Angus MacPhail: Pipe dreams and traditions

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Rome was not built in a day – and neither was the Inveraray and District Pipe Band. However, the rise of this remarkable Argyll powerhouse of piping has been swift and impressive.

In taking this band from Novice Juvenile, playing without uniforms in 2005 at the Cowal Highland Gathering, to being named as World Champions at Glasgow Green in 2017, Pipe Major Stuart Liddell has achieved what most pipers can only dream of.

Following that inaugural performance at Cowal in 2005, John Wilson from Campbeltown, who was judging on that day, wrote the following on the band’s critique sheet: ‘You cannot hide quality teaching and I suspect that we will hear more from this band sooner rather than later.’

John is one of the most highly respected piping judges in the world and his words that day were prophetic indeed.

It was fitting that, 12 years later, John Wilson was a member of the judging team at this year’s World Pipe Band Championships to witness his fellow Argyll piper lead his band to being crowned best in the world.

I spoke on the phone to John about this immense achievement and it was with great pride that he relayed information on Stuart’s accomplishments and his piping and family background.

Stuart’s grandfather and early teacher was Pipe Major Ronnie McCallum, who was piper to the Duke of Argyll and one of the top players of his time. Ronnie’s piping, like many in Kintyre and the rest of Argyll, including John Wilson’s father, William, came from the teaching of Willie Thompson, who had moved to near Machrihanish from the Black Isle as piper to the MacNeils of Lossit.

Stuart is the product of this rich teaching lineage and one can only imagine the pride that would have been felt by these past masters had they been able to witness his great victory.

Hard work and dedication are the essential ingredients in the success of any band and the amount of commitment involved at the top levels of the pipe band world these days is huge.

The skill, drive and strong leadership required by a pipe major are akin to that of the manager of a top-flight football team, with upwards of 40 members to organise, motivate, train and bring to the field in peak condition.

The success of Stuart’s solo career had already placed him as one of the top pipers of all time, having two Clasps and two ‘Glenfiddichs’ among countless other trophies, medals and shields decorating his walls. His recent historic victory with Inveraray and District Pipe Band places him as one of the few pipers ever to reach such an elite level as both a solo player and leader of a pipe band.

The power of good teaching should never be under-estimated and it is with excitement that we should look forward to Stuart continuing to build on the work of past generations to grow the tradition of piping in Argyll.