History of the Argyllshire Gathering: the 1991 competition

•James MacGillivray, Colin MacLellan, Duncan MacGillivray, Colin Drummond and Michael Cusack.

• PART 56 •


The 1991 Gathering was on 21st and 2nd August. The programme reverted to A5 size with a colour picture of PM J Motherwell, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on the front. The Oban pipe band played at the Games on the second day.

The Silver Medal

The Silver Medal competition was not covered in the Piping Times but it took place in the Corran Hall, starting at 9am with 23 entries. Four tunes were to be submitted from a list of eight. The set tunes were The Lament for Donald of Laggan, The Desperate Battle of the Birds, Grain in Hides and Corn in Sacks, The Groat, The Parading of the MacDonalds, MacLeod’s Controversy, Catherine’ s Lament, The Gathering of the MacNabs. The result was:

  1. Simon Marshall, Armadale
  2. James Murray, Cupar
  3. John Donald MacKenzie, Dornie
  4. Stuart Shedden, Glasgow
  5. Cpl Lewis Barclay, Gordon Hldrs.

The Gold Medal took place in the Great Western Hotel, the Senior in the Regent Hotel, and the MacGregor Memorial, and the Junior MSR were in St Columba’s Hall. The set tunes for the Gold were Lament for Patrick Og MacCrimmon, The Earl of Seaforth’s Salute, The Big Spree, The Unjust Incarceration, In Praise of Morag, Lament for John Garve MacLeod of Raasay, Lament for Ronald MacDonald of Morar, Scarce of Fishing.  For the Senior the tunes were The Lament for the Laird of Anapool, The Lament for the Dead, The MacDonalds’ Salute, The Red Hand in the MacDonalds’ Arms, The Earl of Ross’s March, The Lament for Hugh, Craigellachie, Donald Gruamach’s March. In both competitions four tunes were required.

•Judges bench with John D. Burgess, Donald Macpherson and Ronald Lawrie

The Piping Times report

The Gold Medal

“A total of 27 entries had been accepted for this event, including ten from overseas, one of whom however did not turn up.

“It was not a great competition. Nevertheless, for those who did not feel inclined to listen for mistakes or technical errors the whole day, almost, was a great delight. The tunes prescribed were marvellous ones but the performances – from 9am until 7pm, with a break for lunch – were sprinkled with minor flaws so that the judges’ tasks became increasingly difficult as the day wore on. The pleasure was provided by the songs, not the singers.

“The only person exempt from criticism was the eventual winner of the coveted Medal, James McGillivray from Canada. Playing the Big Spree on a fine bagpipe with masterly control, he was clearly outstanding. The late Professor Alex Haddow used to say that the Big Spree was a tune for the morning after and should start off with a good deal of drunken remorse. Jim presented the ground and several variations in this spirit (!) but then added a dimension which probably Alex had not considered – the feeling that, as the head cleared, it was all worth it and roll on the next time.

“The strongest challenge to this fine piper was coming from Michael Grey, also of Canada, playing a quite magnificent In Praise of Morag. As so often happens in such a competition, everything went well until almost the very end, when disaster struck in the form of a stopped bass drone. Michael, and many more of us, will grieve over this for years to come.

“The other person who made a tremendous bid for the medal was Allan MacDonald, the middle one of the Glenuig brothers. His Scarce of Fishing was a perfect joy of fingering and expression – if one was able to ignore the badly out of tune drones. The strong and accurate execution of the taorluath and crunluath was a perfect demonstration of how these movements should be played.

“Duncan MacGillivray from Tain, whose father Donald is a Gold Medallist and was a top competitor a generation ago, also gave an excellent rendering of the Big Spree, on what we are told was the bagpipe belonging to the great John MacDonald of lnverness. Duncan gave it the really brisk treatment of a real spree, and the only flaw was the sharp low A of his chanter. Fortunately he had tuned the drones to all the other notes and abandoned the low A, so it was only on the longer tonic notes that this was evident.

“Eric Rigler from California was given the long In Praise of Morag to play, and a very fine job he made of it too. He could have given us more change of tempo from Taorluath to Crunluath and he did in fact have odd misses in these Variations, but with the drones going out near the end he may have tired a bit. Ronald McShannon ‘s Lament for Ronald MacDonald of Morar also began to fade a bit towards the end with some G gracenotes missing at the start of crunluaths, but his handicap is that he often changes from blowing to squeezing, and vice versa, in the middle of the high G without maintaining the same pressure.

“Willie MacCallum, also playing before his teacher as a judge, did not seem particularly comfortable with the Big Spree. His odro was always too short on the B, Variations one and two were at the same tempo and Variation three was much too nippy. Dr. Angus MacDonald with the same tune and the best bagpipe in the competition gave a very competent performance although he had a rather fast dash into the taorluath, and his crunluath from B holding the low G was a bit too elaborate. Nevertheless this performance, like that of his brother, must have been considered seriously for one of the lower places.

“Of the others Angus MacColl, also playing Ronald MacDonald of Morar, seemed to be grinding out the three beautiful Grounds. He was better with the Variations and his crunluath movement was excellent except again for the one from B holding the low G. The worse feature of his tune was that he played a crunluath a mach on this gorgeous Lament. Certainly there are some pipers who will play an a mach on anything – even, on one famous occasion which nearly gave Grant of Rothiemurchus apoplexy – on MacIntosh’s Lament. But where can there possibly be a lament in a blatter of fireworks?

“It is permitted, and expected, to have an a mach on Patrick Og, but this is different, since the great man was not dead at the time of the composition. Jonathan Gillespie was a little fast with this tune and a little square, and also he needs some work on his D taorluath a mach. Ann Spalding played a very enjoyable Iain Garve MacLeod of Raasay on a strong sounding pipe, but had one or two minor slips. Derek Fraser, who always presents a fine tune, should have taken a knife to the D hole before he started, because its flatness ruined his chances. Colin MacLellan played the wrong ending to the first line of the Big Spree and this seemed to unsettle the rest of his performance.

“From the others a lot of good playing was heard but the flaws were many. Finding an order of merit- apart from the winner- must have been very difficult, but the result was eventually announced as:

  1. James McGillivray
  2. Eric Rigler
  3. Duncan MacGillivray
  4. Angus MacColl
    Judges: Hugh MacCallum, John M. MacKenzie and Ronald Morrison.

“Congratulations to all the prize winners and indeed to the many others who gave a great deal of pleasure to us who were lucky enough to be present.

Congratulations also to Ronald Morrison who had two of his pupils in the prize list.”

The Senior Piobaireachd

“The Senior Piobaireachd began at 11am in the Regent Hotel. This was the best of the four venues used, being the hotel dining room, with large windows looking out over Oban Bay. With the strong sunshine it was rather too hot but when the ceiling fans were put on after the lunch break the noise and downward flow of air was not acceptable and the next player asked for them to be switched off.

“The judges for this event were John D. Burgess, famous for winning the Gold Medal here at the age of sixteen and then making it a double by doing the same at Inverness; Ronald Lawrie of Oban, winner of the Medal in 1961; and Donald Macpherson, Medal winner in 1948 and whose record in the Senior event deserves a mention. Having competed only 24 times in this event he won it 15 times, was second twice and third three times.

“The set tunes were not the most well known or popular ones, or as Ronald Lawrie said when picking up his pile of books, ‘Heavy tunes today’. Most popular with the competitors were The MacDonalds’ Salute and Craigellachie, each submitted by ten of the twelve competitors, and Donald Gruamach’s March submitted nine times. Least popular were The Lament for the Dead and The Red Hand in the MacDonalds’ Arms, each submitted twice but not played, and The Lament for Hugh also submitted twice and played once, by Allan MacDonald.

“Andrew Wright was one of the first to play a Goretex bag and is now one of the first to appear with an angled blowpipe.

“One of the judges said this was a funny competition as many of the players went wrong in their tunes, making the judges’ task more difficult, and in fact they were a considerable time coming to a decision. Eventually the result was announced at 4.50pm.”

  1. William McCallum, Glasgow – Craigellachie
  2. Roderick MacLeod, Cumbernauld – Donald Gruamach’s March
  3. Brian Donaldson, Scots Guards – The Earl of Ross’s March
  4. John MacDougall, Kincraig – The Lament for the Laird of Anapool


“The March, Strathspey and Reel for Former Winners took place in the Corran Halls at 7pm. This event is confined to previous winners of the March or the Strathspey and Reel at Oban. Competitors submit six of each type of tune and the ones selected, taken in any order, are played twice over.

“This was the largest of the venues, with seating for several hundred and although there were a large number present the hall was not by any means full. In addition to the piping enthusiasts the audience included many tourists, overseas visitors and holiday­makers in for an evening of entertainment. A little more explanation would have been useful for them.

“Nine pipers played out of ten entered and there was one breakdown.”

  1. Angus MacColl, Oban – John MacFadyen of Melfort, The Caledonian Society of London, The Sound of Sleat
  2. James McGillivray, Canada – Father John MacMillan of Barra, Atholl Cummers, Smith of Chilliechassie
  3. Murray Henderson, Kirriemuir – John MacDonald of Glencoe, Maggie Cameron, Sandy Cameron
    Judges: Dr Leslie Craig, Dr John MacAskill and PM Iain McLeod

“This was followed by the presentation of prizes for all the events of the day. This was the first time this has been done at Oban, as previously prizes have been presented at the conclusion of each event. The ceremony was spoilt by some prize winners not being present and by many others going up dressed in denims.”

Other results were:

Local under 16 MSR

  1. Iain MacIsaac
  2. Colin MacIsaac
  3. Niall Cameron

MacGregor Memorial Piobaireachd

  1. Stuart Liddell, Inveraray
  2. Andrew Hall, Newtonabbey
  3. Neil Walker, Dunblane

The Games

The second day began as usual with the march of the Stewards and pipers from the station to the Games field. The Pipe Major was the new Oban Gold Medallist, James McGillivray and the pipers played The Argyllshire Gathering on entering the field. Although there was a total entry of 58 pipers, 32 for the A grade and 26 for the B grade, only 32 played up the road.

“The piping began at 11am, all four events being run at the same time. There was a one hour break for lunch and all events were finished by 4pm. The weather stayed fine and dry throughout and the results were announced immediately as each event finished.”

A Grade


  1. Roderick MacLeod
  2. Rory Grossart
  3. Eric Rigler
  4. Iain Hurst
  5. Wilson Brown
    Judges: John D. Burgess, Ronald Morrison, James Burnet

Strathspey and Reel

  1. Gordon Walker
  2. Roderick MacLeod
  3. Leslie Hutt
  4. Donald J. McIntyre
  5. Michael Cusack.
    Judges: Captain Andrew Pitkeathly, Donald Macpherson, PM Iain McLeod

B Grade


  1. John MacLeod
  2. Simon Marshall
  3. John Donald MacKenzie
  4. James Murray
  5. PM Robert Burns
    Judges: Hugh MacCallum, Sandy Macpherson, Dr John MacAskill

Strathspey and Reel

  1. PM Robert Burns
  2. Douglas Pincock
  3. Euan Stuart
  4. Gavin Walker
  5. Iain Speirs
    Judges: Dr Leslie Craig, PM Ronald Lawrie, PM John M. MacKenzie