John’s family hailed from Crieff in Scotland and in 1851 were living in Roslyn near Edinburgh. They migrated to New Zealand in 1858 and settled in Otago but later generations moved to Christchurch where John has spent all his life.
Piping has been in the McTainsh family for a number of generations and since their arrival in New Zealand his great grandfather, his grandfather and now John have all been actively involved. John’s father did learn but never carried on with it.
John took his first lessons as a 12-year-old from Ross Lloyd and stayed with it for about a year before he moved on to other things. In 1965 as a16 year old he joined the Riccarton Pipe Band in Christchurch and got back into piping. It was in March of that year that the writer joined the same band and first met young John.
In 1967 the late Ken Boyce became the pipe tutor of the band and John immediately took private lessons which lasted until Ken’s untimely death in early 1970. Pipe Sergeant Laurie Hoare took over for the next few years.
John was a member of the band during its halcyon days of the late 1960s when they won the C Grade in Christchurch in 1969. After Ken’s death the band membership slowly declined and by 1974 John decided to move to the Scottish Society of New Zealand Pipe Band.
For the next 24 years he thrived in the competitive atmosphere of an A Grade band and eventually became the Band President. John retired from the band in 1998 and since then has helped out with Tauranga and District Pipe Band and now plays with the Canterbury Caledonian Royal Stewart Pipe Band. John’s wife Margaret is a tenor drummer and has played in the City of Christchurch Ladies Pipe Band, Riccarton and the Scottish Society.
For many years John has been a doodler having come up with many musical snippets but never did much with them. It was quite late in his piping career, 1997 in fact, that John decided to put a few of his ideas on paper and since then has composed over 100 tunes of all time signatures.
When he was playing with Tauranga, they did him the honour of playing two of his tunes. A hornpipe called Laird’s Lassies so called because Drum Major Laird Wood had a number of female players in the band and a 6/8 march called Pipe Major Gordon Burrows QSM named after the Pipe Major of the Scottish Society.
Canterbury Caledonian Royal Stewart Pipe Band are currently playing a reel composed by John called Flushing Quail. This was named after an incident whilst on a country walk in Akaroa and a number of Californian quail were startled by the human presence.
John has plans to publish his tunes in a book in the not-too-distant future. The name of the book will be A Wagging Tale and the tunes will tell the story of Scottish migration including the McTainsh family’s move from Scotland in the 19th century through to their modern day living in New Zealand. We wish John well in this venture.
New Year 1963 was a watershed for me for it was a few days later that I left home and joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force. I had started on the bagpipes six months earlier and had no idea where piping would take me but one thing I did know was that I was determined to get into a pipe band as soon as I could.
I was raised in the very small village of Glenavy in South Canterbury and knew three locals who played the bagpipes. I never heard Nelson Gibson and Norrie Andrews play but Laurie MacPherson, who became my teacher, I did hear play quite often.
We lived about 100 metres from the local hotel and imagine my delight when a day or two before New Year 1963 I heard someone playing the bagpipes. I followed the sound and amongst the trees behind the hotel was an elderly well dressed gentleman playing a few tunes. He stopped playing and struck up a conversation and it became apparent that his favourite music on the bagpipe was the strathspey. He played a few more tunes and then headed for the bar and I never heard him or saw him again.
In 1967 I described this piper to the late Ken Boyce and he said that he thought the piper was Cuth Selby. Of course, this name meant nothing to me at that time but I noticed a reluctance to discuss him further.
Since the 1980s when my collecting became the passion it still is to this day, I have acquired many hundreds of sheets of hand written manuscript and one name that features frequently as a composer or arranger is Cuth Selby. I asked some of the older pipers about this man but few acknowledged him and those who did were reluctant to talk about him.
In 1995 I visited Dunedin at Queen’s Birthday weekend to play in their competitions and stayed with John MacPherson who was an uncle of Ewen McCann. At this time John was in his late 70s and although not a piper he came from a piping family and knew many of the old names. I asked him about Cuth Selby and the only response was, ‘Oh, not a very nice fellow’. When I tried to find out more John merely repeated the phrase and would not comment further. Naturally, I desisted.
It was only five years ago that I discovered the reason for this reluctance to talk about Selby and that is because he was openly homosexual. Up until 1985 it was a criminal offence for men in New Zealand to engage in this activity and anyone who did was ostracised from polite society. However, what cannot be denied is that he was a very good piper and was also a better than average composer. The remainder of this article will deal with these activities.
Cuthbert Challis Selby was born in 1895 in Lumsden in Southland, the youngest of nine children of an English migrant couple. Although there does not appear to have been any pipers in the family a number played the piano, including Cuth, but it was the bagpipes that became his instrument of choice. His first teacher was Pipe Major C W Wilson in the Invercargill Pipe Band in 1911.
When the Great War started in 1914 he was only 19 years old but enlisted at the first opportunity in April 1915 a couple of months before his 20thbirthday. Soldiers were not allowed to take musical instruments with them but family tradition suggests Selby smuggled his bagpipes on board the troop ship only to have them discovered by an officer who threw them overboard.
Selby was involved in the Gallipoli campaign but his war was a very short one as he was invalided out and returned to New Zealand in March 1916. For him the war was over but the health problems as a result of his war service were not. The Selby family believe that he had been gassed but research by the McCanns suggests this may not have been the case. His active service was spent in the Middle East and those who suffered from gas poisoning served in France. Throughout his life he suffered from arthritis, rheumatism and sciatica and he believed they were caused by his experiences during the war.
Many soldiers in the aftermath of the Great War received little or no assistance from the government of the day. The psychological problems that arose directly from their involvement in some of the horrendous battles continued until they died, some of them well into their eighties and nineties. Selby suffered as a result of his time at the front and seems to have had difficulty finding employment. He does not seem to have served an apprenticeship or had any other formal training and this too would have limited is chances of finding meaningful work.
There is evidence that he was involved in writing for newspapers but little is known of these activities. Perhaps his most successful venture was peddling illicit whisky. For over forty years from around 1905 the Southland area was officially dry and to bring alcoholic liquor into the area was illegal. Like the prohibition era in the United States of America these laws were flouted and there were those who brewed or distilled for their own needs. They were also happy to supply whatever demand there was but their activities were shrouded in mystery.
The stories of illegal distilleries in the Otago-Southland area abounded in the 1950s and one of the more famous of these produced a whisky called Hokonui – named after the Hokonui Hills in Southland. People like Cuth Selby used their cunning to survive very harsh times and would deposit bottles of the spirit into letterboxes of the clients and there were equally clandestine methods of getting the money to the sellers.
Selby was actively involved in piping throughout his life and played in many solo competitions with a high level of success. Although the prize money would not have been great it would have eked out money earned from other activities.
He also taught many pupils and there are some still alive today. It is likely that he would have had many more pupils but some were reluctant to send their children to him because of what they saw as his less seemly activities. Those who did allow him to tutor their children would normally be in attendance throughout the lesson.
Selby started composing early in life as some tunes are dated 1914. Twenty-two of his compositions are known to exist as well as a number of other people’s compositions that he arranged for the pipes. Most of this latter group of tunes were by the fiddle player George Dickson; the reader will recall the article written about the Dickson family and published in this magazine in 2008.
One of Selby’s most prominent pupils was the late Bruce McCann. Like his teacher McCann was a composer and in 1933 and later in 1945 they investigated publishing a joint collection of their own compositions. Printing costs, particularly in 1945, were the death knell of these projects but fortunately this has been remedied.
In 2005 Bruce McCann’s Pipe Tunes was compiled and published by Ewen and Valda McCann. This book has been discussed in an earlier article in this series. In 2009 Ewen and Valda compiled and published Cuth Selby’s Pipe Tunes.
This is a beautifully presented book and like Bruce McCann’s Pipe Tunes tells the complete story about the composer. One of the cornerstones of Cuth Selby’s Pipe Tunes is the link between three pupils, teachers and composers – Selby-McCann-Sargent. Cuthbert Challis Selby taught Bruce William McCann who in turn taught Donald Patrick Sargent. Each has composed some very good playable tunes but it is probably fair to say that the quality of each composer’s compositions is in reverse order.
It is my belief that Donald Sargent has produced more high quality compositions than any other New Zealander and that Bruce McCann’s tunes are better than his teacher’s. However, each composer has a completely different style and each has tunes that will suit different people.
Cuth Selby’s Pipe Tunes starts off with a brilliantly written Foreword by Donald Sargent. There are a number of delightful comments that will tickle the reader’s fancy. Modern day pipers could do worse than read this Foreword as there are many helpful hints about how to make music whether playing in a band, on the solo boards or for dancing. There are some who will agree with Don that despite the huge improvements in technique and sound quality in bands these days, frequently the most important ingredient, music, is missing.
Then follows 27 pages called The Life and Times of Cuthbert Challis Selby: 1895-1968. This delves into many aspects of Selby’s life as well as the social conditions that existed at the time and may have made him the man he was. There are those who do not enjoy the historical aspects of piper’s lives and will not enjoy this. However, they probably will not be reading this anyway! Those who do will, no doubt, find some interesting anecdotal stories.
The next portion of the book will interest most pipers and that is the music. It is split into three parts. Cuth Selby’s tunes, sixteen tunes composed by George Dickson and arranged by Selby and then 25 tunes composed by Donald Patrick Sargent. These 25 tunes have all been composed since the publication of The Muckle Dram Collection in 2001. At the end of the book is an Appendix which includes two letters and a Bibliography.
The first tune in the book The New Zealand Scottish Regiment is a 2/4 march composed in 1940 and appears twice. Once as a facsimile in Selby’s immaculate manuscript and then a computer generated version. Three other 2/4 marches follow, Alex Sutherland’s Welcome to Invercargill, The Highland Society of Southland and Harry Lauder’s Welcome to Invercargill. All three of these tunes were composed in 1914. Alex Sutherland had a dance school in Invercargill and taught Ewen McCann’s mother Winnie, nee MacPherson. The famous Scottish singer and entertainer, Harry Lauder (he became Sir Harry in 1919) toured many countries in the early part of the 19th century and in 1914 came to New Zealand. When he visited Invercargill the 19 year old Cuth Selby composed this tune.
Only two tunes exist that were composed during his time in the army and these are both 2/4 marches that date from 1915. The first of these is a catchy two parter composed at Suez called The 6th NZ Reinforcement’s Welcome to Egypt and then a four parted tune called Lance Cpl. Chas de Joux’s Farewell to Invercargill which was composed whilst at Trentham awaiting departure for Gallipoli.
At one time Selby lived in a house that he named Glengordon. He lived in a number of different addresses in the Southland area but these days no one knows which house had that name. An undated two parted 2/4 march called Alec Munro’s Welcome to Glengordon ensures that one person’s visit to that address will be remembered.
Perhaps if we can find out where he was living in 1926 this riddle might be solved as in that year he composed a 2/4 march called C C Selby’s March to Glengordon. This tune also has the alternative title The Battle in the Glen.
The next two tunes are 2/4 marches called Provost Campbell’s Welcome to the Fair (1929) and W J Graham’s Welcome to the Ranfurly Shield (1938) and we have no record of the circumstances of their composition or naming. The second of these two tunes is very good and it would not be a surprise if we hear it played.
The only strathspey is called Glengordon and is dated 1922. Only one reel exists and is called Winnie MacPherson’s Reel or Winnie Won the Sword Dance. This tune is about Ewen’s mother and his father, Bruce, played it and won first prize at Ngaruawahia in 1941.
One other reel occurs in the book, the famous Mrs MacLeod of Raasay and Selby has added 3rd and 4th parts to it. There is only one jig by Selby and it is a 6 parter called the Dancing Irishman. We are not enlightened as to who this gentleman was but it was composed in 1929. Then follow two hornpipes, the Silver Searchlight (1929) and The Cliff Hornpipe. The latter tune is Selby’s arrangement of a traditional tune.
In 1929 he composed a tune and called it Wm J Fraser’s Scottische however, it is probably closer to being a polka and that is how pipers would probably play it.
Garston is a small town a few miles south of Lake Wakatipu and is the most inland place in New Zealand. The slow air The Highlands of Garston composed in 1914 is one of the best tunes in the book. Another even better slow air is Mist Upon Dunedin’s Hills and this is one tune that has been played frequently over the years. Another slow air composed in 1923 is Lament for Roderick Finlayson and although not quite up to the standard of the previous two is still a pleasant enough tune.
The last two tunes by Selby are waltzes and the first, Lieut John MacPherson’s (DCM) Welcome Home, is a three part tune composed in 1919. The New Zealand Centennial Waltz was composed in 1940 to celebrate 100 years of European settlement.
All the tunes have been set exactly as Selby wrote them, however he tended to use a number of embellishments that differ from those used in Scotland at the same time. It is fairly standard practice in bar four of many 2/4 marches that have two Bs to separate them with a taorluath but Selby often uses a grip or single gracenote. He always followed the G S McLennan style and puts a High G gracenote on the burl at the end of each part in 2/4 marches. There is a strong school of thought these days that it should not be done and if pipers did so in competition, they would risk condemnation from nearly all judges.
There is a belief that tunes must be played exactly as written by the composer and for this reason many pipers who see an old tune with gracing that does not conform to the modern style would automatically reject it. Pipe bands seem have no problems with deviating from the composer’s score but not so in solo piping competitions.
However, this has not always been the case as can be seen in books of bagpipe music compiled before about 1860.
One striking feature of many of these books is the lack of gracenotes. William MacKay’s Complete Tutor and Thomas MacBean Glen’s New and Complete Tutor, both from around 1840, are notable for their almost complete lack of gracenotes. It is believed they were left for the performer to decide how to grace the tunes. There is considerable evidence to suggest the same thing occurred in Ceol Mor prior to the era of published books in the 19thcentury.
Prior to about 1860 most of the tunes published in books were traditional and very few were ascribed to composers. Between 1860 and about 1900 those tunes that do have a composer’s name also have few grace notes. This almost certainly followed the style of playing that existed in those days. However, from the early 20thcentury all this changed.
One may ask what happened! Fortunately the answer to that is quite easy. The changes occurred with the emergence of one very famous piper, George Stewart McLennan. All accounts written about this piping phenomenon suggest he was a superb player with an amazing technique. He had the ability to put gracenotes and embellishments anywhere and everywhere – and did. To the consternation of fellow competitors he also won prizes doing this and many followed suit. They had to or would be left behind but there were those who said enough is enough and opted out. The famous player Angus McRae is one of these.
These changes can quite easily be seen in the books published from shortly after the turn of the 20th century. One of the more successful competitors from this era was Pipe Major William Ross and when he published the first of his five books in 1923 this new style of playing became set in concrete.
Today, if a piper were to play a tune as published in the earlier books (and presumably as the composer wrote it) they would be soundly criticised for doing so – and probably be accused of not playing it as the composer wrote it!!
Two of John MacColl’s earliest compositions John MacColl’s March to Kilbowie Cottage and Arthur Bignold of Lochrosque appear in publications from 1906 and 1905 respectively but the gracings differ significantly from those played these days.
It is suggested that if a piper wanted to play a tune composed or arranged in a style that differs from the modern trend, then they should simply change the gracenotes to suit. To blindly follow what the composer wrote does not always work! By doing this many tunes that have previously been rejected will suddenly be played, and above all, enjoyed.
Back to Cuth Selby’s Pipe Tunes. The section containing the George Dickson tunes is interesting in that it presents to pipers a selection composed by a non-piper but with pipers in mind. These tunes were discussed in this magazine in 2008 and it is not intended to do so again.
The 25 tunes by Donald Sargent all have musical attributes that will ensure pipers will take notice of them. Donald did not want too much fuss made of the inclusion of his tunes in this book as he already had a book in his name and he considered it was Cuth Selby’s ‘turn in the sun’.
It has been decided that comments on all his tunes is appropriate. In 2001 the 6/8 march Ciaran Keenan was composed to welcome his third grandchild. Donald’s daughter Margaret Ellyn was engaged to Craig Keenan and the very good 2/4 march Craig Keenan’s Welcome composed in 2001 is the Don Sargent way of making him part of the family.
Jenny Mair from Palmerston North has been well known in piping circles for many years. In 2002 she was Chief of the Manawatu Scottish Society and hence the 2/4 march Mrs Jenny Mair. In 2003 he came up with a beautiful 2/4 Margaret Ellyn’s Wedding March.
Willie Anderson and Donald have been mates all their lives and in 1998 they toured Scotland and spent a week in Portree in Skye. Their hosts in the guest house where they stayed were Hugh and Christine (Toots) MacFarlane. The 2/4 march Hugh MacFarlane of Portree is dedicated to both of them.
In 2006 Willie Anderson became ill with cancer and Donald would visit him two or three times a week and play him a few tunes on his electronic pipes. On 25 August Willie’s condition had worsened and Donald played a few tunes to his old friend and included a newly composed and very attractive 2/4 march. When Willie heard the tune he silently acknowledged it. About an hour after Donald left Willie died and hence the name of this tune Willie Anderson’s Farewell.
Donald was asked in 2007 to compose a tune for Jim Logan who was the District Grand Master of the Lodges for Hawkes Bay. Jim is not a piper but a lover of the instrument and upheld the tradition of ‘piping in’ dignitaries on Lodge nights. It is appropriate that an attractive ¾ march should be called James Logan DGM (Hawkes Bay).
The Highland bagpipe is not commonplace in Hungary and there are very few pipers from that country. Danny Rab is supposed to be only the third Hungarian to learn the instrument and travelled to The National Piping Centre in Glasgow to do so. Margaret Dunn was his tutor and as he was a special pupil she recommended that a tune be composed in his honour and hence Danny Rab’s Farewell to Hungary.
Georgia Morrisonis a 12 year old taught by Donald for a year until she and her family moved to Masterton. The 6/8 march he named after her is quite delightful. The Banks of the Nore tells of a morning spent trout fishing in the river in Kilkenny. Margaret Houlihan of Co. Cork is now married to Alastair Dunn and lives in Glasgow. During his 1998 trip to Scotland Donald heard her play and was most impressed and when she got married composed the 2/4 Margaret Dunn of Glasgow.
Sir Ian McKay of Wellington is very well known by most pipers in New Zealand and it was only natural that when Donald composed another high quality 2/4 march in 2008 he should name it Sir Ian L McKay.
Four Cold Winds is a lament composed in 2008 and gifted to the Officer’s Cadet School of New Zealand. Major Greg Wilson ONZM, NZRE played it at the Beating of the Retreat 25 November 2008.
Kalene, the wife of well known piper Bill MacLeod of Rotorua died in 2005 and the tune Lament for Kalene MacLeod was composed in her memory. The dancer Willie Sutherland of Thurso migrated to New Zealand in 1922 and taught many dancers in this country. Ewen McCann was one of these and now has Willie’s dancing shoes. In 2007 the strathspey Sutherland’s Dancing Shoes was composed.
Donald Sargent turned 80 years old in 2005 and his daughter Margaret Ellyn took a photo of him on that occasion. The ‘sly maniacal expression’ he was wearing at the time was evident in the photo and she labelled it ‘Crazy Donald’. When he composed a reel that had similar attributes it was only natural that he should call it Crazy Donald.
In the last few years Donald has had problems with his eyesight and as a result requires help, especially since he can no longer drive a car. One of these ‘minders’ is Noeleen Thompson and she is indeed very lucky to have this tune named after her. In my opinion Noeleen Thompson’s Reel is right up there and maybe even better than his famous Muckle Dram.
The Thieving Hen Blackbird came in 2008 after a battle between the composer and the said bird over some ripe tomatos. Donald insists that she does not play fair. The Girl from Cullen is a jig composed for Margaret Dunn in 2006.
Donald and Willie Anderson had a great time in Scotland in 1998 and had a memorable week in the Island of Mull. In 2003 he composed a hornpipe Farewell to Mull in remembrance of the occasion. Another hornpipe arrived at the same time as another grandson Nicholas Craig Keenan and is called Young Nick’s Hornpipe.
One might be forgiven for thinking The Waterford Hornpipe was named after a visit to the place of the same name in Ireland. However, the truth is that the name comes from the Waterford Cafe and Bar in Pohangina Valley in Manawatu, a place that Donald has visited far more often! It is also the place where Valda and Ewen launched Cuth Selby’s Pipe Tunes to the accompaniment of Paul Turner’s excellent Celtic Band, single malt whisky, poetry and song.
Donald acquired his first computer about three years ago and has become remarkably proficient in learning all its intricacies. However, when he encountered difficulties setting up his tunes he found salvation in Valda McCann. Because of her rescue efforts he composed Valda’s Waltz.
In 2009 Donald, who is in his 85th year, spent time reflecting upon his life. In amongst the regrets and times of sadness there have been many wonderful moments. There have also been many wonderful tunes and it was all this nostalgia that was the inspiration for another lovely slow air Of Times Long Gone.
Another interesting thing happened in 2009. He composed a delightful strathspey and called it The Final Fling. Don says this is his last tune – as they say in the Tui advertisements, ‘Yeah, right’. Ironically, Donald has lived in the shadow of the Tui Brewery in Mangatainoka most of his life.
Almost all of the historical information about Cuth Selby in this article comes from Cuth Selby’s Pipe Tunes and I am indebted to Ewen and Valda McCann for permission to use it.
There have been many New Zealand pipers who have composed music for the Highland Bagpipe. Some have composed memorable tunes whilst others have not. There are those who have been prolific and many others whose composing repertoire extends to only one or two tunes.
To pick the best New Zealand Composer is a difficult task. One has to decide what attributes go to make up a good composer. A person who has composed one tune that is universally accepted as being great could hardly fall into the category of being a great composer. Neither can a composer who has come up with dozens of mediocre tunes be deemed worthy of the label 'great'.
The writer believes that to be considered a great composer one has to have produced a large number of quality tunes of all time signatures. Added to that, a significant number have to have been played and accepted by the piping fraternity.
Bearing this in mind it is the writer's opinion that the three New Zealand composers with whom he is familiar, who can stand on the world stage are Donald Sargent of Woodville, Stuart Finlayson of Whangarei and Angus John Cameron of Mataura, in that order. All of these men have composed a sufficient number of quality tunes. Others may well compile a different list.
There is, however, another composer in New Zealand who, in the writer's opinion, has composed one of the greatest hornpipes ever written. Although he has not composed enough tunes to be considered in the above list Colin Craig has two published tunes that are straight from the top drawer.
Both of these tunes are hornpipes and have captured the fancy of pipers throughout the world. Jimmy Blue has a superb melodic line and subtlety of gracing and is right up there with the great Highland Bagpipe compositions. Outward Bound, which owes its origin to the sound of the Royal New Zealand Navy reveille back in the days of the Second World War is another excellent tune.
Colin Craig was born in Gore 1921; his grandfather had been a Gaelic speaker from the Island of Arran who settled in Gore in 1885. Colin's father Walter (Wattie) was also born in Gore.
Wattie, like his father before him was a thrashing mill operator. The thrashing mill was a Scottish invention that was the forerunner of the modern harvester (or header if you are from the South Island). These units were moved from farm to farm during the harvesting season and upon arrival at the next farm were positioned at a strategic spot and there it stayed until the harvest was finished.
These mills were very labour intensive as all the processes were done by hand. The writer can recall tales from the older farmers in the 1950s about these thrashing mills; they became a family and community affair with many of the locals being involved. The wives would supply the morning and afternoon teas as well as the lunches. The hired hands were seasonal workers and each year seemed to bring different faces. Some of these were to have a profound effect upon the young Colin as we will see later.
When Colin was about a year old his father took his business to the North Canterbury area. They were based for the most part in Hawarden and it was there that Colin lived throughout his childhood and into his teens.
It was as an 8-year-old that Colin had his first lessons from a local piping identity Tom Pilcher. Tom (whose brother Jim became a reed maker) was not a particularly good piper and had a repertoire of only about a dozen tunes.
At the same time Colin's father also leaned the pipes and eventually went on to form the local pipe band and Highland Society in Hawarden. Colin found his lessons were quite sporadic. He did, however, have some saviours. As mentioned earlier, his father had many itinerant workers during the summer months and a significant number were ex-pat Scots. Many of these were musicians.
One in particular was a piano accordionist called Jim Davidson and Colin spent hours listening whilst Jim either played or sang many Scottish tunes. Colin had no difficulty in adapting these tunes to the pipes.
In 1934 Colin and his father joined the recently formed North Canterbury Caledonian Pipe Band and attended their first pipe band contest at Greymouth. Wattie was eventually to rise to the position of Pipe Sergeant, but Colin was to follow a different path.
It was as a 15-year-old that two things happened that gave Colin a new insight into the world of piping. The first happened on a trip to Christchurch when he had a lesson from the well-known Joe Patterson. This was the only lesson from the great man, but it was enough to give Colin a new lease of piping life.
The second thing that happened was a trip to Invercargill where he competed in the C Grade Solo Piping and won. 1936 was also the year that Colin left school and joined the New Zealand Post Office.
Between 1936 and 1942 he had three postings; after a year at Hawarden, he moved for a two-year stint in Kaikoura. In 1941 he was off to Wellington and quickly joined the Wellington Caledonian Pipe Band under the late Pipe Major Louis MacKinnon Snr.
Colin turned 21 in 1942 and was old enough to join the war effort and enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Navy as a telegraphist. It was the sound of the early morning reveille that inspired the composition of the hornpipe Outward Bound. This tune was originally a two parter and it was more than thirty-five years before the final two parts were added.
Colin's first posting in the Navy was 18 months in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). In late 1944 he joined the newly commissioned H.M.N.Z.S. Gambia and served with her until the end of the war.
When the war finished, he re-joined the Post Office and was posted to Okato in the Taranaki. During the war he had limited time for the bagpipes but did make good use of the practice chanter and in 1946 made a rare appearance at a solo competition at Hamilton. He played in the B Grade and won everything and also won two events in the A Grade.
1947 saw Colin on the move back to North Canterbury but there was little time for a busy Postmaster to play the pipes. The next move was to Otira in 1949 followed three years later by a transfer back to Wellington.
This move saw an increase in his piping activity, and he joined the Wellington Post Office Pipe Band. It was also the time he met the lady who was to become his wife. June Rei, who has been a great supporter of Colin's piping, was the great, great, granddaughter of Captain John MacGregor who had settled in New Zealand in the mid19th century.
MacGregor sailed frequently between Kaikoura and Wanganui and on one occasion rescued the daughter of a local Maori chief from one of Te Rauparaha’s raiding parties. He took her back to Wanganui and she eventually became his second wife. June and Colin are rightly proud of this association.
As a married man Colin seemed to be allowed to stay longer in his new postings and it was another four years in 1956 before he was posted to Weber near Dannevirke. Once again, the demands of a small post office and the growing family were such that he did not put much time into his piping.
Colin managed to stay in Weber for 6 years before he was again on the move to Dunsandel south of Christchurch. Four years later he moved to the city where he has lived ever since - Palmerston North.
His time here has been the best as far as piping is concerned. He played in the Manawatu Scottish Society Pipe Band for two years and from 1972 - 81 was principal of the College of Piping. The 1960s and 70s also saw frequent appearances at the many solo competitions around the country.
Colin had limited opportunities to learn piobaireachd and in his early years only dabbled with it. It was not until 1971 when Bob Brown from Scotland visited that Colin got his first real tuition. The fact that by 1978 he had progressed to win the Comunn na Piobaireachd Gold Medal at Hastings shows that talent of the man.
Colin admits that he was not well taught at the beginning and his formal lessons were few and far between. He is truly the epitome of a self-taught piper who has progressed to becoming an accomplished player.
Colin has not composed many tunes; or perhaps to be more correct, he has had many attempts but frequently they were confined to the rubbish bin as being inferior. This form of quality control amongst composers is rare; there are many dozens of pipe music books dating back to the 19th century that owe their existence to a vast number of inferior tunes.
As stated earlier one of Colin's first attempts was Outward Bound; this tune started life as a take on the Navy reveille and was hitherto unnamed. Various attempts to compose 3rdand 4th parts came to nothing. Then in the early 1980s he had a breakthrough.
The real inspiration came during the 1981-82 Whitbread Round the World Race when fellow New Zealander Digby Taylor was skipper of the yacht Outward Bound. The tune was finished, and Colin had to look no further for a name.
During the 1960s and 70s the Scottish entertainer Andy Stewart was a frequent visitor to this country and on one of these trips had an accordionist Jimmy Blue in his entourage. Colin attended one of these concerts and as entertained as he was by Andy Stewart, he left the show feeling that the music of Jimmy Blue was some of the finest he had heard.
During the following week the seeds of a tune came into his head and Colin quickly noted them down believing they had merit. Within a couple of days, he had finished composing the whole tune and was confident enough to compete with it in solo competitions. The tune was named after Jimmy Blue who unwittingly had been the inspiration behind it.
It did not take long for other pipers to recognise the quality of the tune and Colin was asked for copies of it. Very quickly its popularity spread to Scotland and in 1983 Pipe Major Brian MacRae included it in The Gordon Highlanders Pipe Music Collection Volume 1. Two years later The Gordon Highlanders Pipe Music Collection Volume2 appeared, and it included Outward Bound.
From time to time some ideas come into Colin's head and he notes them down. He estimates that altogether there are less than ten tunes he considers any good. Recently he noted down a 2/4 march which he named Balcairn after the school where the band used to practice. This tune is included here and there is no doubt that it is in keeping with the excellence of his two hornpipes.
Colin is now in his early 80s and his playing days are behind him. He does, however, have an active mind and the tunes do keep coming. Long may it continue.
The writer wishes to thank Colin and June for their help in producing this article.
There was also some interesting reading in a book called I Propose... A Jubilee history of the McAlpines North Canterbury Pipe Band (Inc) 1928-2003. Published by McAlpines North Canterbury Pipe Band (Inc) 2003. PO Box 256, Rangiora.
Davey is one of the younger generation of pipers who is making his name as a composer. As a 9-year-old in 1976 he learned his piping from two members of the Papakura and District Pipe band, John Fleming and Davey Bryan.
By 1980 he was playing with the Papakura band and 7 years later left and joined the MacLeay Duff Distillery Pipe Band (now Auckland and Districts). He still plays with them and recently has been receiving piobaireachd tuition from Barry Brougham.
In 1989 as a 21-year-old he composed his first tune. This is called Marion McVean’s March and was published in The Kiwi Collection of Highland Bagpipe Music by Roger Gill 1991. There are two more of his compositions in the same book; these are Singing to the Cows and The Valhalla Burn Off (Co-written with Craig Meinsmith).
Marion McVean’s Marchis a delightful 2-part 6/8 march named for the well-known. New Zealand piper. The second tune recalls an incident in Scotland when a Pipe Major was overheard singing a piobaireachd to a sleeping heard of Highland cattle. This is reminiscent of Roy Gunn doing the same to a donkey called Matilda at Peter Steven’s (the editor’s father) house in the early 1980s. Some wag suggested that it was difficult to tell them apart.
The Valhalla Burn Off tells of the time Davey helped Craig Meinsmith burn off some vegetation at Craig’s Valhalla Street address.
Davey has continued to compose tunes and to date has more than 20. The most recent is a superb 2/4 march called Pipe Major Barry Brougham after his friend and tutor.
The history of Scottish piping is studded with families of pipers. A number of these families became hereditary pipers to a Chief and the title normally passed from father to son. In the case of the famous MacCrimmon family there were eight generations from the 16th century through to the 1820s; they were pipers to the MacLeod’s of Dunvegan.
Other families like the MacKay’s of Gairloch and the MacKay’s of Raasay produced musical genius spanning only two generations. In the case of the latter family John Mackay had four famous sons who saw service with some of the more notable families in Scotland. The best known of these was Angus who became the first piper to Queen Victoria in 1843; he was also a pioneer in the recording of bagpipe music in the written form.
This Angus MacKay published one of the most famous publications of pipe music. It is called A Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd by and contains historical notes that include details of the families of hereditary pipers known in Scotland.
The three families mentioned above are included along with the MacArthur’s who were pipers to the Lords MacDonald of the Isles; the Rankins, Pipers to MacLean of Coll; the Campbells, pipers to Campbell of Mochaster and the Macintyre’s who were pipers to Menzies of Menzies. In the late 19th century and into the 20th century the Cameron and MacPherson families have become famous for their playing and teaching.
European settlement of New Zealand began in the late 18th or early 19th century with a few adventurous sea farers befriending and living with Maori tribes. However, the first official arrivals occurred in 1840.
The Scots were at the vanguard of the settlement movement and with them came pipers. There have been many individuals who have achieved some measure of fame within the piping fraternity. In some cases, this piping prowess has passed into the second generation and only rarely has it gone into a third generation.
The Finlayson family are perhaps the closest we in New Zealand get to a famous family of pipers. There have been four generations Alexander, his son John, grandson Jim and great grandson Stuart.
Alexander emigrated from Applecross in Scotland in the latter part of the 19th century and was a shepherd at the Mount Peel sheep station near Geraldine in South Canterbury. He played the pipes, but it is not known who taught him or how good a player he was. Alexander drowned in a river at Mount Peel.
I have a very old handwritten manuscript book from the late 1890s with tunes by Alexander, Donald, William, John and Duncan Cameron of Mataura and John McClure Walker. There are a number of tunes named after local identities and one of these is Alick Finlayson’s Reel by John Cameron. It is possible that this tune may be named after Alexander.
Alexander’s son John was not a piper but according to those who knew him he had a great fondness for the instrument and a wealth of stories about piping and pipers. Jock, as he was known, has a tune named after him in the recently published Muckle Dram Collection by Donald Sargent. It is called Jock Finlayson’s Jig.
William Douglas (Jim) Finlayson was born in the Ashburton in 1913 and died in 1999. He was taught the pipes at an early age and was considered by those who knew him as a very good player. He was Pipe Sergeant in the Ruahine Pipe Band under Pipe Major Donald Peters.
Before the second World War his family moved to Ruakaka in Northland. He carried on piping and very quickly became involved with the Waipu Pipe Band. During his time with the band a young lady from the farm next to his own came along to the band to learn to play the bagpipes and Jim was to teach her. Her name was Ailsa McCathie and she and Jim were eventually married.
Stuart was born in November 1948 into this piping family, and it is not surprising that he in turn would be bitten by the piping bug. At the age of 8 his mother thought it was time for young Stuart to start learning and so his father gave him his first lessons. At this age he was not ready for playing the pipes and undoubtedly to the chagrin of his parents very soon gave it away. However, about five or six years later decided he was going to have another go.
Stuart was at boarding school in Whangarei and was able to get lessons from one of New Zealand’s greatest pipers, Lewis Turrell. For the next 5 or 6 years he progressed rapidly in both Piobaireachd and small music. Lewis makes the observation that Stuart was extremely quick on the uptake and learned tunes very with comparative ease.
1967 saw the first tour to New Zealand by a top piper from Scotland. Donald MacLeod played throughout the country and when in Whangarei Stuart heard him. Lewis had been full of stories about his three years in Scotland and his lessons from Donald and this inspired Stuart to make his own pilgrimage.
So, in late 1968 Stuart set off, by sea, for Scotland and arrived in early 1969. On the same voyage was a well-known Australian piper, Stewart Chisholm. Stewart went to Duncan Johnstone for lessons and when Stuart heard him play, particularly his marches, he decided that was the style he wanted to play. Duncan got Stuart a job in the same Clyde shipyard where he worked. Soon after arriving he also renewed his acquaintance with Donald MacLeod and went to him for Piobaireachd lessons.
Stuart admits that when he first went to Scotland, he was a little under-done as a piper, but his intention was to get there and learn as much as he could. He never competed much before he left but once in Scotland, he entered the competition scene like a duck takes to water and his playing improved rapidly. The fact that he started picking up a number of prizes around the games attests to this.
In three years, he learned a total of 96 piobaireachds; on occasions he was learning two a week. Donald MacLeod’s shop was only a short distance from where Stuart worked, and he was able to spend some of his lunch hours there.
The first time I heard him play was a year or two after he returned when he was the guest piper at the Wellington Pipers’ Club. There was no doubt that he had come back to New Zealand a most polished performer. Stuart has competed in solo competitions and perhaps his most notable success is winning the Gold Medal in the Comunn Na Piobaireachd (NZ) Inc competitions in Hastings in 1972.
Stuart has been more active in the pipe band scene and has been a piper and later Pipe Major of the band that is now known as the Auckland and Districts. A couple of years ago he moved to Maungatapere near Whangarei where he has bought a farm and is growing avocados. He and his partner Margo Short maintain their piping interests by playing in the Whangarei Pipe Band.
Stuart’s composing ability first manifested itself whilst in Scotland. The first tune he ever composed was a jig called Stewart Chisholm’s Walkabout. This was so named because Stewart took a year off piping and went for a year-long trip through Europe. Stuart won high praise from Donald MacLeod for this tune and was given an even greater confidence booster when it was published in John MacFadyen’s Second Collection of Bagpipe Music in 1973.
In 1987 Robert Wallace’s The Glasgow Collection of Bagpipe Music was published with four tunes composed by Stuart, and one as arranged by him. The Peat Harvest (2/4 march) was composed in the 1970s and the repetitive strains throughout the tune reminded the composer of the peat harvests.
Wallace’s Farewell to Kuratauwas composed to farewell Robert Wallace who is a well-known piper from Scotland. In 1984 he visited New Zealand and spent a few days at Kuratau, on Lake Taupo, where Roy Gunn and family had a holiday home. Apparently, Robert rates it as one of the best weekends of his life and the tune is a retreat which probably aptly describes Robert’s departure.
Stewart Chisholm’s Walkabout appears again. Stuart makes the point that the version in this book is his preferred setting of the tune. The version that appeared in John MacFadyen’s book was incorrect and somehow got through to be published.
In 1976 a group of Auckland pipers took Donald MacLeod on a harbour cruise in Wallace Overton’s boat. Donald enjoyed the day immensely but remarked that had never been to sea with such a ‘motley crew’. Stuart had composed an unnamed hornpipe and knew that he now had the perfect name for it.
There is a 4/4 march in this book called A Parting Glass and Stuart has been credited as having arranged it. However, he would like to set the record straight and points out that this is not correct and that in fact Barry Brougham of Auckland arranged it.
The next book to include some of Stuart’s tunes is The Scott MacAulay Collection of Bagpipe Music. Iain Finlayson (2/4 march) and Jennifer Finlayson (strathspey) are two tunes composed in the mid1980s to commemorate his son and daughter.
In the mid-1970s he composed a reel and named it Alan Dodd’s Taxi; during the late 1950s when Alan was living in Scotland, he drove a taxi for a living.
The Whistlebinkies are a well-known folk music group from Scotland and Robert Wallace has been their piper for many years. During his trip to New Zealand in 1984 Stuart composed a great jig and named it the Whistlebinkies.
It is perhaps inevitable that if a New Zealander were to compile a book of tunes, they would include many of Stuart’s. In 1999 just this happened; Lewis Turrell’s Collection of Bagpipe Music published by ISA Music in Scotland has seven of Stuart’s Tunes and one of his arrangements of an old favourite.
Jim Finlayson’s Strathspey was named by Lewis after Stuart’s father prior to inclusion in this book. Alan Dodd’s Taxi has its second publication.
Some years ago, an incident occurred in the Auckland and Districts Pipe Band room whereby someone sat in Pipe Major Keith Laird’s favourite chair. The usurper was gently removed from the chair but nevertheless the incident called for a tune and hence the reel Keith’s Chair.
In 1988 Stuart was in the San Juan Islands in Washington State in the USA. Sitting watching the tide, he saw an otter crawl out of the water onto the rocks. At the same time, he spotted a bald eagle sitting on the branch of a tree. He had a jig in his head and so The Otter and the Eagle was named.
A few days later he was in a single engine aircraft flying into Friday Harbour on San Juan Island and he had a new jig coming into his head. The airport runway had a gradient of about 300 and the landing and subsequent take-off were quite hair-raising. One may think that the tune which is called Friday Harbour Excursion does not quite tell the full story.
The Shepherd’s Crook (a favourite strathspey) has been expertly arranged by Stuart as a jig without ruining the delightful melodic line. I am sure that pipers will go for this arrangement.
Many pipers dream of being immortalised by having a great tune named for them. Lewis Turrell will be delighted with the jig Lewis Turrell.
When one sees a tune with the name Cameron in the Drain it conjures up all sorts of weird mental pictures; particularly if you have any inkling as to who ‘Cameron’ is. In 1989 a number of players from the Auckland and District Pipe Band were in Jakarta for competition. Allan Cameron and Alex Smith were walking down one of the streets and Allan misjudged a passing tree and fell into a two metre storm water ditch.
Luckily for Allan the ditch was dry at the time and loss of dignity was the only thing that suffered. But when Stuart heard of the incident, he composed a superb tune to tell of the story; the first part has Allan and Alex walking along the street talking. The second part tells of Alex walking along and gets the impression he is talking to himself. The third part adequately describes Allan rolling around in the bottom of the ditch and the last part imitates Alex laughing at Allan’s predicament. I suspect that Allan might have been laughing at himself as well.
Stuart has composed a number of other tunes that have not yet been published but are being played. One of these is a jig called Rex Tait’s Dilemma. Rex is a member of the Whangarei and District Pipe Band, and they were preparing for a series of concerts to be performed in the local area.
They decided to include a bracket of tunes composed by members of the band and Stuart suggested this hitherto unnamed jig. Rex had more than a little difficulty getting his fingers around it and so the new name became almost automatic. I have seen a video of one of the performances and it was quite apparent that Rex and the rest of the band had fully mastered the tune.
Stuart has composed one Piobaireachd called Ishbel Fraser’s Salute. This was named for a delightful lady who ran a fishing lodge on the East Coast where Stuart and Barry Brougham stayed a number of times to see in the New Year.
Stuart has one other published tune. In December 1999 his teacher and friend from Scotland, Duncan Johnstone died. He had a 2/4 march half composed and the death of Duncan inspired Stuart to finish it off and call it Duncan Johnstone’s Final Journey.
It was published in The Piping Times in April 2000 and Stuart comments ‘It is with great sadness that I heard the news of Duncan’s passing. He was like a father to me during my time in Scotland. I hope this tune is worthy of his name.’ Stuart adds that the mood of the tune is better achieved if one plays it slightly down in tempo.
Stuart Finlayson will stand in history as a successful and prominent composer of music for the Great Highland Bagpipe; that we can claim him as a New Zealander perpetuates this country’s reputation in the field.
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