Donald – m. Celt. : – from the Gaelic Domhnall meaning “ruler of the world”
The name Donald has been prominent in the news this week, what with a good day’s walk at Menie Estate about to be ruined by the opening of celebrity hair piece Donald Trump’s vanity pitch and putt project. So, it seemed fitting that tonight’s Eagles meeting was firmly in keeping with the pervading Donaldness of things.
The evening started sensibly enough, with the Honorary PM, Euan Anderson giving a couple of tunes to get the evening started; these included the 3/4s Kilworth Hills and Colin’s Cattle, as well as an interesting 4/4 march Calling the Herd that led into the hornpipe Taste for Blood from the Pipeband Club Sydney’s back catalogue. Enquiries from the audience on the provenance of his bass drone reed did indeed confirm that it was an “Alan Harper Special” – very good it was too.
Next up was Andrew “Hightower” Gray, who also commenced in the 3/4 idiom with Allan MacDonald’s tune for his cousin, PM Angus MacDonald followed by Castle Dangerous. Next, some 2/4s including The Conundrum, before Andrew slowed down the tempo with the ground of Macleod of Raasay’s Salute. Finally, he upped the tempo once again with a couple of hornpipes and the Angus MacDonald jig Alan MacPherson of Mosspark. A lively finish to a well-played set from our pie-munching champion.
Next to play and filling the ‘Pre-Pie’ slot was a new face at the Eagles, but one familiar around the summer games – Mark MacKenzie from Queensland,
Australia. Mark is over for the summer to compete round the games and it was good to see him at the Eagles. Fresh from his victory at the College of Piping competition, he started off with some 6/8 marches, St Jean Devine, Frank Thomson and Duncan MacGillivray Chief Steward. Then is was onto a challenging double MSR of Clan MacColl, Pipe Major Robert Rennie, John Roy Stewart, Susan Macleod, Ca’ the Ewes and Fiona Macleod.
The second march was composed by Willie MacDonald, Benbecula, and features an intricate and difficult last phrase in each part. Mark is staying in Edinburgh with Edinburgh piping stalwart Jan Dudley, who is a long time member of the Scottish Gas / City of Edinburgh Pipe Band, and who I recall from misspent afternoons in the Hebrides Bar used to refer to the well known heart burn remedy rather aptly as “Pipe Major Robert Rennies.” The conversation then swung onto other well known Gas members, the fact they practiced in a brewery (what could possibly go wrong?) and the portable bar immortalised by Gordon Duncan in his tune The Famous Baravan.
So far so good, but things were about to take a turn for the unusual. It’s maybe the Club’s location on a busy thoroughfare and the effect of the pipes, but seldom a meeting goes by without some passing “character” being drawn in to the club for a listen, and more often than not a wee dram. Tonight’s somewhat debonair guest arrived in blur of movement and colour, sporting a magnificent trilby hat. His name was Donald. What was also apparent from an early stage was that he had been very much enjoying the West End of Edinburgh’s hospitality and was very keen on the 79th Regiment of Foot, as he immediately set about cajoling Andrew to play their farewell march to Gibraltar.
With the pies (including a controversial chicken curry pie) duly despatched and Donald welcomed into the body of the kirk it was back to business. Clearly nothing was going to assuage our guest’s Cameronian enthusiasm and the Hon President duly picked up his wife’s pipes and gave the crowd a cracking “79ths Farewell to Gibraltar”. Our guest in particular was immensely tickled by this and under the powers bestowed to him by Messrs Martell, Whyte and MacKay immediately appointed Colin as honorary piper to the District of Sutherland. Quite how Jenny is looking forward to moving up to a black house in Drumbeg which comes with the job, I’m not sure.
Jenny didn’t let such thoughts get in the way as she took back possession of the classic MacDougall pipe and warmed up with a 12/8 march, followed by some of the heavier competition repertoire – Inveran, Maggie Cameron, Donald Macleod’s setting of Caber Feidh, the Rejected Suitor and finally Donald Macleod’s Brown Haired Maid, which of course is his setting of Ca’ the Ewes. Jenny was in top form and looking forward to competing at Balloch Games at the weekend, but like the rest of Central Scotland Balloch is currently under water and the games cancelled.
With the crowd (ie Donald) getting slightly more vocal, we needed a man with steel in his veins to stand up and be counted, and in Nils Michael we got just that. Nils played a slow air which the Honorary PM noted was somewhat unusual, and then gave us some 6/8s including Farewell to the Creeks by James Robertson. Nils then didn’t play the 79ths much to Donald’s disappointment, but launched into an audacious set of hornpipes and jigs with Tam Bain’s Lum, Jim Tweedie’s Sea Legs, Over to Uist and finally Donald Macleod’s Old Woman’s Dance, a difficult jig to play if ever there was one. I expect Nils will be going “Over to Uist” to compete at the games next week so good luck to him.
Things continued to be lively in the gallery, as our guest had ensconced himself at a table next to Jenny and Colin and was enjoying the evening immensely despite the Hon PM’s failure to provide him with terms of reference for the evening. Clearly a man with some insight, Donald thought it would be wise that the gathered throng came to order for the next performer, which tonight was Robert Gray.
Robert was going to give us a Ceol Mor classic, but set about getting the pipes in order with a few warm up tunes, with some 9/8 marches including Bathgate Highland Games (composed by accordionist Bob Abbot), the Festival March and the Battle of the Somme, followed by the 2/4s Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque and John MacDonald’s Welcome to South Uist.
Onto the main event, in keeping with the theme of the evening, the tune was to be The Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay. Some sources have it as a Donald Mor MacCrimmon tune, whereas others say it was composed by the master composer Iain Dall MacKay, the blind piper. Either way, it truly is one of the great tunes. The writer and piping authority Seton Gordon mentions the tune in his “Highways and Byways in the West Highlands” referring to an encounter with a piper on a visit to the island of Handa near Laxford Bridge in the 1930s –
“One day a lover of pipe tunes visited the machair. Near to the ancient burial ground he tuned his pipes and I heard him play a composition by one of the hereditary pipers of a highland chief. The tune that wandering piper played on Handa was the Lament for Donald the Dauntless, Lord of the Reay Country, and in the playing of the tune I heard a lament, not for the chief alone, but for the old people borne in exile across the sea, and the old language of the Gael”
Apt words for one of the most powerful laments in the piping cannon. Robert truly did the tune justice, producing a beautifully fingered tune on a fantastic bagpipe – all this with just a little less than the customary Eagle Pipers’ silence during the big music. However, as the Hon President later noted, our guest for the evening was not the first man (and won’t be the last) to be finished off by a good piobaireachd and in a blur of Trilby and novelty tie, leaving but a miniature bottle of brandy as a keepsake by which to remember him, our very own Donald the Dauntless departed into the night from whence he came, as the closing refrain of the tune drifted out across Haymarket.
And so the evening drew to a close capped by a really excellent piobaireachd, and undoubtedly enlivened by an unexpected visitor who obviously enjoyed the proceedings very much. Who knows who will come through the door next time?