I had the honour and privilege of playing at Bobs funeral yesterday and it marked the passing of one of the most significant figures in Edinburgh piping.
Bob was born on the 25th June 1924, in Edinburgh, and started piping at a young age, buying his first practice chanter from David Glens, for the princely sum of ten shillings.
And that was the start of what was to be quite the illustrious piping career. Many had an influence on Bob’s career. In his early years he was taught by P/M George Ackroyd of the Black Watch, then by Willie Ross at the Castle, his lessons costing him three guineas. Bob would later join the Scot’s Guards and in 1947 he attended his Pipe Majors course. John MacLellan was on that course and he and Bob were the only two pupils to pass with distinction.
I first met Bob long after he had left the army, at the Highland Pipers’, in the Sgian Dhu Hotel, Royal Terrace in Edinburgh. Myself and Colin (MacLellan) were both still at School and it is fair to say we were young and impressionable. And what an impression Bob made on us. Certainly one of the smartest men I have ever seen in a kilt.
I had never seen silver so highly polished and it was the first time I had ever seen black wax being used on the tuning pins to contrast against the silver. Brogues were spit and polished. On occasion he would wear red laces in his gillie brogues. Lots of little classy touches.
Now at the time I didn’t really know who he was or his background but a kinder man you couldn’t meet. Sharp as a tack and always there to offer praise and encouragement. If you thought you were playing poorly he would have none of it and would always come out with some pearl of wisdom.
His catch phrases and delivery style were classic. When looking for the next piper to play he would ask ‘who’s next for shaving?’ and if you were on the floor too long, out would come the pocket watch and the eyebrow would be raised.
This was the man for us. Oscar Wilde said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and we followed Bob to the nth degree, probably not really realising what an influence he was actually having on us.
Colin and I were honoured to play at his wedding to Bente, who was from Denmark.
Bob set up a wee bagpipe making business in Grove Street with his brother George.
Of course ultimately Bob was to move to Denmark and Edinburgh’s loss was certainly Denmark’s gain, as Bob took the Danish piping scene by the scruff of the neck and became one of its corner stones.
In 2003 Bob returned to Edinburgh and once again immersed himself in the piping scene. He regularly attended the piping events in the Scots Guards Association Club and with his good friend Kaj Larsen, he always made the journey North for the Northern Meetings.
Latterly we would have great sessions at the knock out competitions on a Sunday at the Guard’s Club. Bob was always on top form and enjoyed debating about politics, history and the like. It is no exaggeration to say that right up until the very end he was mentally razor sharp.
He was not overly fond of the flash-fingered kitchen style of piping and if any piper caught his attention by playing in that fashion he would applaud only using his two pinkies. So funny.
Bob and my uncle Chris Anderson, also a Guardsman, who recently passed away, spent many hours on a Sunday reminiscing about old times. Bob was Chris’s Pipe Major and it was fantastic to sit and watch two old soldiers chew the fat.
He was in his 94th year when he passed. What an innings.
Thank you Bob from me and the other countless pipers you helped and cajoled.
I am glad to have known you and had you in my life.
As you said many a time,
‘Here’s tae us
Wha’s like us
And they’re a’ deid’
Rest in peace.
Eagle Pipers’ Society