A piping history worthy of a wider readership

A piping history worthy of a wider readership

by Christopher Anderson
article from Friday 26, January, 2018

Book Review 1: Piping Traditions of the Inner Isles of the West Coast of Scotland, by Bridget Mackenzie (Birlinn, 2012) paperback £25.00

Book review 2: When Piping was Strong, by Joshua Dickson (2006, Birlinn) paperback £25.00,

Book Review 3: Piping Traditions of the Isle of Skye, by Bridget Mackenzie (2012, John Donald) paperback £25.00

THIS IS the third of a series of books by the author on the pipers and piping traditions of Scotland.

The seemingly narrow remit, however, is happily not strictly adhered to. The astonishing detail contained, the evidence of meticulous research, is greatly enhanced by frequent digressions into anecdote and local folklore. The snippets of island history, tradition and superstition are quite fascinating.

The book also is leavened liberally with an attractive, pawky, brand of humour. This serves to cleverly avoid the content descending into a mere statistical account of piping genealogy.

The early insertion of the hilarious episode of "Para Handy's Piper", from Neil Munro's " The Vital Spark" sets the tone of the book. It is an inspirational example of Scottish humour; a real gem.

Some readers may be long enough in the tooth to remember some of the legendary pipers mentioned in passing and can vouch for the accuracy of the word portraits painted and of the stories relating to the great players. A certain nostalgia, no doubt, will also be felt by my fellow piping veterans, at the quoting of so many wonderful old pipe tunes. Sadly all too few are heard in the modern era in their true form, ungarnished by the fripperies of contemporary arranging.

To sum up, it is safe to predict that the book will be desired by all piping enthusiasts and in particular those interested in the origins of music and the past masters of the instrument. Moreover, it is written in such an elegant, attractive and readable style that it should certainly appeal to a much wider readership than simply that of the piping world.

It is well worth such an accolade and is, for the author, another considerable accomplishment.

JOSHUA DICKSON'S book, When Piping Was Strong, provides an in depth social history of the pipers and music produced by the Gaelic speaking, southern Outer Hebridean island of South Uist. The author, examines and discusses in great detail the evolution of island music and the contribution made to local culture by pipers past and present.

The concentration of historical fact suggests that is not designed for, and is unlikely to attract, the more casual reader who is likely to be anticipating more local anecdotes and a greater digression into folklore. It is, however, an impressive and valuable scholarly study which will be of great assistance to all who have an interest in the island culture and, in particular, in the history of piping.

THE FOURTH of Bridget Mackenzie's notable series of books on pipers and piping traditions, deals with the Isle of Skye. The great wealth of material available fully justifies the author's decision to devote this, her latest book, solely to the island.

Much of the book deals with the history of the legendary MacCrimmon and MacArthur pipers and their pupils and peers. The relating investigation into the who, what, when and where of the various great old composers and their compositions is most intriguing, as are the author's speculations and conclusions on the subject.

As we have come to expect from the previous books of the series, as well as dealing in great detail with the pipers of Skye and their music, the book is chock-full of entertaining, fascinating and often amusing island anecdotes.

Although clearly a scholarly work by an expert in her field, this book is by no means stuffy or merely a plodding academic exercise. The author's light and conversational style of writing creates, and maintains throughout, a strong rapport with the reader. The book is a most welcome and worthy addition to her previous impressive work and will appeal to all with an interest in piping.

PC 30B Chris Anderson served in the Edinburgh City Police (1954-84) and was a valued member of its Pipe Band that won the Grade 1 World Championships in 1963, 1964, 1971, 1972 and 1975. In his eightieth year (2012-13) he wrote many articles for ThinkScotland.org based upon his wealth of policing and piping anecdotes. Following his passing last September we are pleased to publish as a tribute a mixture of unpublished stories and old repeats such as this one for readers to enjoy.

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