History of the Argyllshire Gathering: the 1992 competition

•March to the Games in 1992: Colin MacLellan, Euan Stuart, Bruce Hitchings and Alasdair Gillies.jpg

• PART 57 •


August 26th and 27th was the date for the Gathering in 1992.  The cover picture on the programme was of one of the heavy athletes in action. Tune requirements were eight own choice for the Gold, and ten own choice for the Senior. The set tunes for the Silver were The MacGregors’ Salute, Hector MacLean’s Warning, The Duke of Atholl’s Salute, I am proud to play a pipe, Salute to Donald, Black Donald’s March. Four were to be submitted. The Gold Medal began at 9am in the Great Western Hotel and the Senior commenced an hour later in the Regent Hotel with 15 competitors. The Silver Medal, with 22 entries, was at 9am in the Corran Halls. The MacGregor Memorial had eight competitors who each played twice, one round beginning at 10am at St Columba’s Hall and the second in the same location at 2.30pm. In between the Junior MSR took place, with seven competitors. In the evening the Former Winners MSR began at 7pm in the Corran Halls, with 13 entered, two of whom did not play. The A and B light music events were at the Games field on Thursday with 31 pipers listed for the A section and 30 for the B. The day began with the usual march to the field and during the day the Oban Pipe Band played.

The Piping Times report

The Piping Times report was written by Seumas MacNeill. “The first of the three major solo piping events of the year, the Argyllshire Gathering, took place on the 26th and 27th August.

“The name itself is a clarion call to pipers. For the very young it’s a dream and a promise for the future; for the established professionals it’s a challenge and a chance for piping immortality. For those of us who compete no more it’s nostalgia unlimited.

“The old glamour and companionship of the trains is gone forever, but when on the pre-games evening we turn at Tyndrum off the main road to the north, then our carriage is committed to the land of Argyll, with its mists and magic and mystery. Clan Campbell has never lost the vision. For them the Chief is as he always was; the centuries have rolled past; there are strangers in our true loves’ homes; but still the old customs and loyalties remain. It seems that never will they be altered.

“Along Glenlochy to Dalmally and the Pass of Brander, memories of former years bring a sad smile and the thankfulness of having known and heard great pipers of past eras. Thoughts of the modern generation of competing pipers are suddenly given a new twist by the sight of the mists over Cruachan, the purple of the heather along the sides of the roads and the gaunt outline of Kilchurn Castle. What hard luck on these Americans and Canadians who have to leave this once all the tunes are played. How can any piper, having seen the hills of Scotland and the sites and inspirations of the great piobaireachds, how can he blithely leave all this to return to the over-crowded cities, the air conditioning, and the places where if you ask for whisky they serve you rye.

“Anyway, after a few glasses of the wine of the country and a few hours inspired story-telling with one’s peers, the past recedes into its proper place; the present and the future become once again all important.”

The Gold Medal

“This contest lasted from 9am until 6pm with a break for lunch. On the whole the standard was very good with two pipers clearly ahead of the field. Colin MacLellan, who has developed into a real master player in the last few years, was the man who gained the coveted award, with a splendid rendering of the Blue Ribbon.

“His bagpipe was excellent, his technique was immaculate and his control of the very many variations was all that could be desired. John MacDougall Gillies when he was piper at Taymouth Castle once described the playing of this tune by his master Sandy Cameron as ‘Variation followed variation as smooth and regularly as the turning of a wheel in a mill-lade.’ It seemed that Colin followed the same style.

“In second place came young Alan Minty with a very good performance of Lament for Mary MacLeod on again an excellent bagpipe. The tune of course is much easier to play and express, but this again was a performance with no discernible flaw.

“At least a dozen other players produced very fine music and it is a pity that only four prizes are awarded in the event, especially when twenty-seven actually played. There were more prizes in the Silver Medal event for less competitors. In the days when the Gold Medal was decided in time for the judges to have a gin and tonic before lunch there was still four prizes.

“Perhaps four prizes followed by ten equal fifths would be more appropriate.

“In the third place came Chris Terry from South Africa playing a very fine Lament for the Earl of Antrim. And fourth was the last man to play, Iain Hurst from Oban with a good steady rendering of MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute.

“The other good performances are too numerous to mentioned but some must be given recognition. In the order in which they played, Gordon Walker achieved the true sound of a MacCrimmon Lament with MacSwan of Roaig. He had some very nice touches at the endings of Variations but he had the modern fault of cutting and over­-pointing the first variation. His drones went slightly out later on. Dr Angus MacDonald played the Gillies style of The Battle of Waternish but it was a little bit square and he was not sure what to do with Variation 2. Angus MacColl was a bit nippy with The Big Spree and he played Variation 1 down, which is not quite so attractive. Probably his worst fault however was the snatching of the endings of lines. Ed Neigh, making a welcome return to top competitions in this country, was rather slow with Black Donald’s March, especially in the ground and the third variations but he kept the tune going well like the master player he is. Ronald McShannon was handicapped with a whistling high A. One or two of his throws were weak and his D gracenote in cadences was much too small. Stuart Samson gave us Lament for Colin Roy MacKenzie but was unwise enough to put a Crunluath a Mach on a lament. Perhaps it was poetic justice that he made a mistake, although a minor one, in line two of that last Variation. Bruce Woodley from Vancouver played an excellent Too long in This Condition but again he had the modern habit of being too nippy with Variation 1. Pipers should realise that even although a note in piobaireachd is written as an eighth (a semi quaver) that does not mean that it is supposed to be played as quickly as possible. Wilson Brown played The Battle of Auldearn Number 2 but there was no battle in his tune. Also his valve is much too loud. Eric Rigler from California gave us My King has landed In Moidart and this was very good, but he seemed to tire later because some slackness crept in to the fingering. Leslie Hutt was given that great Lament for Ronald MacDonald of Morar and he played it well enough but the tone of his bagpipe was a bit dull. A very enjoyable tune, as always, is the Lament for the Children. It was played this time by Iain Macey but the fingering was not as crisp as the tune demands. The echo beats were a bit heavy and the throw to F was missing a gracenote. Particularly enjoyable for at least one of the judges was Anne Spalding’s rendering of the Battle of the Pass of Crieff. The bagpipe stayed up well and she kept the many variations going pleasingly throughout. In addition she had the best Crunluath in the competition. Willie McCallum’s tune was the MacDonald’s Salute which is not played often and indeed is a rather dull composition compared to the others produced by Donald Mor MacCrimmon. Willie of course played it very well, but although big Donald MacLean from Lewis won the medal many years ago in this same competition with that same tune, it is not really a prize winner. Simon Marshall also gave a good performance with the Unjust Incarceration but he came in too fast on odro and the edre part of his Crunluath was a bit tight. Strangely enough he did not follow the ground with the variations, and although this is perfectly permissible it is nowadays rather unusual.

“The judges were Allan M. Beaton, William MacDonald (Benbecula) and Seumas MacNeill.”

The Senior Piobaireachd

  1. Alasdair Gillies
  2. Roderick MacLeod
  3. Brian Donaldson
  4. Murray Henderson
    Judges: Donald MacPherson, Andrew Pitkeathly and Tom Speirs

Silver Medal

  1. Stuart Liddell
  2. Gavin Walker
  3. Iain Speirs
  4. William Morrison
  5. Rory Grossart
    Judges: James Campbell, Malcolm McRae and Ronald Morrison

MacGregor Memorial Piobaireachd

  1. Allan MacColl
  2. Neil R Walker
  3. Andrew Hayes

    Former Winners March, Strathspey and Reel

    1. Roderick MacLeod
    2. Alasdair Gillies
    3. William Morrison
    4. Brian Donaldson

    “A new trophy, the Lorne Campbell of Airds VC trophy for the best military piper competing in the Piobaireachd and March, Strathspey and Reel classes was awarded for the first time. The winner was PM Alasdair Gillies.”

    The Games

    The second day was not included in the Piping Times report. The new Gold Medallist, Colin MacLellan, led the pipers on the march to the field. He remembers that Alasdair Gillies was insistent that the front row be loaded with Queen’s Own Highlanders in honour of Colin’s father Captain John MacLellan who had passed away the year before. The front rank was Colin MacLellan, Euan Stuart, Bruce Hitchings and Alasdair Gillies. Although Euan Stuart was QOH at the time he later transferred to the KOSB to become Pipe Major and retired apparently as Colonel in the Army Air Corps.

    The results on the second day were:

    A Grade


    1. Michael Cusack
    2. Simon Marshall
    3. Colin MacLellan
    4. Iain Hurst
    5. Jonathan Gillespie
      Judges: Ronald Lawrie, Donald MacPherson, Allan Beaton

    Strathspey and Reel

    1. Simon Marshall
    2. Roderick MacLeod
    3. Mike Cusack
    4. Ed Neigh
    5. William Morrison
      Judges: Seumas MacNeill, Ronald Morrison and Andrew Pitkeathly

    B Grade


    1. James Murray
    2. Donald MacPhee
    3. Scott Drummond
    4. Moira Morrison
    5. Andrew Hayes
      Judges: Neill Mulvie, Malcolm McRae

    Strathspey and Reel

    1. Duncan MacDonald
    2. Stuart Liddell
    3. Scott Drummond
    4. Donald MacPhee
    5. James Murray
      Judges: James Burnet, William MacDonald (Benbecula), Tom Speirs

    Local Piping


    1. Sgt. Gordon Rowan
    2. Alasdair Cain
    3. Garry MacEwan

    Strathspey and Reel

    1. Iain Maclsaac
    2. Sgt. Gordon Rowan
    3. Garry MacEwan


    1. Allan MacColl
    2. Andrew Campbell-Birnie
    3. Colin Maclsaac
    4. Gavin Davidson