Iain MacDonald, one of Scotland’s greatest ambassadors for its piping and culture, died on May 6th. Here LBPS members record their reminiscences.

 LBPS convenor Sturat Letford writes:
“Iain was one of the important figures during the early years of the formation of the LBPS and was at one point its Vice Chairman. I well remember his amazing bagpipe collection which he brought one night to the Piping Centre’s bellows piping class around 1999/2000 which his son Finlay and John Saunders were taking. I was gobsmacked by the collection and would say that that evening was really when I 'switched on’ to the bagpipe traditions furth of Scotland. "A ‘musette de whit, Iain?!!?!” As I recall, he played some European dance tunes that evening. He also played, on Northumbrian pipes, a tune called 'Cuckold Come out of the Amrey' which blew me away. I remember thinking at the time, “Who is the Des Lynam-lookalike with the amazing fingers?!?”
I think Iain will be remembered as being one of those pipers who didn’t ‘blow his own trumpet’ but someone whom we all knew was not one of the many ‘impostors’ that the piping world is full of. He was a great piper, and a generous, genuine guy. He was the very opposite of the piping dilettante.”
His death will be felt keenly by many not just in Scotland but around Europe. Many members still talk today of his amazing collection of 30+ European pipes. We send our deepest condolences to Anne, Finlay and Fiona, and the rest of the family.”
Stuart Letford

LBPS founder member Gordon Mooney writes from Canada:
“I was saddened to hear about the demise of Iain MacDonald. A truly great stalwart of the bagpipes and a generous, charismatic person who will be greatly missed. I first met Iain with Jimmy Anderson at one of the early meetings of the LBPS. Jimmy played pipes with the folk band the Clutha and Iain played withKentigern. Both were trying to get pipes that could play in their bands with other instruments etc. Jimmy had an old set of smallpipes that they had gotten working using a cut down bassoon reed and Iain had been x-raying old border and smallpipe chanters. Iain was one of the very few Scots who played Northumbrian smallpipes in the 1970's and he was a regular attendee at the Rothbury Folk Festival where I met him many times. With the Neilston band they performed at Rothbury and Iain judged the Highland piping competition. He was always enthusiastic, humorous and generous. I recall him and Dougie Pincock playing reel after reel together on the big pipes. I would also meet Iain and Dougie on the usually muddy games fields when I played in the Kinneill Colliery pipeband and remember him talking about how he wanted to develop his band for performances rather than competition - a revolutionary idea at the time. Iain brought the Willie Hamilton collection to a LBPS meeting and gave a fascinating talk about the pipes and how Mrs Hamilton had entrusted the collection to him. She couldn't have chosen a better person to look after her husbands legacy. I know that LBPS founder Mike Rowan had a long friendship with Iain and I remember at Mike’s Castle (Mains Castle, East Kilbride) Neilston pipeband playing under flaming torches at Mike’s 50th birthday. The other vignette from Iain was his telling of the Neilston Pipeband’s visit to Strakonice Bagpipe Festival in what is now the Czech Republic. I remember him recounting how playing through the streets,the people were in tears on hearing the pipes and showered the band with flowers and hugs and kisses. He later found out that it had been a Scottish regiment that had liberated the area in 1945. I know that he had been deeply moved by that experience and was hugely proud to be a Scottish piper. I remember an Scots old woman saying some words about someone she knew, ‘Ye couldna meet a nicer lad if ye walked tae the fower quoins o' the warld.’ That certainly applied to Iain MacDonald. It was a privilege to have known him.”

Gordon Mooney

iain and david 1982

Former LBPS chair Hamish Moore writes:
“It was either the inaugural meeting of The Society or maybe the second which was held in The Black Bitch Pub in Linlithgow in 1981.All the enthusiasts were present including Gordon, Mike, Cecil and many more and I do remember distinctly meeting Iain for the first time at this meeting. He had brought with him his large collection of Northumbrian and bellows-blown Scottish Pipes and as far as I know this was the largest and most interesting private collection in Scotland at the time. I surveyed the pipes with wonder and it really just confirmed that my life had changed. Iain and I went on to be close friends and always kept in touch.
He was a lovely, generous and genuine man who influenced and taught large numbers of pipers through his Neilston and District Pipe Band. It’s difficult to imagine a more popular figure in the world of piping or anywhere for that matter. Not for him were the competitions. He lead the band with great international acclaim to international festivals such as Strakonice in The  Czech Republic, Japan, Barbados, Russia and Galicia. He generously invited me to Strakonice to guest with the band and I was lucky enough to travel with them on two occasions for what can only be described as memorable band trips.
Iain was a true internationalist and loved all European Piping. I remember his excitement when seeing a French Band all playing Cornemuse with one percussionist leader in the middle of the circle.
The harmonies and style of playing were so beautiful and Iain really wanted to travel to France to join the band.
Iain's passing is a sad and huge loss to his family, friends and to the piping world. He will be missed sorely by his lovely family and everyone who knew him."
Hamish Moore


Julian Goodacre writes:
“I was sorry to hear about the death of Iain. I met him a few times over the years, either at the Edinburgh Folk Festival or at various LBPS meetings and he was always positive and full of enthusiasm for all types of pipes The last time was in Glasgow at the Pipers Tryst Bar at the National Piping Centre. Our conversation turned to bagpipe seasoning and he told me that he had always been curious to discover the secret formula of Hardies Airtight Seasoning. So, he had put a sample of it in the laboratory centrifuge to see if this would encourage the ingredients to separate in order to analyse them, but even after 30 hours it still retained its homogenous nature. [Ed; Iain was working as an analytical chemist at the time]
He did, however, later discover the secret through a far less scientific approach. He was in a pub in Glasgow chatting to an old man who used to work for Hardies. Inevitably Iain asked about the ingredients but was told that it was a secret that could never be divulged. Iain offered to buy the old man a pint and a whisky and they carried on talking about bagpipes. There followed another pint and whisky. And another. Iain repeated this process until the old man reached a state of sufficient relaxation to tell him exactly what all the ingredients were.
It was a splendid story. However when I asked Iain what was in the seasoning he became rather vague and claimed to have forgotten all of the ingredients apart from Lux Soap Flakes. So now we may never know!
Iain gave so much the piping world and he will be sadly missed.”
Julian Goodacre

John Saunders, former tutor of the NPC smallpipe class started by Iain, writes
I met Iain in the mid-nineties through the folk music scene in Glasgow.  I had moved to Glasgow in 1993 and was astonished to discover how few people played bellows pipes, but one of those who did was Iain.  It was a revelation to me that as P/M of the Neilston and District PB, Iain's main interest was playing for fun and I was hugely in awe of his taking the band to Japan just to play recitals and enjoy themselves - I'd only encountered the competition side of pipe bands up to that point!
I'll remember Iain as a truly genuine person who was always generous with his time, always happy to help and advise and who had an incredible enthusiasm for all things related to bagpipes.  Whilst his loss is very sad, I am so pleased he lived to see Finlay appointed as Director of Piping at the NPC - he must have been a very proud father!
John Saunders

Hamish also sent us this story he wrote describing the Neilston pipe band’s visit to Barbados:
Bathgate or Barbados ???
A Series of Mishaps.
Bathgate or Barbados? This was big Iain’s question to his pipe band one evening at the weekly practice. He had just received an invitation to attend a Celtic Music Festival on the island of Barbados and it clashed with the Bathgate highland games. “Nae danger” went up the unanimous cry; just in case there should be any doubt.
This was the moment in fact, which witnessed the end of the band’s competing career. Only concert and festival trips to Japan, Strakonice in the Czech Republic, Galicia or The Caribbean for them from now on.
“What’s the point in freezing in cold rain all day only to be told at the end of it by someone half deaf and who doesn’t know what they are talking about that you were shite?”Great excitement ensued and the trip was anticipated by all. For Iain there was much to think about, be responsible for and plan.
Nothing prepared the band from that far northern latitude for the wave of intense heat they experienced as they stepped off the plane. It was like stepping into an oven and the shear flamboyance of the tropical island took their breath away.
It was the opening concert of the festival and they were assembled for their first performance. They were cosy within a familiarity of their usual semi-circle giving a welcome sense of security and belonging. Iain as usual was in charge, a big figure of a man commanding much respect but equally able to be one of the lads and join in with the inevitable fun that goes hand in hand with being a member of a pipe band from the west of Scotland. He was in his place, stage left. The band members were all hot and the sweat oozed under their woolly socks, down their necks and from under their hats and even from aried parts of their woollen clad hurdies. As he gave his first command to start the opening set of tunes something happened which resulted in a shock wave, palpable within the intimacy of their semi circle but spreading and growing rapidly to the audience like ripples in a mill pond.
Iain’s chanter had fallen from his pipes as if in slow motion. In an instinctive attempt to avert the ensuing catastrophe he actually made the situation worse and the chanter flipped and landed upside down on the reed. With a destroyed chanter reed half hanging from its seat the chanter rolled excruciatingly slowly across the entire stage from left to right and all eyes followed it like a Wimbledon crowd in very slow motion. His opposite number bent down, picked the chanter up and returned it. It could have been a disaster or even embarrassing but with typical West of Scotland humour and good crack the band led the crowd in a big cheer which eventually turned to good humoured laughter and the band and Iain were not only saved but they, in an instant won the hearts of their Bajan [Barbadian Creole] audience. Their music went down a storm, the crowd clapped in time, roared shouts of approval and dancing ensued, none of which would have happened in Bathgate. Back in Bathgate they would have been trying to warm up enough to recover from the misery of having been told that they were shite.
Iain found a new reed and the Caribbean trip was everything everyone expected. The band loved every minute of their Island experience.
Of all the items on the programme, the highland games on the beach was producing a particularly excited air of anticipation. It was to be held at The Carib Beach bar. Four perfectly formed black beauties with skimpy even blacker bikinis emblazoned with The Glenfiddich logo propped up the bar, the pipe band looked on as they played and all was well in paradise. Some Glenfiddich was sampled.
Iain was to be the anchor man for the Scottish tug of war team and it was a hard fought pull between the Scots and the Bajans. The Scots discarded shirts, hats, belts, shoes, woolly socks and sporrans. A mark in the sand faded and drew closer; roars and shouts went up for both teams until suddenly with a huge effort from the Scots team and in particular their anchor in an attempt to save defeat, there was a ghastly noise from Iain’s right knee, a wrenching and tearing followed by an excruciating scream. He was thankful for the air conditioning in the ambulance. It made the pain more bearable somehow but his offending knee had swollen to twice its normal size by the time they reached The Queen Elizabeth Hospital. The duty accident and emergency doctor, Ambrose Nurse, “chippssed” between his teeth as he looked down in disbelief at the Scotsman in a kilt; “An how you say you don mash up you knee” the doctor demanded in disbelief. “Tug of War at a highland games” was Iain’s timid reply. “An how old you are” was the next question from the less than sympathetic Dr. Nurse. Another “chippsse” followed in disbelief. The knee was indeed “mashup” and the x-ray revealed ruptured cruciate ligaments. Iain was sent home with an incarcerated knee with instructions for strict rest. The band missed their leader but managed away fine under Russell’s professional deputation for the rest of the trip. Iain read many books on the beach and was ribbed affectionately for his misfortune. Another band legend was born.
West Indian sun is fierce and Iain needed to protect his delicate, seldom exposed northern skin from “burnup”. Reading was now his only option and he certainly wasn’t going to confine himself to a hotel room on this trip of a lifetime.
After all, shade was easily available on his beach. Coconut trees were present in abundance.
Time passed with his books, the odd rum punch or Banks beer and life was indeed good again for the disabled pipe major until one afternoon disaster struck again. Accelerating under the same gravitational force as had carried his ill fated chanter crashing to the stage, the large coconut hit bulls eye with pin-point accuracy right on the crown of Iain’s head.
He was knocked instantly unconscious, and haemorrhaged badly from a lacerated scalp. Iain really didn’t recall much until he regained a degree of consciousness in the ambulance where he was again thankful for the air conditioning.
He waited to be examined and stitched, covered in blood in a holding bay in the hospital.
It’s difficult to know who was more surprised as the duty doctor pulled back the screens; Pipe Major Iain MacDonald or Dr. Ambrose Nurse.
“You what” challenged Ambrose, “chippsse”.
“You sit under de coconut tree?”
“You mad or what” in utter disbelief.
Sitting under coconut trees in The Caribbean is not a good idea for reasons which Iain found out to his cost.
Hamish Moore
[Ed: A full obituary with details of Iain’s life can be read at

iain and david 2 

 Iain and David Hannay being recorded at the Mercat Cross, Edinburgh, 1982

 A new march dedicated to the memory of Iain MacDonald is included here with the approval of his family

pipe major Iain Macdonal