Tom MacDonald, a native of Oban, who began his piping career in the Oban Boys’ Brigade. Mr MacDonald went some years ago to New Zealand where he early took a leading place as an exponent of the music of the Gael. He is also a composer of note, and has some outstanding pieces to his credit. He was instrumental in raising the Wellington Caledonian Band, which under his brilliant leadership has carried the premier honours in the piping world in the country of his adoption. Pipe Major MacDonald is a brother of Mr Allan MacDonald, 121 George St, Oban, while a sister of the gallant Pipe Major is Mrs Robert Watt, Mossfield Drive, Oban.”

The Glasgow Highland Club

The Glasgow Highland Club held its annual dinner in March, at the Grand Hotel. The Club Piper PM John MacDougall Gillies played selections and the piobaireachd MacKay’s Banner, Dr E S MacPhee performed the Sword Dance and the Club Pipe Band was in attendance and gave selections during the evening.

In March an advertisement appeared for a Great Highland Gathering Piping and Dancing competitions open to all comers would be held in the Pearce Institute, Govan on Saturday 7th April, at 3pm prompt. Entries for Piping 2/- each event: Dancing 1/6 each event. Admission to hall 1/6. John Logan. Secretary. 2 Greenfield St, Govan.

Also in March there was a letter from Bratach Bhan about the Piobaireachd Society’s publication of The Battle of Dorneag.

The Scottish Pipers’ Association

•Hugh Kennedy

The Scottish Pipers’ Association held a competition on Saturday 24th March in their headquarters, 202 Renfrew St, Glasgow. Sir Bruce Seton, Bart kindly supplied the valuable prizes. The judges were PM William MacLean, Lochiel Camerons; PM John MacKenzie, 6th HLI; and Mr Philip Melville, Glasgow. Twelve competitors took part.

Piobaireachd (age 20 years and under):

  1. Hugh Kennedy, Tiree – 45 points
  2. Neil Shaw, Islay – 40 points
  3. John Keir, Alexandria – 39 points
  4. Cameron Hutcheson, Dalmuir – 38 points

March (20 years and under)

  1. John Keir – 48 points
  2. Hugh McTavish, Glasgow – 44 points
  3. Hugh Kennedy – 40 points
  4. Cameron Hutcheson – 38 points

Strathspey and Reel (20 years and under)

  1. A McDermid, Glasgow – 45 points
  2. Hugh Kennedy – 43 points
  3. Bradshaw, Glasgow – 40 points
  4. J Keir – 39 points
  5. Cameron Hutcheson – 38 points

The playing was of a high standard taking it all through, and this class of young pipers were very promising, especially in Piobaireachd playing. A vote of thanks was awarded to the vice president Mr James McIvor, who acted as chairman and this brought the gathering to a finish.” The prediction of a promising future was certainly true in the case of Hugh Kennedy as he won the Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1928.

Honour to PM John MacColl

The following week there was an article entitled Honour to PM John MacColl. It read as follows: “It will interest readers of the Oban Times to learn that champion Piper John MacColl was invited to the opening of the Glasgow Broadcasting Station, Bath Street, on Tuesday evening of last week. The famous piper opened the proceedings with Johnny Cope and his stirring strains on the piob mhor were broadcasted throughout Scotland, to the intense enjoyment of these who have been privileged to ‘listen in’. The station was formally opened by Lord Provost Paxton, and the company included many distinguished ladies and gentlemen.”

Islay competition

In April there is a report of a competition in Islay. The judge was PM William Ross who was taking Piobaireachd Society classes on the island. After the competition he played selections. The results of the competition were:

Chanter March

  1. Neil M’Affer. Bridgend
  2. D. M’Alpine, Gartloist
  3. A. M’Calman, Bridgend.

Piping March under-18

  1. Ian C. Cameron, Newton Bridgend
  2. A. Williamson, Octofad
  3. Wm MacDonald, Caille

Strathspey and Reel under-18

  1. Ian C. Cameron
  2. W. MacDonald
  3. A. Williamson

March – 18 and over

  1. J. M’Eachern, Corabas
  2. D.R. Cameron, Newton
  3. J. Johnston, Skerrals
  4. J. Woodrow, Bridgend
  5. D. MacPhee, Port Askaig
  6. A. MacKinnon, Port Ellen

Strathspey and Reel – 18 and over

  1. D. MacPhee
  2. J. M’Eachern
  3. H. Gray, Ballinaby
  4. J. Johnston
  5. J. Woodrow
  6. D.R. Cameron

Crunluath a mach was an alien conception

The Oban Times on 21st April included a letter from Angus Macpherson, Invershin, in which he stated that the crunluath a mach was an alien conception and was invented by the Piobaireachd Society from a false crunluath fosgailte doubling.

Great Highland Gathering Piping and Dancing competitions in Govan

In the same paper on 21st April is a report of the previously advertised competition held in the M’Leod Hall, Pearce Institute, Govan: “Not for a long number of years has been there such an interesting competition for bagpipe playing and dancing held in Glasgow as that which took place in the McLeod Hall of the Pearce Institute, recently. Mr John Logan, secretary, had excellent arrangements made, and the result was that the competition was carried through according to timetable. Great interest was taken in the open competition, at which all the champion pipers competed, and as each one of them finished playing he was accorded a hearty round of applause, thus showing that the audience were delighted with what they heard. The dancing competitions were also followed with the keenest interest. The chair was taken by Mr John MacLean (Kaid), and in the course of a short address he complimented Mr Logan and his committee on resuscitating these competitions. Similar contests and competitions flourished in pre-war days, said Mr MacLean, but when that great calamity befell the world most of these competitors laid the piob mhor aside for the rifle, while those who still clung to the martial instrument went forward with the music of the bens and glens to strengthen and inspire the fatigued warriors, who like the mountain torrent swept forward to herculean effort and deeds of valour unsurpassed in battle history. Mr MacLean also related some amusing piping stories. The following were the prize winners:

Marches (open)

  1. Geo. S. M’Lennan, late PM Gordon Highlanders
  2. John MacDonald, Glasgow Police
  3. PM R. Reid, 7th H.L.I.
  4. PM Wm Gray, Glasgow Police
  5. John MacAskill, Glasgow Police

Strathspeys and Rees (open)

  1. Geo. S. M’Lennan
  2. Angus Campbell
  3. PM Wm Gray
  4. John MacAskill
  5. John MacDonald

Jigs (open)

  1. Geo. S. M’Lennan
  2. John MacDonald
  3. PM Wm Gray and Angus Campbell, equal

Most points in Open Piping

  1. Geo. S. M’Lennan
  2. John MacDonald
  3. PM Wm Gray.

Marches – Semi-Amateur Piping

  1. H. Kennedy, Glasgow
  2. J. Thomson, Glasgow
  3. J. Keir, Alexandria
  4. Cameron Hutchison, Dalmuir

Strathspey and Reel – Semi-Amateur Piping

  1. Donald MacNeill, Townhead
  2. Ronald MacDonald, Renton
  3. A. M’Dermid, Glasgow
  4. A. M’Coll, Bridgeton, Glasgow.

The Gold Medal for most points gained in the semi-amateur piping events was won by H. Kennedy.” The dancing results followed. Apart from the name of the secretary there is nothing to identify the organisers of this competition.

Scottish Pipers’ Society amateur competition

The following week there is a full report of the Scottish Pipers’ Society amateur competition in Edinburgh: “On Wednesday 18th April a very successful amateur pipe meeting was held in the Drill Hall, Gilmore Place, Edinburgh. The Scottish Pipers’ Society has a large membership and includes in its members all the best amateur pipers of the day. On the present occasion a record entry for the Piobaireachd was established, no fewer than twelve players competing. This event, which commenced at 5pm, took three hours to carry through. The judges were Mr John Bartholomew of Glenorchard, Pipe Major Robert Reid of the 7th Highland Light Infantry, Glasgow, and Pipe Major Taylor. The first prize in this event was awarded to Mr Somerled MacDonald, Inverness, his tune, The Desperate Battle, being executed without a single mistake. The second prize was won by Mr Seton Gordon, Connel Ferry, his tune being Is fada mar so tha sinn, a piobaireachd which is said to have been played by the old pipers as a ‘Caismeachd’ or Gathering. Lieut. Angus J Davidson, Royal Scots Fusiliers, was third with Lament for Mary MacLeod, which tuneful piobaireachd he played excellently.

“Among those who on this occasion were not successful were Dr Colin Caird (Hon Pipe Major of the Society) and Major John Grant (an ex-Pipe Major of the Society). Dr Caird chose a long and testing tune, Guilagag Morag or Marion’s Wailing. This he played well, but hurried somewhat over the first variation. Major Grant took for his tune MacDonald of Lagan. He commenced well, but his Taorluadh and Crunluadh were indifferently executed. Major Leckie Ewing, winner of the 1921 competition, played Pibroch of Donald Dhu.

“It was interesting to notice that no fewer than four of the competitors (including Mr Hunter of Kilfinichen, Mull, and Mr John McNeil, younger of Druimamhuic) chose The Lament for Mary MacLeod as their piobaireachd. The standard of playing all round was very much better than at the Piobaireachd Society’s competition in December, and it is probable that it was fully as high as in any previous amateur competition.

“After the interval between eight and nine, the remainder of the programme was carried through. The first event was marches (open) followed by march, strathspey and reel, then came a competition in marches open only to those who had not gained a prize at previous competitions. The last events were in Highland dancing, and a very successful meeting was concluded at a late hour. The Prize list:

•Major W Leckie Ewing

The Strathcona Challenge Cup and Macdiarmid prize for Piobaireachd

  1. Somerled Macdonald
  2. Seton Gordon
  3. Lt Angus J Davidson.

The Society’s Challenge Cup for March, Strathspey and Reel

  1. Major Leckie Ewing
  2. Euan Macdiarmid. (Four entries).

Silver Cup presented by Mr Frank Adam for Marches (open)

  1. Euan Macdiarmid
  2. Somerled Macdonald. (12 entries).

Silver Cup presented by Mr Stuart for Strathspey and Reel

  1. Dr Colin Caird. (Four entries).

Gilmour Quaich for Marches

  1. Francis M Caird
  2. Lt Angus J Davidson
  3. Rev Neil Ross. (Ten entries).”

The prize for the Sword Dance was won by Major J P Grant, younger of Rothiemurchus, who was also first for reel dancing, the second and third in each case being K Nigel Mackenzie and F M Caird. The judges for piping were Mr John Bartholomew and Pipe Majors J Taylor and R Reid, and for dancing Major F B MacKinlay, Pipe Major Macnab and J A Gordon.

A list of those present followed and this included members of the society, guests, representatives of other piping societies and some famous pipers such as PM William Ross and PM John MacDougall Gillies.

Cowal Gathering announcement

There was an announcement from the secretary of the Cowal Gathering that with a view to further encourage piping and drumming among Territorial bands, Campbell clansmen will present Cowal Games Committee with a suitable trophy for competition among Territorial bands at the forthcoming annual gathering at Dunoon. The Duke of Argyll headed the subscription list and Col Ian M Campbell, commanding officer of the 8th A & SH was carrying out the scheme. By kind permission of His Majesty, the King’s piper, Pipe Major Harry Forsyth, was to adjudicate. The contest would be open to Territorial bands of the Highland and Lowland Divisions. By virtue of his position Forsyth was debarred from playing in competitions but had judged several times at the Braemar Gathering.

Grand Pipe Band Contest, Open to Scotland

During March and April the Fife Free Press carried advertisements for a Grand Pipe Band Contest, Open to Scotland, under the auspices of the Alloa Mar Pipe Band to be held in Alloa on Saturday 26th May. The contest was open to Territorial and Civilian bands.

The Scotsman on 30th March had the news that the pipe band contest, to decide which pipe bands should get engagements in the public parks, would be held on the archery ground in the Meadows on 12th May. The contest was advertised during the following month and was open to Territorial and Civilian Bands in the city. Entry forms were available at the Town Clerk’s office.