The death of Colin Ross last May left a huge space in the world of piping and pipemaking. Here two long-term members of the Society share their memories.


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When the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society was formed in 1983 there was no living tradition in Scotland of playing or making bellows pipes. Colin was the principle maker of the Northumbrian smallpipes and was keen to design and make Scottish smallpipes for this new and growing interest from Scottish pipers. I joined the LBPS a couple of years later and it was at one of their meetings that I first met him. He made beautifully-crafted pipes and seemed to have boundless energy and was always happy to share his knowledge with others.  On occasions he could be rather outspoken and opinionated and appeared not to mind when he ruffled a few of other people’s feathers! But that was Colin.

I remember him playing his Northumbrian smallpipes at a small gathering of pipers at Preston Hall Museum, near Middlesbrough in August 1986. He was also accompanying his late wife Ray Fisher’s guitar playing and singing. After the event they offered me a lift to Newcastle Station in his old blue Mercedes. I sat in the front of the car determined to make the most of spending time with such a respected authority, as I was relatively new to pipemaking. Inevitably we talked a lot about reeds! Ray sat in the back of the car and, with her distinctive loud voice, proceeded to question and contradict nearly every non-bagpipe related pronouncement that Colin made. “Mr Ross, I think you will find that what actually happened was….”. Initially I was slightly disturbed by these interjections which Colin seemed largely to ignore, but I eventually gathered that it was a long-standing double act that they had worked on for the many happy years of their marriage.

The last time I spent time with him was at the Girvan Folk Festival in the late 1990’s. This was only a short time after he had had a heart triple bye pass operation and I was amazed how well and energetic he was. My late wife Sharon & I were staying in the same B&B with him, Sid Kipper and John Kirkpatrick. What a line-up! (Great Breakfast conversations!).

On the Saturday evening Sharon & I went to the ceilidh dance and around midnight we decided to leave and look in at the late-night festival session on our way back. We peeked into the packed steamy venue and there sat Colin in the centre of the musicians, fiddle under his chin, bowing away like there was no tomorrow. We were both exhausted and went back for our B at the B & B. Next morning at breakfast Colin appeared quite chipper and told us he hadn’t stopped playing until 3.0 am! What an amazing man.

It is unthinkable to imagine what the state of Northumbrian music and piping would have been today had it not been for Colin’s tireless enthusiasm for making and encouraging others to make smallpipes. But it should also always be remembered that he made an important contribution in designing and making Scottish bellows pipes in the early days of their revival.

Julian Goodacre July 2019


The death of Colin Ross sees the passing of a legend. He was undoubtedly one of the leading Northumbrian pipe makers of all time.

I first came across Colin at a concert in Edinburgh when he was playing fiddle with the High Level Ranters; what an inspirational evening for me. I heard for the first time, Northumbrain pipes, fiddle , accordion and guitar as an ensemble.

Colin’s enormous legacy to the Northumbrian world of piping is without question, and will be no doubt well documented. However, his contribution to Scottish culture and piping which maybe less well known. As I have been involved in the revival of the bellows-blown pipes of Scotland almost from the start I would like to pay tribute and thanks to him, both from personal and national points of view, for his vital part in what has undoubtedly become one of the most influential and important revivals in Scotland’s history.

By the early 1980’s the border pipes had been recorded by Rab Wallace of the Whistlebinkies. Jimmy Anderson had worked on the development of these Border Pipes and the Scottish Small Pipes by adapting oboe reeds for his smallpipes chanter and recordings of these can be heard played by Dougie Pincock of Kentigern. As well as this, vitally, The Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society had been established.

It was Colin, however, who had the idea of using Northumbrian chanter reed technology in the design and production of the modern Scottish Small Pipe chanter. This improved the sound and created a ‘standard’ chanter and reed. Colin made the first small pipes D chanter in 1982 for his brother-in-law Artie Tresize, who went on to use the pipes in his fast-developing show, ‘The Singing Kettle.

In the same year I was gifted an early-19th century set of Scottish Small Pipes complete with bellows, by my then next-door neighbour in Kingussie, John MacRae, and Colin restored these and made his second D small pipe chanter for this set. He then went on to design the full range of chanters in A, Bflat and C, all using his standard Northumbrian reed. Colin’s inspirational breakthrough transformed the sound of the emerging Scottish Small Pipes.

I have subsequently modified Colin’s Northumbrian reed to suit the Scottish ear but it was his initial creative thinking which formed the basis of the revival of the Scottish Small Pipes. When I started making pipes Colin was generous in his help, in particular with reed-making, an example which I have tried to follow throughout my life as a pipemaker.

His legacy has been and will continue to be far-reaching and long-lasting. He will be missed.

Hamish Moor


These memories are edited versions of the ones printed in the Autumn 2019 issue of Chanter, the journal of the Bagpipe Society.

Colin has left the most comprehensive collection of reed-making videos, 15 in all. The full set can be be accessed via the portal link at

Johnny Handle, who played music with Colin for 60 years, has left a comprehensive memoir at

The following three articles by Colin are reproduced from earlier issues of Common Stock, the border pipes ones  from  June 2008 and the smallpipe one from June 1999.