I am not sure that ‘we’ as pipers ever refer to ourselves as musicians and I am not sure why. Our last on-line guest slot was filled by Scott Wallace and he certainly fits the bill. Not only a great player but a prolific composer and multi instrumentalist. His tunes and arrangements with his own backing/accompaniments are a real treat to listen to and I urge you to seek them out online.
Scott recently released his first collection of contemporary music, ‘Indigenous’ and a visit to his website will offer a flavour of what he is all about. I am told there are plenty more tunes in the bank so perhaps more to come?
Scott was born in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. Most of you will know him as a front rank player for the last few years with multi time world champions, Field Marshal Montgomery. He has clearly been very influential in the music FMM play with the band featuring many of his compositions in their repertoire.
So despite a heavy head cold, the anomalies of Zoom, Scott stepped up to the plate and gave us the final session of the year. He is quite the master around the Blair chanter and throughout his performance he change the pitch and instruments and thus produced a very entertaining and musical 45 mins or so. We even had a wee bit of the big music with a lovely ground of The Edinburgh Piobaireachd.
The following 2 links give a flavour of the evening. You will probably have to crank up the volume a bit but these will wet your appetite.
And with that we were done and what a way to sign off for our summer break.
Many thanks Scott and hopefully a tune in person in the not too distant future.
A big thanks to all our guest artists and of course we have just published the results of our first online contest that, although a huge administration task, was very successful and well received by the piping community. Our thanks go to everyone involved in making that a success, not least the competitors and judges.
So what lies ahead? Hopefully we can get back into the Scots Guards Club in the autumn and we hope to continue with some form of online presence for our new overseas following.
Many thanks to all who support the Society and hopefully a pie and a pint soon.
We are very lucky to have secured Scott for our last 2021 online guest Zoom sessions. After that it is a summer break with, we hope, the resumption of normal service in the Scots Guards Association Club sometime in the Autumn. We are in discussions with the SGAC to see what can be achieved piping wise and hopefully the picture will be clearer in a couple of months. In the meantime we have our online competition to look forward to and of course last, but by no means least, Scott Wallace.
During the pandemic we had had a series of brilliant guest sessions and this will be no exception.
Scott has been playing pipes since he was 14 and has been a member of the Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band for 11 years. He has won many championships with them including 6 Grade 1 world titles.
He is also a regular on the solo circuit and was the all Ireland Champion in 2017 and overall winner of the Captain John MacLellan competition in 2019.
Scott is also a well established composer and has published a book of his own compositions and runs a website called Indigenous Music, where all of his compositions are available to purchase.
He is a sought after multi instrumentalist that has performed all over the world with the likes of The Chieftains, Carlos Nunez, Johannesburg youth orchestra and many more.
Indigenous is the debut collection of music for the Great Highland Bagpipe by Scott Wallace. This new publication includes no less than thirty-plus exciting original contemporary pieces by one of the pipe band world’s most prolific next generation composers, whose musical influences are drawn from his native Ulster, Ireland, Scotland and Australia. Scott’s music has received popular public reception in viral social media videos, and is already featuring prominently in competitive pipe band and solo drumming performances. Indigenous will bring a whole new lease of life to your repertoire.-Scott Currie music
I have had the pleasure to listen to Scott many times and if you are after an evening of music in good company this is not to be missed.
Tonight’s meeting was a members only affair and we enjoyed a wide variety from four pipers.
The Hon Pipe Major kicked off with a quick run through Gardens of Skye and PM David Aitken before we handed the virtual floor over to the following:
Yahya Hussein, New York
Yahya played a 6/8 he composed himself called Euan Anderson on his practice chanter. No prizes for guessing the inspiration. It is a fine swinging 6/8 any piper would be proud of.
He then gave us the ground of Donald Duaghal Mackay. Donald was an interesting character born in 1591 who was apparently always short of cash so he raised a regiment of mercenary soldiers. Sadly this band of hired killers was not a great success and he died bankrupt. As Compliance Officer at a Japanese Investment Bank, Yahya will surely avoid both his employers and himself suffering a similar fate.
Kenton Adler, Arkansas
Kenton produced a wonderfully sweet sounding set of mouth blown smallpipes and played two of his own compositions. The first was a melodic slow air Kenton composed on a drive along Route 144 with Jimmy Bell. The title, Siubhal Siar, means going west in Gaelic. He followed this with the 6/8, Cuchullain’s Bane, named after Kenton’s dog.
Ross Morrill, Utah
We then all ventured way out west to Utah where Ross joined us for the first time. Ross is a pipe and reed maker and played a set of his own small pipes in Honduran Rosewood.
He gave us the classic 6/8, Frank Thomson, composed by Donald Shaw Ramsay after the owner of the Invergordon Distillery and followed up with a delicately expressed ground of Queen Anne’s Lament. As Queen of Scotland, England and Ireland she was monarch during The Act of Union in 1707. One wonders what she would think of today’s political landscape.
Lachie Dick, Edinburgh
Moving half a world east again, we found Eagles regular Lachie and a Blair Chanter. In a real show of electro-technical mastery he was joined by a thing called Garage Band and played an superb setting of Donald MacLellan of Rothesay. The Garage Band were then replaced by a full drum corps in a tribute to RSPBA march pasts with two 6/8s Queensborough Gardens (composed by Lachie) and Ishabel T MacDonald.
He finished the evening with the ground and first variation of Lament for the Iolaire. This is a suitably melancholic tune composed by Donald MacLeod in commemoration of the HMY Iolaire disaster which sank at the entrance to Stornoway harbour on the Isle of Lewis in January 1919. The boat was full of men returning home after the end of the First World War. 201 out of the 283 people on board died. It remains one of the worst maritime disasters in British waters.
Our next meeting will be on 29th June when we hope to be joined by guest piper Scott Wallace. After this we will probably take a break before hopefully resuming face to face meetings…
Tonight we were immensely pleased to host Dr Simon McKerrell as our guest piper.
Simon has a first class piping pedigree in solos, pipe bands, folk bands and academia. This wide spectrum of experience was evident as he played tonight on a set of Half Long Kitchen Pipes and Uilleann Pipes whilst challenging the audience with a concurrent quiz.
The quiz questions are set out at the bottom of this article. Those unable to join our Zoom recital can submit answers for a mystery prize.
Around half of Simon’s tunes were self-penned including the first tune, The Duart Gathering, a fine swinging march. Anyone wishing to buy Simon’s latest book can do so here:
His next set included P/M Evan MacRae’s jig, Duncan the Gauger and Kinnon McKerrell,named after Simon’s son. Evan MacRae’s recently published posthumous biography, Over the Chindwin to Lochaber, is apparently a very good read. Please buy. If this is successful, perhaps more pipers will follow.
The final set on his 1950’s Robertson Half Long Kitchen Pipes was a set of wee strathpeys and reels including Mrs MacLeod of Raasay, Gillian Frame and Lauren McCowan’s Reel. This really flew and showed his outstanding finger technique. The kitchen pipes have a delightful tone. Judge for yourself – video link below:
Incidentally, our very own doctor, Dr Peter McRossCannister, was uploading the quiz questions onto the Zoom chat screen. As the (correct) answer to at least a couple of questions appeared before the question itself, some members called his impartiality into doubt. Not the first time perhaps.
Simon moved onto a set of Uilleann Pipes for the last half of his recital. This is a truly magnificent instrument which the late Iain MacDonald helped Simon source. Iain sadly died in 2020 after a career pioneering the bagpipes outside the confines of the competition piping world.
After a flying set of The Boys of Tandragee and An Rogaire Dubh (aka The Black Rogue) Simon was joined by 9 year old Niamh McKerrell on the fiddle. The Lenzie duo played The Lilting Banshee and Glenside 1 with genuine style and panache. Niamh has a very bright future ahead. Huge thanks Niamh!
It should be noted that Simon was babysitting his two children throughout the recital. Whilst there will be some who would argue this is simply called parenting, this must have added to the stress levels.
To finish, Simon gave us the rollicking reels, The Maids of Mitchelstown and Flood on the Holm, the latter by James Scott Skinner. Simon was inspired to play this tune by Irish piper Robbie Hannan. Robbie is lesser known to Highland pipers but is possibly one of the most influential uilleann pipers of his generation.
This rounded off a hugely musical and entertaining session with genuinely classy playing and audience engagement. We are immensely grateful to Simon for taking the time to prepare and perform. These are unprecedented times and there would be few pipers who thought playing a live recital to a global audience whilst caring for your two energetic children was even just marginally possible 15 months ago.
Q1: This tune is named after the ancient seat of the Clan MacLean, what is it, and where?
Q2: ‘Duncan the Gauger’ was written by by P/M Evan MacRae–what is the name of his recently published posthumous biography?
Q3: What famous road built on Raasay is the subject of a composition by Donald Shaw of Capercaillie?
Q4: ‘The Black Rogue’ is commonly known in Scotland as the tune, ‘Come under my plaidie’. Which English Quaker industrialist is said to have ‘invented’ the modern form of the kilt in the early 19th century?
Q5: James Scott Skinner wrote a famous fiddle tune air often played on the bagpipes. It was named after a friend of his who committed suicide. What is the name of that now well known tune?
I first met Margaret in the early 70’s when I was a young boy when she and ‘uncle’ George were courting. Edinburgh was quite the piping scene back then and in truth I didn’t really appreciate who was who or what stature they held in the piping world.
Although it says on the original membership cards that the Eagle Pipers’ were formed in 1963 it would appear that they met as an informal group in George Stoddart’s shop, 328 Lawnmarket long before that. After tunes they would adjourn to the Eagle bar (Ensign Ewart) across the road for a dram or two. Of course the Army school of pipes and drums was still based in the Castle then and there was Glens bagpipe makers just down the road so all in all the area was a wee hotbed of piping.
The sessions were so popular that when Tommy Mowat, the bar proprietor, offered the back room as a meeting place, the Society was formally born, Uncle George being one of the founding members. Thus it is no surprise that when Margaret appeared on the scene and married George some years later she became an Eagle stalwart and held the position of secretary for a few years.
Of course Margaret was a Sutherland and her family came from Invergordon. She came from good piping stock. Her father, James Sutherland was born at Rosskeen, Ross-shire and was taught by Pipe Major James MacDonald. He joined the 1st Seaforth Highlanders as a piper in 1883 and served 21 years with the Regiment. He became Pipe Major in 1893 but was transferred to the 3rd Militia Battalion in 1885.
In 1912 he was made Pipe Major of the 5th Royal Scots (T.F.), Queen’s Edinburgh. In 1915 he was rejected for active service and transferred to the reserves, where he became Pipe Major of the 1st Volunteer Battalion Royal Scots. He was also instructor to the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society from 1910-1914.
It was during his overseas positing in Egypt where he composed his great little 2/4 march ‘The Pipers’ Cave,’ named after the Pipers’ room in the Barracks in Cairo. The officers saw the potential of the tune but did not like the title and persuaded him to name it ‘3rd Seaforth’s Farewell to Cairo’ but when James finally published it in the Seaforth’s book, he changed it back to the original title. He was a great Highland dancer and perhaps judged as many dancing competitions as he did piping. He latterly taught the pipes at Fettes Collage and George Heriots.
Uncle George was of course famous in his own right and was for many years the lone piper when the Edinburgh Military Tattoo first started.
Pipe Major George Stoddart, BEM, was born in 1912 in Leith. He enlisted in the 2nd Battalion The Cameron Highlanders at age 14 as a boy piper and remained with them until shortly before the start of World War II, when he transferred to the Royal Scots Fusiliers as Pipe Major. He also served as Pipe Major with the 5th Scottish Parachute Regiment during the War and was also with the Liverpool Scottish for a short time. After the war, he was posted to Edinburgh as the Lowland Brigade Pipe Major and worked closely with Pipe Major Willie Ross conducting the preliminary course for potential pipe majors.
In 1959, he retired from the Army and opened his shop with Robert.G.Hardie in the Lawnmarket. George’s son Gavin went on to be a world class piper and although joining the Scots Guards, in May 1979 he was asked to transfer to the Royal Highland Fusiliers as Pipe Major. As the Fusiliers was his father’s regiment, the call was irresistible.
Margaret and George married in the mid 70’s and the headline in the newspaper appropriately read ‘Lone piper alone no more’.
Margaret was great wit, raconteur, singer and pianist. They made the perfect couple and were the ideal foil for each other. It is funny what you remember but I recall them being in my parents house in Doune Terrace, Edinburgh many times entertaining the company. Margaret had a portable keyboard that she brought in a taxi. She would sing many well known songs but her party piece was trotting out some of her own poems and ditties that she had written herself.
Uncle George was also the first man I ever saw to use snuff. He would also surreptitiously back hand me a wee gift, usually a thruppenny bit or a sixpence.
The Eagle Piper’s annual bus trips to Blair Atholl to visit the Atholl Highlanders were legendary and if my memory serves me correctly the bus broke down three years in a row. Margaret and her good friend and fellow Eagle Betty Dingwall were the bus entertainers. I was too young to go on these ‘adventures’ not joining the Society until April 1977.
I also recall Margaret doing her stuff at several Piobaireachd Society conferences in the less informal evening sessions.
George sadly passed in 1990 but Margaret was a force to be reckoned with. Her, Bunty (John MacLellan’s widow) and my mother Anne became a social trio and went on several road trips together. They were quite a team and you didn’t want to cross them.
They were regular attenders at the Spiritualist Church or Society which I think was in Melville Street, Edinburgh, where they would go once a week to a seance. They were quite happy to pay the £1 entry fee and see if either Jimmy, George or John would make contact with them. They saw it as a bit of fun and took comfort in it. Margaret christened the group ‘the spooks’. So funny.
Margaret survived them all staying in the family home at Comely Bank for many years. She was very able but eventually moved into a care home.
I last spoke to her on the phone a few months ago. She had a mobile and was not short of conversation. Unfortunately it was mainly about covid and the fact the she felt trapped and was not allowed to go out or have visitors. She stopped short of calling it a Government conspiracy but she felt a prisoner and compared herself to Mary Queen of Scots.
So not the best last 12 months but she was 98 last October and lived life to the full. As my mother would have said, ‘not a bad innings’.
Eagle Pipers’ President Douglas Gardiner put it very nicely when he said, ‘Margaret was part of the Society’s DNA and her passing is a huge loss’.
I have so many fond memories of her and in the fullness of time we will mark her passing in true Eagles fashion with a tune and a dram. In the meantime I leave you with one of her poems that she and Betty wrote and no doubt performed on the bus.
Rest in peace Margaret.
Hon Pipe Major-The Eagle Pipers’ Society
The Grass Widow
The grass widow of the golf course is the butt of many jokes,
A scene of desolation her neglected state invokes,
But there exists another type who suffers more in life.
You don’t believe me? Have you met a lonely piper’s wife?
From the day that she accepts him she has to realise
That she will take but second place to some piping cup or prize.
In fact some poor souls have been asked whatever made them think
They even lay in second place; that honour goes to ‘Drink’.
At first he’ll manage home at nights in order to atone,
And when they have some children, well … she won’t be left alone,
But later, his appearances are limited to few,
Till she asks him, “Are you staying dear or only passing through?”
Her wedding anniversary is coming round once more,
So she makes some preparations for a little treat in store,
But then she hears him stammer out those dreaded words so foul,
“I’m sorry, darling, but you know that’s when I go to Cowal”.
She gets the chance of a weekend to take the kids away
So he tells her to enjoy herself and if they like it, stay.
But when she breaks the news to him that she will need the car,
He then confesses he was going to take it to Braemar.
Of course, the games and gatherings don’t go on all year round.
So in his home one would expect he sometimes would be found.
But no! He must ensure he does not let his piping slip
And in some well known hostelries he plays between each nip.
When challenged he will answer, “What am I supposed to do?
I told you my religion, dear, when I proposed to you.
There’s no use nagging on at me, I am above all strife.
The noble art of piping is a sacred way of life”.
So for marriage plus devotion one should try to find a spouse
Whose hobby is the kind which keeps him stuck inside the house.
But if piobaireachd is her fancy, why bother him to wed?
Just join the Highland Pipers and live in sin instead.
Tonight’s format was back to the conventional shape of Society gatherings, albeit on Zoom.
We were joined by 22 members from a variety of locations including California, Arkansas, New York, Ballachulish, Malta and Ottawa. In fact, 35% were from overseas. This has been a wonderful upside to the global pandemic. As discussed at the AGM, we will do our best to ensure we keep engaging with our members from outside Scotland. Periodic Zoom sessions may be the answer. We are open to other suggestions.
The Hon Pipe Major ran us through a re-worked Pipe Major JK Cairns in 6/4 time. A classic tune and we look forward to playing it on the pipes.
The “floor” was then opened to our members. First up was one of our most loyal Canadian members, Bethany Bisaillion, Pipe Major of The Sons of Scotland Pipe Band, Ottawa. Bethany played a set her band calls Lockdown No More on her Walsh smallpipes. It included Cullen Bay, Mac An Irish and The 78th’s Walk Round (aka The Liverpool Hornpipe). A lovely selection of tunes. Bethany’s playing put the bar very high for the rest of the evening.
Gill Cairns from The Republic of Malta took the stage next playing the whistle she has been learning since the start of lockdown. Her tunes were Scots Wha Hae and the enchanting Rosslyn Castle. As well as being a debut Eagles performance for Gill, this was probably the first time we had heard a whistle at Eagles. Its a great instrument for pipers to test their dexterity. When not whistling, Gill is very active and successful on the CLASP circuit. Hopefully her trips to compete in Scotland will coincide with a Tuesday meeting one day.
From one instrumental debut to another – The Blair Digital Chanter. This is a serious bit of kit. Kenny McBride showed distinct prowess with four wonderful selections. His tunes included The 8th Battalion Royal Scots Welcome to the Princess Royal (composed by his father Willie), Cameron MacFadyen and the lively hornpipe Jimmy Blue.
Last up was Society Secretary Craig Robertson also on the Blair Chanter. His tunes were Raglan Road and Dawning of the Day. Perhaps a wee nod to St Patrick’s Day. Great melodies well played.
Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 13th April when we will be joined by guest piper Simon McKerrell.
Our next meeting will be at 2000hrs (Haymarket time) on Tuesday 16th March. It will be a more relaxed Members’ only affair. This will allow Euan more time to run over a tune or two with some solo playing from a few Members on Blair chanters, bellows pipes or even a tin whistle. Usual Zoom details:
The Society will be launching an online solo contest for pipers graded B and C by The Competing Pipers’ Association in the next couple of weeks.
Covid has been particularly tough on the B and C grade soloists denying them the opportunity to rise up the ranks hence our decision to run this level of competition.
We will be a little different to most other online contests. Firstly, we are resurrecting the March, Strathspey, Reel, Hornpipe & Jig (MSRH&J) event the Society ran in the 1960s and 1970s. Played straight through with no break. Should test the nerves. There will of course be a Piobaireachd event as well. Secondly, all competitors will be required to wear Highland dress. No more Judas Priest T shirts and flip flops.
All judges will be from the Solo Piping Judges’ Association or Competing Pipers’ Association Supplemental List. Some very well known names have already agreed to judge.
The plan is to open for entries later this month with recordings to be submitted via You Tube in early June.