Old School: thoughts on c¨¨ol m¨°r with four piping legends – James Campbell of Kilberry

Published: May 31, 2010
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Iain Speirs: I have with me Mr. James Campbell of Cambridge, a prominent figure in the piping world. His father, Campbell of Kilberry, was a founder-member of the Piobaireachd Society.  Mr. Campbell, how long have you been playing piobaireachd?

James Campbell: How long? Oh, let me see. About 55 years I should say.

IS: And over that time what changes have you seen?

JC: Within the competition world?

IS: Anything – playing, writing.

JC: No, I would say that the actual playing of piobaireachd hasn’t changed in the style of playing. It’s the same as it’s always been. I would say there have been new developments in the style. The way the tunes you hear today are played are the way in which they were played when I started attending competitions.  

IS: That’s interesting. Many of the replies to my questionnaire have expressed the view that many pipers relying heavily on finger ability rather than musical ability. Do you have any views on this?

JC: Yes, I think that that’s so and it’s a thing that one wants to try to foster the whole time is music with ability in it. It’s what you look for when you’re judging competitions. And, personally, I pay more respect to music with ability than to finger ability. In other words, I’m not alert the whole time to spot technical errors. I mean, there are some technical errors that are so gross that you can’t overlook them. But in my book a person who plays a musical tune has a tremendous advantage over a less musical but technically more correct player.

IS: Could you define the difference?

JC: How to define the difference?

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  1. JanetteMontague

    Something about his position and status made me long for some plain and ordinary piobaireachd players. And then there’s all the reputation stuff that makes you (me) kind of dread the article before even reading it. But then once started, he sounded quite reasonable and talked sense. He seemed to have a kind of stilted way of answering and sometimes I wanted to say-just tell us what you think about the question’. At times I wondered how much he really knew about the subject. Compared to the other two interviews it seemed more shallow and the ‘good’ at the end, and the question ‘Have you heard of John McColl’ made me wonder if he was pompous. But I found all that interesting, and was glad to read it, but somehow, I don’t think I’ll read this one again – unlike the other two which I read several times. Thanks for it though. I’ll be interested to see what others thought.

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TIP OF THE DAY
Pipers: Chanter reed a bit too hard? Try a dental rubber band to create a bridle for your pipe chanter reed. This can also sharpen the pitch without putting the reed too far down the reed seat.
Donald MacPhee, reedmaker, Alexandria, Scotland

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