From bagpipes and piobaireachd to guitars and rock

There’s great excitement in my family at the musical weekend to come. On Saturday, hubby Jason will be playing at the Classic Rock Tribute Night in An Lanntair. This gig, blogged about lately in Stornowegians have Rock In Their Hearts, has now sold out and should be great.

I’m excited about it but that’s as nothing compared to Himself. Probably fair to say that of the whole band, actually, as J’s phone is constantly pinging with notifications from their group chat.

Their biggest question last night was whether it’s possible for Froagy Beag to rest his voice when he’s a teacher in Stornoway Primary. Good luck with that, Mr MacKinnon, and get better soon.

Froagy Beag, second left, with his fellow songbirds. Main pic is of three of the guitarists – Jason, centre, with Angie Murray, left, and Brian ‘Monty’ Montgomery

Before that, though, it’s music of a very different kind. Shen is currently busy making his final preparations for his role as fear-an-taighe in tomorrow’s Donald Macleod competition, which takes place in the Caladh Inn.

The Pipe Major Donald Macleod Memorial Competition, to give it its proper title, involves eight of the current best pipers in the world commemorating one of Stornoway’s most famous sons by taking part in a competition in his home town.

I blogged about the importance of this event last year in my post Donald Macleod Competition Celebrates Piping Legend but many folk don’t realise just how significant it is.

It looks unassuming but the Donald Macleod is actually very prestigious. This is the competition’s 24th year and it is run by the Lewis and Harris Piping Society, who decide which pipers to invite based on their performances at events over the previous year, such as the Northern Meeting.

The premise is that in most, but not all of the sections, they play compositions by Pipe Major Donald Macleod. This cove, known affectionately as ‘Wee Donald’, was in fact one of the most famous pipers of the 20th Century.

He won all the major competitions in his day and was also a prolific composer. He was also a Seaforth Highlander and his stories are legend.

Pipe Major Donald Macleod

However, there are significant costs in staging this competition in his memory and the Piping Society had started to struggle. The competition costs around £20,000 to put on but they lost significant sources of funding a couple of years ago.

Fortunately, they recently secured a sponsorship deal with Point and Sandwick Trust, which will give them £5000 a year for five years — and I was delighted to help them announce this.

My father, Shen (Gaelic for grandpa, for those who don’t know), is a great piping aficionado and a long-time member of the Piping Society, as well as a former chairman, so the Donald Macleod competition is a cause very close to his heart. And Point and Sandwick Trust is one of my PR clients, so this was a nice connection.

The folk at Point and Sandwick Trust are, as far as I’m concerned, among the good guys because of the charities and causes they have chosen to support with the profits from their community-owned wind farm at Beinn Ghrideag.

Bethesda, Hebrides Alpha, Western Isles Foyer and Western Isles Association for Mental Health are all among their beneficiaries, as is the An Lanntair arts centre.

PST’s chairman Angus McCormack (seated left) and general manager Donald John MacSween (left) check the sponsorship deal with Shen (seated right) and Piping Society treasurer Alistair Maclennan

Shen said: “I was aware that Point and Sandwick Trust had an empathy with the arts and I was extremely pleased that they came to the decision to make this contribution to the piping society for the Donald MacLeod Memorial Competition.

“It will make a huge difference to the society and guarantees that this competition, which commemorates one of the most famous pipers of the 20th Century, will continue to take place in his home town of Stornoway.”

The main costs involved in the competition are travel — flights to Stornoway for pipers and judges — and the Piping Society were beginning to fear they would have to move the competition to the mainland to reduce these costs.

Shen added: “Quite often top players from North America or Canada or even New Zealand have appeared at the Donald MacLeod but in the past couple of years we have not been able to pay their fares.”

A Canadian, Ian K MacDonald, is among those playing this year. He had a rare and prestigious double win this year — the gold medal at the Argyllshire Gathering and gold at the Northern Meeting — which has only happened around 12 times before in the history of the competitions.

The other players are Roddy Macleod MBE, Willie McCallum, Finlay Johnston, Angus MacColl, Iain Speirs, Niall Stewart and Alasdair Henderson.

Shen with pal John Kennedy, another lifelong piper and member of the Piping Society. John Kennedy is also the ‘keeper of the cups’ for the competition

Piping fans in Lewis and Harris are very fortunate that a solution has been found to keep this competition at home where it belongs, at least for another while.

The competition begins at 10.15am and lasts all day. The piobaireachd section is in the morning, with the light music — the march, strathspey and reel section followed by hornpipe and jig — in the afternoon. Entry is £15 and worth every penny. I find the piobaireachds, in particular, entrancing.

There is a ticketed ceilidh at night, which starts at 9pm and costs £5. At one point in the evening all the pipers play together and that sounds amazing.

And when the sound of the pipes is receding, it will be time for the Classic Rock gig. It’s all good.


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