Obituary: P/M Angus MacDonald

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The Independent Culture
ANGUS MacDONALD was a gifted piper and teacher who, in always giving more generously of himself than most, became larger than life. He was one of the best known and most colourful characters of the piping world.

Born in Cardonald, Glasgow, in 1938, he was introduced to the bagpipes by his father, Alexander ("Alick") MacDonald, a former Cameron Highlander and a well-known piper with the Glasgow Police Pipe Band. In the military atmosphere of Queen Victoria School in Dunblane, Angus had further instruction from Pipe Major George Sanderson, and became Boy Pipe Major in the school's pipe band.

In 1953, at the age of 15, he joined the 1st Battalion Scots Guards and was soon receiving his piping tuition from some of the leading military pipers of the day: the brothers K.G. and J.S. Roe, both Scots Guards' Pipe Majors in their time, Pipe Major Alexander MacDonald, who was the Sovereign's personal piper, and Captain John MacLellan.

Angus MacDonald's 27-year military career would take him to France, Borneo, Malaya, Sharjah, Germany, Kenya and Northern Ireland and to the pinnacles of piping. From 1960, he became increasingly prominent on the solo piping competitions circuit, going on to win all of piping's major prizes, some of them several times over. By 1965, he had been promoted to Pipe Major and Household Piper to the Queen.

In 1980, he was promoted WO1 and posted as the senior instructor to the Army School of Bagpipe Music and personal piper to the GOC and Governor, Edinburgh Castle. So well liked was he in the Scots Guards that, despite the regiment's strict traditions of correctness, formality and discipline, officers routinely called and referred to him by his first name.

From 1974, he piped with the widely touring and highly regarded civilian British Caledonian Airways Pipe Band (now the ScottishPower Pipe Band), and in 1983 was appointed MBE for services to piping.

When Lismor Records of Glasgow brought out its first World's Greatest Pipers album, the featured piper was P/M Angus MacDonald, and the groundbreaking album - rated the best piping recording to have been released to that time - opened the door, and an international market, to further recordings of solo pipe music at the highest of performance levels.

After leaving the British army in 1983, MacDonald instructed in Oman and the United States, then joined the teaching staff of the College of Piping, Glasgow. In 1996 he joined the Piping Centre as its senior instructor with a reputation as a popular but demanding and meticulous teacher. An admired composer, he published two collections of pipe music and was preparing a third at the time of his death. He was involved in compiling and editing the Scots Guards Collection - a very popular source of tunes.

In recent years, MacDonald was in growing demand as a piping judge at the highest levels of competition including Scotland's premier events: the Glenfiddich Piping Championships, the Northern Meeting and the Argyllshire Gathering. His abilities as a piper were already well respected; as a judge, he gave good, concise, constructive comment. He listened very closely to the piper on the competition boards, but would also have some sharp quip for his fellow judges. "You had to watch yourself," said a fellow judge. "You can't be seen laughing as a competitor is just starting up."

Whatever he did was total immersion. There were no half measures. As an instructor, he expected and got the highest of standards through his strength of character - "When he said this was what he wanted, there was no way you could do it any other way." He was, too, a repository of stories and piping wisdom. Wherever pipers meet, said a leading figure in Scottish piping, "sooner or later the conversations get around to Angus - the most talked about piper in the world. He'd done it all, he was involved in everything."

He met his terminal illness with strength, courage and indefatigable humour. On his last visit to the Army School of Bagpipe Music at Edinburgh Castle, he looked around the school and, in conversation with the Pipe Major, said with a twinkle: "We're all in the queue - I've always been greedy and I'm at the front." All the world loves a winner, he once wrote: "I remember winning a premier prize late on in my piping career and an old man shook my hand and said: `Congratulations, I won't keep you any longer because you'll have plenty of friends tonight.' "

Angus MacDonald, piper: born Glasgow 20 October 1938; MBE 1983; married (one daughter); died Edinburgh 25 June 1999.