Category Archives: Butter Fingers’ Blog

Butter Fingers’ blog, July 7, 2017

A'right? I thoroughly enjoyed the All-Ireland championship last week. For me, it was a relatively sober affair; I was too busy listening to as many bands as possible. In Grade 1 I thought Field Marshall's pipe corps was truly excellent – much better than at the Europeans at Forres. I thoroughly enjoyed the Grade 2…
Read more

Seymour takes the salute.

I don’t know about you but I fair enjoyed last weekend’s pipe band championships at Grant Park, Forres. That’s what I call a pipe band championship venue! I’m glad to hear that we’ll be back in the Moray town next year on the 30th of June for what will be the last year of its five-year deal. I truly hope the organisers are able to continue beyond 2018.

Just a thought: in light of the DUP deal with Tories that will see an extra £1 billion going to Ulster, maybe a smidgen of the money could be used by Belfast City Council to outbid Glasgow in 2021 when the Worlds comes up? After Grant Park, the thought of returning to that appalling, soulless venue in Glasgow for the Worlds rather depresses one.

I digress. Wasn’t Major General Seymour Munro a great chieftain? You should’ve seen the lump in his throat as Inveraray & District played that 6/8 in his honour. Seymour is what we call a good egg. He may be neither a piper or drummer but he is one of us.

It was a day of mixed fortunes for many bands, even in the top grades. I thought Field Marshall, the Vale, the Glesga Polis, Buchan Peterson and a couple of others struggled with the erratic weather conditions. It was surely brave of FM to play Donald MacLellan of Rothesay? It’s a great, tune, yes, but for me it simply didn’t work for the band last week.

The Vale was first on but the pipe corps was struggling from the off. That said, its new drum corps was damn good and I wasn’t surprised by its second place. ScottishPower performed very well – great march! – and in my opinion should’ve been placed second. It was also a good day for Boghall and the Fife Police, who deserved better than 7th place. This band is now hitting its stride and I hear it will have an influx of a few more quality pipers at the end of the season. On the subject of Police Scotland Fife, congratulations go to its Pipe Major, Dougie Murray on his new part-time teaching position at Dundee High School.

In Grade 2, I was again mightily impressed by Lomond & Clyde and the Glasgow Skye. They were well ahead of the pack.

Bridge of Allan Games will have 50 bands competing this year – including New York state band, Schenectady which is celebrating its centenary. The number will grow, too, but it's already a healthy – and encouraging – number. Too many bands through all grades these days opt only to play at majors. Despite most games being small it can nevertheless cost £30,000 to put these smaller contests on. Support them, please, bands.

Butter Fingers

Butter Fingers' blog, 09/06/17

The aftermath of the mini tornado at Cornhill last week. Photo: Shona Hay.

Great weather we're having! The charming highland games that takes place at Cornhill in the northeast of Scotland, had to be abandoned last weekend due to a mini tornado swept through the site. The storm wreaked havoc on the park and lifted the First Aid tent over a marquee and into the arena. There were no serious injuries but the noise was terrifying.

"Ten minutes before this we had a beautiful sunny day," the games secretary said. "It was just torrential. Everybody ran for cover and a wind seemed to appear from nowhere and lifted our First Aid tent and some of the stall holders' tents. The noise was just terrifying – the noise of the wind and the folks screaming.”

Aye, welcome to summer in Scotland. It put me in mind of the photo on the cover of the May Piping Times which showed young Anna Magee battling valiantly through her tune at Durness last summer.

Belfast tomorrow. Now where did I put my cape?

Due to unforeseen circumstances, the ceòl mòr has been cancelled at this weekend’s Corgarff Highland Games.

Frances Duncan, the wife of Jock and mother of Pipe Major Ian Duncan and the late Gordon  Duncan, passed away yesterday after a long and difficult illness. She was a lovely woman with whom I had the pleasure of meeting on a few occasions over the years.

My sincere condolences go out to the Duncan family.

Guy Ritchie's new movie, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, has just been released in UK cinemas. Forget David Beckham's cameo appearance – watch out for a couple of appearances by the City of Leeds Pipe Band. Seriously.

It won't have escaped your notice that it's been 50 years since The Beatles' released their seminal album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I dusted off my vinyl – aye, vinyl! – copy yesterday after a friend told me that amongst all the calliope background sounds at the end of the John Lennon song, Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite you can hear a bit of Scotland the Brave.

I cannae hear it, though. How about you?

The organisers of the European Pipe Band Championships at Forres have sent a wee reminder about the World Tattie Scone Contest that’s taking place at the same time. Now I do like a tattie scone (fried in butter on a morning roll and with brown sauce, thank you) but I suspect I’ll have other things to concentrate on during the day. However, if any of you take part do let yer auld da’ here sample your efforts.

If anyone wants to enter here is the entry form: ISSUED -Tattie Scone Entrie Now Open.

Butter Fingers

Condolences to the family of Eilidh MacLeod (14) from Barra who was one of the 22 people murdered by Islamic terrorists in Manchester on Monday night at the Ariana Grande pop concert. Eilidh was a promising piper. Fois Shioraidh thoir dhi.

Here she is playing a few years ago for an incoming ferry at Castlebay with her friends (Eilidh is on the left):

Pipers and drummers are being asked to contact Manchester Community Pipe Band regarding a massed band gathering as a show of support and respect to everyone effected by the heinous events of Monday night. The event will take place on Sunday, 4th June in Manchester city centre at noon. Telephone Colin on 07815 284697.

The first major highland games event of the season, the Atholl Gathering, takes place this Sunday. Given the numbers and quality of pipers entering this year, it promises to be a memorable competition. The weather at last year’s event was glorious and the forecast for this Sunday is pleasant. Craig Sutherland from Crieff was the overall winner at last year’s Atholl Gathering.

Euan Anderson and Alan Forbes judging Andrew Wright from Dundee at the 2016 Atholl Gathering. Wright won the B Grade Piobaireachd.

The origins of the Atholl Gathering lie in the gathering that had been held at Bridge of Tilt since 1825. After visiting the Eglinton Tournament in 1840, the 6th Duke of Atholl decided to move the ‘Tilt Meeting’, to nearby Blair Castle. The reason for this was to commemorate the presentation of the Queen’s Colours to the Atholl Highlanders, his personal regiment. The Colours, were Queen Victoria’s ‘thank you’ to the local men who provided a guard during her stay at the castle the previous year.

The Gathering continued in the grounds of the castle until the outbreak of the First World War. In 1966 the 10th Duke revived the Atholl Highlanders but it wasn’t until 1984 that he reinstated the Atholl Gathering.

Butter Fingers

Butter Fingers' at the British

Corinne Hutton presents the Grade 1 trophy to Pipe Major Stuart Liddell.

Corinne Hutton presents the Grade 1 winners' trophy to Inveraray Pipe Major, Stuart Liddell.

Inveraray & District Pipe Band won the first ‘major’ of the season. The band, under the leadership of Stuart Liddell and Steven McWhirter, was placed second in drumming, and first and second in piping by the two piping judges.

It was a day of extremely changeable weather at the exposed St James Playing Field, Paisley, and one which proved too challenging for many bands across the grades. Once again, the suitability of the venue – far too exposed and too close to the M8 motorway and Glasgow Airport – was given a unanimous thumbs down from bands. The inappropriateness of this venue may also be the reason why virtually no Paisley punters bothered to go – this despite entry being free and the council laying on free transport from the centre of the town. Paisley has the British next year, too. The RSPBA needs to have a word with the council about this terrible venue.

Take off!

Take off!

It was a disappointing contest for Simon Fraser University Pipe Band who finished 12th. The band sounded very impressive in the tuning area but didn't sustain it in the arena–  something that also affected new band, The City of London in Grade 2.
 Newly promoted Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), Buchan Peterson and Johnstone gave a good account of themselves in Grade 1 but with the exception of PSNI, the gap between them and other Grade 1 bands was noticeable on the day.

The next ‘major’ is the United Kingdom Championships on June 10 in Belfast.

Grade 1 – 1. Inveraray & District; 2. Field Marshal Montgomery; 3. Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia; 4. St. Laurence O’Toole; 5. Police Scotland Fife; 6. ScottishPower.
Judges: John Connor and Colin Moffett, (piping); Sandy Russell (drumming); Cameron Edgar (ensemble).
Grade 2 – 1. Lomond & Clyde; 2. Glasgow Skye Association; 3. MacKenzie Caledonian; 4. Balagan (ensemble preference); 5. Closkelt; 6. Bucksburn & District.
Judges: Harry Stevenson and Jim Wark (piping); Stuart Coils (drumming); Paul Turner (ensemble).
Grade 3A – 1. 2622 (Highland) Squadron R.A.F (ensemble preference); 2. Royal Burgh of Stirling; 3. Vale of Atholl; 4. Kintyre Schools; 5. Wallacestone and District; 6. City of Inverness (ensemble preference)
Judges: Ronnie McShannon and Alvis Kerr (piping); Paul Brown (drumming); Ciaran Mordaunt (ensemble).
Grade 3B – 1. Royal Burgh of Annan; 2. Quinn Memorial; 3. Bothwell Castle; 4. The Highlanders (4 Scots); 5. Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service; 6. Lanark and District.
Judges – Thomas Brown and Donald MacPhee (piping); Lee Innes (drumming); James Campbell (ensemble).
Juvenile – 1. Dollar Academy; 2. George Heriot's School; 3. George Watson's College; 4. North Lanarkshire Schools; 5. West Lothian Schools; 6. Preston Lodge High School.
Judges: John Connor and Colin Moffett; Alexander Russell (drumming); Cameron Edgar (ensemble).
Grade 4A – 1. Denny and Dunipace; 2. Bowhill and District (ensemble preference); 3. Johnstone; 4. Kinross and District; 5. Glenrothes and District (ensemble preference); 6. Lochryan.
Judges: Ronnie McShannon and Alvis Kerr (piping); Paul Brown (drumming); Ciaran Mordaunt (ensemble).
Grade 4B – 1. Lisnamulligan; 2. Sgt. Walker Memorial; 3. Kelty and Blairadam (ensemble preference); 4. Davidson's Mains and District; 5. Vale of Atholl; 6. Hawick.
Judges: Peter Hunt and John Moles; 2. Gregory Dinsdale (drumming); 3. Peter Snaddon QVRM (ensemble).

Butter Fingers

Dugald with Glasgow's outgoing Lord Provost, Sadie Docherty.

Dugald with Glasgow's outgoing Lord Provost, Sadie Docherty.

We are rightly applauding a senior citizen on his retirement. What a great example he has set over 70+ years of service. He has more than done his bit. He has done us proud.

Prince Phillip?

No, I am referring to Dugald MacNeill. It was appropriate that the city of Glasgow honoured him with a quiet reception with the Lord Provost last week. Well done, Dugald. Have a great retirement.

I hear the College will soon host a social evening to thank you for all you have done for it over the years. Rightly so.

Park,-WillieI hear Willie Park is well on the way to full fitness ahead of his fundraising walk of the West Highland Way. Willie will be accompanied by half a dozen Swiss friends as they head off from Milngavie on the 24th of May. The funds raised are for the College's new teaching project, details of which will soon be revealed.

Please donate anything you can, large or small, via the JustGiving page.

Fettes College, the private school that produced Tony Blair, is looking for a part-time Piping Instructor. Information is on the website or contact Cameron Drummond at


Butter Fingers

Butter Fingers' Blog 28-04-2017

pipinglive-logoPipingLive! had a press launch this week and it seems like it’s going to be another memorable four days in Glasgow this August with the likes of the Peatbog Faeries and the Battlefield Band – who have been very quiet lately – taking part. There’s also a Grade 1 pipe band quartet competition.

The College of Piping will no doubt be planning some activities, too, and I look forward to hearing about them.

I noticed The Scotsman carried an item on Wednesday about the press launch. It was merely a rehashed press release from Glasgow Life. Read it HERE and weep at what’s become of our national press.

worlds-articleThis year the World Pipe Band Championships sees its 70th anniversary and the May Piping Times has a first class article about the stooshie between the Cowal Games and the Scottish Pipe Band Association in 1947.

For those of you who aren’t aware, Cowal was considered to be the unofficial ‘Worlds’ but when the then Scottish Pipe Band Association promoted the idea of having its own official ‘Worlds’ the Cowal organisers refused to give up the 'World' title. The result was that in 1947 two ‘Worlds’ events were held.

The article is written by Jeannie Campbell and it makes for fascinating reading.

rspbaIs it not about time the RSPBA considered revising its grading system? For years it’s become obvious that Grade 1 has too many bands in it, and too many bands that are simply not good enough to break into the top six. The RSPBA has, in my opinion, simply tinkered with the system by having a qualifier at the Worlds. It needs rethinking. It’s time to introduce a Premier Grade.

While we’re at it, the number of pipers in all bands needs to be capped. In Grades 1 and 2 a band containing 25 pipers is far more unusual. In fact, in recent years some bands have contained as much as 27 pipers and I’m sure the 78th Frasers fielded 30 a few seasons ago.

big-bandIt’s time to level the playing field. A maximum number of 20 pipers is sufficient and those pipers who find themselves not ‘getting a game’ can join other bands with the resultant boost that would give to them.

Grade 1 is becoming too predictable. Everyone’s predictions for the top 6 bands in Grade 1 on the Green in August would be similar. So, introduce a Premier grade and cap numbers. That would shake things up.

Also, perhaps its time to abolish the split grades in Grade 3? There are some decent bands in Grade 4 that could easily take some scalps in Grade 3 whilst there are bands in Grade 4 with no chance of progressing.

Just thought I’d put this ‘out there’.

The Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust is offering a paid internship for a piper and snare drummer. The positions will be based at Preston Lodge High School in East Lothian and its cluster primary schools. Click HERE for info.

Dystonia, the curse of many musicians, has forced yet another piper to give up playing. Martin Gillespie plays with the excellent folk group, Skerryvore but the rare neurological condition has been affecting him in recent years. Focal hand dystonia causes involuntary contractions, spasms and general discomofort in the hand(s). It curtailed the piping careers of the likes of Hamish Moore and Stuart Cassells (of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers).

lorient-logoJust watched a promotional video from the organisers of this year’s Lorient Interceltique Festival. It’s very good and features veteran Drum Major Peter MacNamee throughout it. You can see the video HERE. I remember Peter doing his stuff down the main street of Dunoon many years ago now. It was when Cowal was still a major pipe band competition.

peterPeter, pictured left, repeatedly launched his mace high – and I mean high – into the air to the delight of the crowd lining the street. It was all going well until one drunken eejit ran up to him and pushed him just as he launched his mace. Peter valiantly tried to grab his mace but it spun off him and walloped two bystanders. Aye, the joys of Cowal …

The featured country at this year’s festival is Scotland and Scottish acts taking part include Capercaillie, Amy MacDonald, Fred Morrison, the Isle of Cumbrae Pipe Band, Runrig, Blazin’ Fiddles, Methil & District Pipe Band, Breabach, the Prince Charles Pipe Band of San Francisco. Andrew Frater is conducting a master class and Ian Duncan is hosting a tribute night to his late genius brother. It's set to be another cracking festival. I'm away to pour myself a glass of Ricard.

Butter Fingers


rspbaThe draw for the first major pipe band competition of the season, the British at Paisley, has been announced by the RSPBA. Here's grades 1 and 2:

Grade 1
14:15 Pipes and Drums of the Police Service of Northern Ireland
14:25 Dowco Triumph Street - Canada
14:35 Field Marshal Montgomery
14:45 Simon Fraser University - Canada
14:55 Johnstone
15:05 Glasgow Police
15:15 St Laurence O'Toole - Eire
15:25 Peoples Ford - Boghall and Bathgate Caledonia
15:35 Bleary and District
15:45 Police Scotland Fife
15:55 Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia
16:05 Ravara
16:15 Vale of Atholl
16:25 ScottishPower
16:35 Buchan Peterson
16:45 Inveraray and District
Adjudicators: Colin Moffett, John Connor, Alexander Russell and Cameron Edgar.

Grade 2
14:00 Manorcunningham
14:09 Grampian Police Scotland
14:18 City of London
14:27 MacKenzie Caledonian
14:36 The Glasgow Skye Association
14:45 Glasgow City
14:54 Scottish Fire and Rescue Services Pipe Band
15:03 Balagan
15:12 Oban
15:21 City of Discovery
15:30 Dumbarton and District
15:39 Isle of Islay
15:48 Lomond and Clyde
15:57 Closkelt
16:06 Colmcille
16:15 Bucksburn and District
Adjudicators: Jim Wark, Harry Stevenson, Stuart Coils and Paul Turner.
The full draw is HERE.

Good luck to both Buchan Peterson and Johnstone as they both make their debut in Grade 1. And to the new band, the City of London in Grade 2.

Incidentally, was at the College of Piping last night and couldn't help eavesdropping on the practice of Field Marshall's Scottish-based members. Very good. Very good indeed.

argylls-logoCapt (Ret'd) Colin H C Graham, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, has been in touch with a plea to any next of kin or family members of the under-noted former Argylls who composed pipe tunes that will be included in the forthcoming tune collection:

If anyone has information relevant to any of the above-named ex-members of the regiment please contact Colin as soon as possible on 01786 850213  or email him at:

bellowsAnd so to Edinburgh tomorrow for the annual competition run by the Lowland & Border Pipers' Society. This is always an enjoyable event and this year it will be held in the Royal Scottish Pipers' Society rooms in Rose Street. It's a small venue but I'm sure there will be plenty of elbow room …

Butter Fingers' blog, 31st March, 2017

stv-logo2SCOTTISH TELEVISION (STV) is looking for pipers aged between 30-50 years old to feature in an advert for its main channel sponsor. The advert has a piping theme.

Casting takes place at the Glasgow offices of STV next Monday and Tuesday with the filming scheduled either Tuesday 11 or Wednesday 12 April.

Producers at the television channel have ransacked the company biscuit tin and rummaged down the back of the sofa to come up with a £300 fee for the successful pipers. A No.1 uniform is needed.

If interested contact Fionn McKee on 0141 300 3227 or email

spa2THE SPA’s ANNUAL Adult Amateur and Veterans Contest takes place tomorrow at the College. This charming competition remains one of the very few amateurs competitions open to adults of all grades and is worthy of support from all. Even if you haven’t entered please do go along to show support. I recall competing at this competition as a young nervous amateur wary of solo piping competitions, and I found its friendly, supportive, fraternal, laid-back ethos very appealing. The entry back then wasn’t exactly huge – and it won’t be huge tomorrow – but to me it summed up all that is positive about the piping world in general and the SPA in particular. And, indeed, the College of Piping.

Elsewhere, entries close today for the Aberfeldy Mòd. Organisers have revamped the syllabus to be more in line with the Royal National Mòd guidelines and the piping competitions are now open.

This should attract a wider range of competitors. The Aberfeldy Mòd takes place on June 9-10 with the piping competitions being on the 10th. Entry form HERE.

Solo piper at last year's Atholl Gathering.

Solo piper at last year's Atholl Gathering.

I HEAR THE prize money may be doubled at this year’s Atholl Gathering. Entry numbers have remained stable for the past few years and this welcome news should help increase the entry further. It wasn’t that long ago that the Atholl Gathering could boast a considerable entry. The date for this year is Sunday, 28th May.

The CPA sponsors the B and C grade piobaireachd at Atholl but hasn’t confirmed if it will increase the prize money for those categories.

Craig Sutherland from Crieff was the overall winner last year.

us-navy-seals-tartanTHE CHARITY THAT supports the US Navy Seals and their families has launched a tartan.

The US Navy, Army, Air Force and Coastguard have all had their own tartans for a number of years.

rspbaA REMINDER TO pipe band secretaries that the closing date for entries for the British Pipe Band Championships is next Wednesday (April 5).

Butter Fingers

Butter Fingers' blog, 24/03/17

logosTONIGHT SEES THE annual College of Piping Lecture in the Birnam Hotel, Perthshire. I’m looking forward to this. The subject being discussed is that of ‘Piping Societies in the Modern Era’.

The College has invited Euan Anderson of the Eagle Pipers and Alan Forbes of the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society to present the lecture.

It won’t be all talking, of course. I understand we’ll be treated to music from Jenny Hazzard, Iain Speirs and Roddy MacLeod plus a quartet from the RSPS.

Tickets are £10.00 which includes refreshments. Looking forward to a convivial evening in Perthshire.

spa2THE COLLEGE'S LECTURE kicks off the Piobaireachd Society conference that is held over this weekend. Next weekend, however, sees the SPA’s Adult Amateur and Veterans Contest which takes at the College on the 1st of April. Then, the SPA’s Professional competition will be held the following Saturday (8th). If you haven't entered already download the entry form: Annual Professional Piping Contest Entry Form 2017.

The judges this year are P.M. Ian McLellan, Andrews Wright and Frater, and Roddy Livingstone.

Pipe Major Iain Watson with some of the youngsters from the Govan Schools Pipe Band.

Pipe Major Iain Watson with some of the youngsters from the Govan Schools Pipe Band.

YOU WILL NO doubt be aware of the great work being done in the schools of Govan over the last three years by Pipe Major Iain Watson and Pipe Major Iain MacPherson of Greater Glasgow Police Pipe Band. If you aren’t aware then where have you been?

Well, to showcase the progress of the kids from this deprived part of Glasgow – Govan is recognised by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation as one of significant deprivation – the College is hosting a recital on the 22nd of April. The recital features the Govan Schools Pipe Band, Johnstone Pipe Band, Callum Beaumont and Gaelic singer, Bethany Watson.

A simple donation gains entry. Bar. Time: 7.00pm for 7.30pm. Do come along.

SADDENED TO HEAR of the passing of Rab Kelly. He was a great character and had been off the drink by the time I met him in the early 1980s. In tribute, this weekend I’ll be dusting off the eponymous tune big Angus MacDonald composed for him.

Bagad Lorient playing down 5th Avenue, Manhattan, March 2017.

Bagad Lorient playing down 5th Avenue, Manhattan, March 2017.

GREAT TO SEE my Breton friends in the Bagad Lorient performing in Manhattan a couple of weeks ago. You may recall I mentioned they would be performing at the Highline Ballroom on March 14? Well, they also took part in the St Patrick’s Day Parade a few days later, playing down 5th Avenue. I hear Bagad de Vannes will take part next year.

Chris Duncan. Photo: Derek Maxwell.

Chris Duncan. Photo: Derek Maxwell.

I HEAR THE effervescent Chris Duncan – the better half of Ian – has been voted as Chairman (Chairwoman?) of the Vale of Atholl Pipers' Association.

Chris takes over from Alister Walker who himself replaced Angus Clarke. This is a great move on the part of the Vale and its three component bands, which currently comprises a Grade 1 band, a Grade 3 band and a Grade 4 band.

Butter Fingers.