We continue our exclusive discussion with Roddy MacLeod, one of the world’s great builders of piping. In Part 1, MacLeod remembered his earliest years as a young piper in Cumbernauld, Scotland. In Part 2, MacLeod looks back on his formative piping years with his teacher, the legendary Duncan Johnstone. He goes into his early pipe band days with the Grade 1 Red Hackle in Glasgow under Pipe-Major Malcolm MacKenzie, leading to his long tenure with British Caledonian Airways / Power of Scotland / ScottishPower and the Spirit of Scotland, and the importance of strong soloists in the mix. He then touches on why he is not a judge with the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association.
pipes|drums: Tell us more about Duncan Johnstone. A lot of people may know him through his compositions, if they’re paying attention. But you knew him probably as well as anybody in piping terms.
Roddy MacLeod: I remember as a little boy being quite frightened of him at first. But he was quite a strong personality. He used to thump the table to get you play in time and things like that. At first, that was a little bit intimidating but then as you begin to settle into his class you then started to see he was a man with great humour. He always liked a laugh and that was a large part of the attraction of staying with Duncan as a teacher. You always enjoyed the lessons because he would make you laugh and tell you a funny story or his experiences about interactions with other pipers and judges and things like that.
He was a great player. He had a very distinctive musical style and he had fantastic technique. I don’t know if I ever heard him miss a gracenote. You couldn’t really fault him in terms of someone who would give you that grounding in good technique and he’d illustrate playing a musical way. He didn’t particularly insist that you try and play exactly like him, either. He was all for people developing their own styles and ways of doing things. He was very musical. Recently I listened to a recording of Duncan that I hadn’t heard before. It was an old radio broadcast when his pipes were going very well and his playing was just outstanding. It was clean and crisp and very rhythmical. So, yeah, so I guess that was the biggest thing, that I always enjoyed the lessons. He made them fun, and he was very musical and a very correct teacher in terms of the technique.
p|d: And what about piobaireachd? He wasn’t that well known for piobaireachd, at least competitively. That’s something that obviously is a huge strength of yours. How did you get hooked on piobaireachd? Was that through Duncan Johnstone?
RM: Through Duncan as well. Duncan loved piobaireachd. Duncan was famous for his light music and people used to call him “The King of the Jigs.” But he loved piobaireachd and he was very into piobaireachd. He had various influences himself. Roddy MacDonald of South Uist was an influence on him. Donald MacLeod was an influence. But Duncan also went to classes that Bob Brown had taken in Glasgow. He taught me a number of tunes that Bob Brown had taught him. In particular, I can remember Duncan teaching me “Craigellachie” which is a big tune. I subsequently got a recording of Bob Brown playing the tune it was almost identical to the way Duncan had imparted it to me. I remember thinking at that point that Duncan must have been a