Piping 100 years ago: 1923 part four


September of 1923 was an eventful month for piping. The King and Queen attended the Braemar Gathering and lords, ladies and gentlemen turned out in their finery at the Aboyne Games. The senior competitions at the Argyllshire Gathering were contested by Robert Reid, GS McLennan and Willie Ross and produced ‘some of the finest playing that has ever been heard in Oban.’ There was drama at the Northern Meeting where Robert Reid and Willie Ross had to play in a tie-breaker for the Clasp. On the penultimate day of the month, a book review of PM Willie Ross’s first collection gives insights into the development of competition marches and wondered if MSR playing will be ‘a mere phase’. October followed with a quirky letter exchange about circular breathing when playing the practice chanter.

By JEANNIE CAMPBELL MBE • PART 4 • September 1923

On the first day of September the Oban Times had a photograph of the Farquhar MacRae Trophy for piobaireachd playing, in memory of Pipe Major Farquhar MacRae, 7th HLI, who did so much to encourage pipe music in Glasgow and West of Scotland. The trophy was sterling silver and 19 inches high. The previous winners were:

  • 1918 – P Ferguson, Govan
  • 1919 – W G Ross, Edinburgh
  • 1920 – John McLellan McIntyre, Glasgow
  • 1921 – John McLellan McIntyre, Glasgow
  • 1922 – D F MacRae, Glasgow

The Aboyne Games

Aboyne Games and the Braemar Gathering were featured in many newspapers but the majority devoted their entire reports to the lords, ladies and gentlemen who were present, the dresses worn by the ladies and the balls which were held afterwards.

Only the Dundee Courier reported the results from Aboyne and Braemar. At Aboyne these were:

Local Piping. Strathspeys and Reels:

  1. D Reid, Banchory
  2. J Patterson, Banchory
  3. W Collie, Crathie
  4. A Boyle, Strachan

March, Strathspey and Reel (under 20)

  1. H Brown, Banchory
  2. J MacDougall, Glentanar
  3. J Patterson, Banchory

Open. Piobaireachd

  1. G S McLennan, Aberdeen
  2. PM Ross, Edinburgh
  3. Cpl Cruickshank, Stoneywood
  4. PM Mathieson, Fort George


  1. G S McLennan
  2. PM Ross
  3. PM Duff, Edinburgh
  4. Cpl D R MacLennan, Scots Guards

Strathspey and Reel

  1. G S McLennan
  2. PM Ross
  3. Cpl Cruickshank
  4. equal. R B Nicol Dunecht and R Brown, Banchory.

The Braemar Gathering

The Oban Times reported that G S McLennan had had taken the three first prizes and W Ross was second in each competition and included the names of the judges, Major Huie, Mr John Bartholomew of Glenorchard and Mr Seton Gordon.

The results in the Dundee Courier were:


  1. PM G S McLennan
  2. PM W Ross
  3. PM J O Duff

Piping Boys under 21

  1. J B Nicol
  2. R Brown
  3. T Reid.


  1. G S McLennan
  2. PM W Ross
  3. equal. PM Duff and Sgt MacDonald

Strathspeys and Reels

  1. G S McLennan
  2. PM W Ross
  3. P Sgt MacDonald.

Kinlochleven Games

At Kinlochleven Games only one event was listed for piping, with the result:

  1. D Kennedy, Fort William
  2. E J Cameron, Fort William
  3. G Grant, Kinlochleven

Lochaweside Games

At Lochaweside Games the results were:


1 and 2 equal. A MacDonald and A Beaton, Kilchrenan;
3. A McArthur, Durrane.

Strathspeys and Reels

  1. A MacDonald
  2. A Beaton
  3. A McArthur

Iona Regatta and Games

At the Iona Regatta and Games the piping results were:

Open: 1. Calum MacPherson, Bunessan; 2. James Thomson, Tiroran. Novices: 1. Hugh Lamont, Pennyghael; 2. John Graham, Bunessan; 3. John MacCormick, Iona.

Kyeakin Highland Games

At Kyeakin Highland Games the judges for piping and dancing were Mr Malcolm MacInnes, Director of Education, Johannesburg; Mr Tait Macrae, Inverinate; and Pipe Major MacKenzie, Dingwall. The results were, Piobaireachd: 1. PM Taylor; 2. Murdo Mackenzie, Inverness; 3. D Clunie, Inverness. Marches: 1. PM MacKenzie 2. PM Taylor; 3. K Mackay. Strathspeys and Reels: 1. Murdo MacKenzie; 2. PM Taylor; 3. J MacKenzie.

Ross of Mull Sports

At Ross of Mull Sports the results of the piping competitions were, Open:  1. M MacPherson; 2. A MacCalman; 3. J Thomson. Local: 1. J Graham; 2. Peter McMillan; 3. A McGillivray.

Invergarry Games

Invergarry Games were on Saturday 22nd September. The results were Marches: 1. D Kennedy; 2. L MacKenzie; 3. Don’ MacAskill. Strathspeys and Reels: 1. D Kennedy; 2. L MacKenzie; 3. Don. MacAskill.

Argyllshire Gathering – day one

The Games and Balls of the Argyllshire Gathering were held on 12th and 13th September. “Excellent weather prevailed on Wednesday, the first day of the Games, when the proceedings were inaugurated by the time-honoured procession of stewards, judges and competitors, with pipers playing lively marches, from the Gathering Offices in George Street, to the sports ground at Dalintart. Additional interest was given to the proceedings by the presence of the Duke of Argyll, who like his uncle, the late Duke of Argyll, and his father, the late Lord Archibald Campbell, has always evinced a lively interest in the functions of the Gathering. His Grace took his place at the head of the procession, and was supported by Mr T Martin MacDonald of Barguillean, Lt Col W L Campbell of Dudhope, Mr John Graham-Campbell yr of Shirvan, Lt Col J MacRae-Gilstrap of Eilean Donan and Ballimore, and Major A J H Maclean of Ardgour.

“The first day’s games were for the most part restricted to men serving in HM Forces. This rule, however does not apply to the piping contests. In these the cream of piping talent was represented, and on Wednesday the three piobaireachd competitions produced some of the finest playing that has ever been heard in Oban.

“In the senior competition for prizes presented by the Piobaireachd Society the first prize winner was Pipe Major R Reid, Glasgow, whose piece was the Lament for Donald Ban MacCrimmon, and his rendering of the Lament constituted a very fine piping performance. The second prize winner, Pipe Major G S McLennan, Aberdeen, contributed Glengarry’s March, and Pipe Major Ross, Edinburgh (third) gave the Lament for Donald Ban MacCrimmon. The performance of the three prize winners reached a high level, but Pipe Major Reid was in exceptionally good form. The other competitors proved themselves very good pipers, and in a less keen competition would have found a place in the prize list.

“In the competition for the gold medal of the Highland Society of London and prizes by the Argyllshire Gathering, Piper Calder, Edinburgh, who played the Prince’s Salute, was first. Pipe Sergeant MacDonald, Tongue, placed second, gave the Lament for Mary MacLeod, and Piper John Wilson, Edinburgh, third prize winner, also gave the Prince’s Salute. Here again the playing was splendid, especially having regard to the fact that there was a cold wind blowing with intermittent showers. Piper Wilson is a young piper with a crippled left hand, and his performance is on that account all the more meritorious.

“Equally noteworthy was the standard attained in the junior competition for the Piobaireachd Society prizes. Here the pieces chosen included The Battle of Dorneaig, The Company’s Lament, and Hector MacLean’s Warning. Piper R Brown, Banchory, Piper Philip Melville, Glasgow, and Pipe Major A S Miller, Stirling, were placed in the order named. The judges for piping were: Competition (1). Mr Archibald Campbell, Indian Civil Service, Kilberry; Mr J Graham-Campbell, yr of Shirvan; and Mr John Bartholomew of Glenorchard. Competition (2). Lieutenant General Campbell of Kilberry; Brigadier General Cheape and Mr Archibald Campbell. Competition (3). Brigadier General Cheape; Major Leckie Ewing and Colonel A C B Mackinnon.”

The third piobaireachd competition was called the Junior Competition but this was not according to age. Those competing were all adults but were not yet successful competitors.

Argyllshire Gathering – day two

The report of the second day followed on 22nd September. “The second day’s games, in connection with the Argyllshire Gathering were held at Oban on Thursday of last week. Unfortunately the good weather of the previous day was not maintained, and heavy rain fell throughout the proceedings. As was the case on the previous day the bagpipe playing was a special feature, and the high quality of the performances was all the more noteworthy in view of the climatic conditions.

“In the competition for marches, strathspeys and reels, open only to previous first prize winners, there was presented the very best of piping, all the competitors being performers of great skill and experience. Pipe Major G S McLennan, Aberdeen, who secured the first place played the march, Bonnie Ann, the strathspey, Lady Louden, and the reel, Duntroon. The second prize winner was Pipe Major R Reid, Glasgow, and he played in turn the Lochaber Gathering, Tullochgorm and the Rejected Suitor. Pipe Major Ross, Edinburgh, who was third contributed the Edinburgh Volunteers, Tullochgorm and the Rejected Suitor. There were in all seven competitors, and in each case despite the unfavourable weather the piping was excellent.

“The competition for playing marches which was open to all comers who had never won a first prize in this competition at the Argyllshire Gathering, produced a large number of entries. The standard of performance reached a high level throughout, and the judges’ work could not have been easy. In view of the difficulty of placing the prize winners a number of the competitors were selected to play a second time. When this had been done Piper A M Calder, Edinburgh, was awarded first prize. On the first call he played the Lochaber Gathering and on his second appearance he gave Bonnie Ann. Piper John Macdonald, Glasgow Police, who was awarded second prize, played the march John MacFadyen of Melfort and on the second occasion the Abercairney Highlanders. The third prize winner was Pipe Sergeant Macdonald, Lovat Scouts. His first march was Angus Campbell’s Farewell to Stirling, afterwards giving Bonnie Ann. In view of the large number of competitors and the high standard attained the Committee decided to give another two prizes. The fourth prize fell to Piper John Wilson, Edinburgh, who played Bonnie Ann and the Stirlingshire Militia, and the fifth prize to Piper Philip Melville, Glasgow, who played Leaving Glen Urquhart and Bonnie Ann.

“There was also a large number of entries in the competition for the playing of strathspeys and reels open to all comers who had never won a first prize at Oban in this competition. Here again Piper Calder, who was one of the outstanding players at this year’s Gathering, secured the leading honour. To be first in two very keenly contested competitions is exceptional, and in this regard Piper Calder’s playing is worthy of all praise. He performed the strathspey Lady Louden and the reel tune Grey Bob. Piper McEachern, Islay, who was a very good second to Calder, played respectively the Shepherd’s Crook and Sandy Cameron; and Corporal MacLennan, Edinburgh, who also put up a fine performance, gave the Shepherd’s Crook and Miss Proud. Two extra prizes were awarded and those fell respectively to Piper John Macdonald, Glasgow Police, who played Arniston Castle (strathspey) and John McKechnie (reel), and to Piper Ewing, Aberdeen, whose pieces were respectively the Piper’s Bonnet and Miss Proud.

“The local competition for marches, as also for strathspeys and reels, proved exceedingly interesting, and the talent displayed showed that in the County there is no lack of excellent pipers, all of whom are sure to take a very high place in the future. In the marches, Piper R MacCallum, Campbeltown, winner of the first prize, played the Abercairney Highlanders; Piper Ian MacLean, Gruline, who was second, performed the Loch Katrine march; while Piper N MacCallum, Poltalloch (third) play Leaving Glenurquhart. In the competition for strathspeys and reels the winners were, in the order named, Piper K Lawrie, Oban, who played the Shepherd’s Crook and the Sheep Wife; Piper R MacCallum, Campbeltown, who rendered the Piper’s Bonnet and Grey Bob; and Piper Allan Paterson, Fort William, who contributed the Shepherd’s Crook and the Man from Glengarry. The judging of the piping was shared in by Mr John Bartholomew of Glenorchard; Brigadier General Cheape; Mr Archibald Campbell, Kilberry; Lt Vol Mackinnon; Mr Graham-Campbell yr of Shirvan; Lt Col Campbell of Kilberry; Major Leckie Ewing; Dr Colin Caird.”

(Allan MacLeod Calder was born in Edinburgh in 1903, son of Hugh Calder who was Pipe Major of the Edinburgh Police 1910-1920. Allan also won the Northern Meeting Gold Medal in 1924. He died in Edinburgh in 1985.)

The following week there is a letter about the above report. “Are tune names given in English for the benefit of our visitors from the South?”

Piping on the radio

Sometimes the radio programmes for the day were listed in the papers. Occasionally there would be piping on the Glasgow programme. Broadcasts started at 3.40pm and finished at 11pm. On September 14th the list included ‘8.45pm The City of Glasgow Pipe Band, the World Champions, (Pipe Major William Fergusson) – Slow Gaelic Air, Harken My Love, March, The Land of Trees, Quickstep, The Canadian Highlanders, Strathspey, The Brig o’ Perth, Reel, Lochiel’s to France. 9.45 The City of Glasgow Pipe Band – Highland Air, Over the Sea to Skye, March, The Skye Crofters, March, Dugald MacColl’s Farewell to France, Strathspey, The Bob o’ Fettercairn, Reel, Pretty Marion. (last three items were played at the Cowal Games, where the band gained the World’s Championship.)

Caledonian Games, Moosomin

The Oban Times of 15th September included a letter from Canada, written by A Campbell formerly of Mull, enclosing a cutting about the ninth annual Caledonian Games held at Moosomin, under the auspices of the local Caledonian Association. The result of the open piping competition for playing a march was: 1. W Watts, 2. N Sutherland, 3. D Willis. There were the usual dancing and athletic events.

Donald Cameron

On 19th September there is a picture and article about Donald Cameron. The picture is a reproduction of the portrait in W L Manson’s book The Highland Bagpipe and was taken at the Northern Meeting in 1867 immediately after the first competition between former gold medallists for the designation Champion of Champions or King of Pipers. ‘When Donald Cameron began to play a great hush fell on the crowd, and he played to an audience that scarcely breathed. He was of course, placed first. On that matter there was no room for dispute.’ The article continued with further information on his life, a description of his funeral and a photograph of his gravestone in the High Church cemetery in Inverness.

The Northern Meeting

At the end of September there is a full report of the Northern Meeting, described as a ‘Brilliant Gathering’. “The Northern Meeting at Inverness was opened on Thursday of last week when the first day’s games were held. There was a large attendance within the grounds and the grandstand was well filled by the County families and their friends, many of the gentlemen appearing in their Clan Tartans. The piping and dancing contests as well as the various athletic competitions were followed with great interest. In the competition for piobaireachds the first prize consisting of the Highland Society of London’s gold medal and £8 was won by Angus Macpherson, Invershin. His son Malcolm Ross Macpherson who is 17 years of age won the 4th prize. The boy’s grandfather was a winner at the meeting in 1854. The Macphersons belong to a well-known Badenoch piping Family”. This is followed by a report of the athletics and the displays by boys of Queen Victoria School and the Seaforth Highlanders.

Gold Medal

  1. Angus Macpherson, Invershin £8
  2. A. M’Leod Calder, Edinburgh, £5
  3. P.Sgt. W. MacDonald, Lovat Scouts, £3
  4. Malcolm Ross Macpherson, Invershin £1


  1. Corp. G. Cruickshank, Aberdeen £4
  2. A. Thomson, Inverness £3
  3. PM A. Matheson, F. George £2

Marches – Boys under 17

  1. Malcolm Macpherson, Invershin
  2. B. Miller, Seaforth Highlanders

Judges: Major J.P. Grant M.C., Mr Somerled MacDonald, Lt Col. Craig Brown, Capt. William MacKay and Capt. Iain Campbell.’

The Northern Meeting Second Day’s Proceedings

This is followed by a report of the ball and then The Second Day’s Proceedings. “At the Games on Friday, the first competition was that in piobaireachd playing by pipers who had won the gold medal of the Highland Society of London at a former gathering. There were six champions forward. PM W. Ross, Edinburgh and PM R. Reid, 7th H.L.I. tied for the first prize. They divided the first and second prize money, which amounted to £18, but had to play a second time to decide the destination of the gold clasp. Each rendered the piobaireachd The Unjust Incarceration and the judges came to the conclusion that Pipe Major Ross had given the more perfect performance. The other test pieces in the piobaireachd competition were the Lament for Donald MacCrimmon and Glengarry’s March. The playing of the four prize winners was considered to be very fine. Regret was expressed that John MacDonald, Inverness, did not compete as intended. The playing of the marches, strathspeys and reels was very creditable.”

Principal Awards. Piobaireachdsopen only to competitors who have won the gold medal at former gatherings of the Northern Meeting.

  1. PM W. Ross, Edinburgh – £10 and gold clasp for attachment to gold medal
  2. PM R. Reid, 7th H.L.I. – £8
  3. PM George Stewart MacLennan, Aberdeen – £6
  4. D.I. MacKenzie, Tongue. – £3

Strathspeys and Reels

  1. Alex Thomson, Inverness – £4
  2. P.Sgt. Wm. MacDonald, Lovat Scouts – £3
  3. Malcolm Ross Macpherson, Invershin – £2

March, Strathspey and Reel

  1. George Stewart MacLennan, Aberdeen – Silver Star and £6
  2. PM J.D. MacDonald, Scots Guards – £4
  3. PM W. Ross, Edinburgh – £2

The following week the Oban Times added more information: “At Oban Reid carried off the first prize, and at Inverness he and Pipe Major W. Ross, late of the Scots Guards and now Pipe Major of the Lovat Scouts, tied. For a tune they were both asked by the judges to play Cille Chriosd in the afternoon, and on the playing off of the tie they both played the Unjust Incarceration. Ross played the tune through without mistake. Reid made a couple of slips in the first variation which allowed Ross to win the clasp to the gold medal. But apart from the mistakes, and perhaps a slightly hesitating start, Reid’s playing was very fine indeed, his Crunluadh-Amach being brilliantly executed.”

Book review of PM W. Ross’s Collection

On 29th September there is a book review of PM W. Ross’s Collection. Paterson’s 4/-. The book is described as containing marches the way W. Ross plays them in competition. It goes on to say: “In the seventies of the last century prizes for marches at the Northern Meeting were won with simple tunes in 6/8 time. The more intricate 4 and 6 parted marches in 2/4 time were brought in to prominence by the late William MacLennan when competing at the Games and were further developed by his successors Angus MacRae and John MacColl. Over the last 25 years the tendency has been to embellish with more and more gracenotes, the outcome at 1923 is pictured in this book. It is impossible to foretell to what lengths the tendency will continue.”

The review then discusses the difference between particular tunes as played in the nineties and at the present time. Then: “Some say the old style is best, but the public prefer the modern style undoubtedly. The popularity of the competition march, strathspey and reel is today established firmly. It remains to be seen whether or not it will endure or is it a mere phase in the history of pipe music which no historian can ignore. The book is a valuable historical record of what is considered in 1923 to be competition music in its highest form.” The review continues with details of the various tunes and then says: “The book contains a few recent compositions of merit, and of them Mrs J MacColl, march by John MacColl, Kantara to El Arish, march by Pipe Major W Fergusson of the famous City of Glasgow Pipe Band, and Mrs Hugh Calder, march by Roderick Campbell, are worthy of special attention. It is hoped that the useful series of which this book is the beginning will be a long one. There is no question of the value of the first part and the appearance of the second will be awaited eagerly.” In fact the book contained three 2/4 marches by John MacColl but these were removed from later editions as they had been published without the permission of the composer. Dr Charles Bannatyne was replaced by The Braemar Highlanders, Mrs J MacColl was replaced by Charles Edward Hope Vere and Major Byng M Wright’s Farewell to the 8th Argylls was replaced by The Stirlingshire Militia. An extra tune, Brigadier General Lorne Campbell VC of Akarit was also added. Another possible outcome of this disagreement was that a manuscript copy in John’s own writing of a tune named P.M. Ross’s Farewell to the Scots Guards has survived, but this tune was published later with the title The Clan MacColl. Four more William Ross books were to follow over the years.

Letter about circular breathing

In October there is a letter about the statement in the Donald Cameron article: “Cameron was one of the small number of men who could keep up a continuous sound when playing the practice chanter, a thing very few players can do.” The letter continued: “Apparently Roderick MacDiarmid could do it too, but it appears to be a physical impossibility”. The following week Charles Bannatyne puts us right. Continuous blowing is simple, there’s nothing to it; he learnt it in less than a week. All you have to do is puff out the cheeks and take the next breath through the nose.