Published: April 30, 2011

Lewis Turrell

Lewis Turrell, the first non-Scottish winner of a Highland Society of London Gold Medal, died on April 21, 2011, after a lengthy fight with lung cancer, at home in Auckland, New Zealand with his family at his side.

Described as “a giant” on the New Zealand scene, Turrell was known for his prodigious work with pipe bands, particularly the Grade 1 City of Invercargill, a dominant force for many years in the 1960s and ’70s on the antipodean circuit, and also in Scotland, where the band travelled to compete.

Turrell committed much of his later years to teaching, with many prominent pipers at some point learning under his wing. He was also a frequent and well regarded adjudicator at competitions in New Zealand and Australia. For many years he was the owner and proprietor of Lewis Turrell’s House of Scotland, a business that grew to be one of the major retailers of piping and drumming merchandise.

Although he won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1958 with the somewhat obscure piobaireachd “The Rout of the MacPhees,” Turrell was not a regular solo competitor, preferring to focus on pipe bands. His winning of the medal was reportedly something of a surprise to him.

Turrell travelled from New Zealand to Scotland in 1958 by ship, a journey that lasted some six weeks. He received instruction in piobaireachd from the legendary Pipe-Major Donald MacLeod, who suggested that he enter for the Gold Medal. Turrell contended that he never seriously expected to even get a mention, but ultimately was announced as the winner. The following week he won the Piobaireachd event at the Royal Braemar Highland Gathering, and reportedly never competed in solo competitions again.

He said that when he won the Gold Medal neither he nor anyone else were conscious of the fact that he was the first non-Scot to gain the prize. It wasn’t until Braemar when someone pointed out his feat to him, indicating perhaps that nationalism was a different mindset then.

One antipodean piper described Lewis Turrell’s passing as “an end of era.”

On behalf of the piping and drumming world, we extend our sympathies at this sad time to Lewis Turrell’s survivors and his many friends.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Not only did Lewis win the Gold Medal at Inverness in 1958, but he also won the Strathspeys and Reels and the Jigs and was second in the March to Allan Dodds (also from New Zealand). He was still an impressive entertainer at recitals right to the end. A legend, a larger than life character, someone you would instantly warm to. A gentleman and a genuine person of the highest order. He will be sadly missed.

  2. I was saddened to receive this news. Lewis was a perfect gentleman and a great musician. He always had intelligent comments to make anytime I competed in front of him back in the late 60’s early 70’s. At the evening recitals that followed on from the days competitions, he was always a class act to listen to and learn from. A real pioneer that made a big mark. He will be sorely missed. Murray Henderson.

  3. I’d heard of Lewis all my life and finally had the opportunity to spend a couple of days with him in Christchurch 18 months ago when the photo of Lewis in the article was taken. He was a gentleman and we had a grand weekend. Alastair Munro was also with us, another great NZ figure who also passed away recently. I feel fortunate to have been able to meet them both on their home turf.

  4. Very sad news indeed. Lewis was an inspiration and a wonderful player, and it was always a real treat to hear him play. He had a big influence on many pipers in New Zealand and I remember him vividly as an outstanding director of the New Zealand Youth Band in 1990 – he had a great rapport with everyone, a wicked sense of humour and a unique way of passing on the music. I distinctly recall the City of Wellington under his direction in the mid to late 80’s; it was some band and really set the standard in NZ back then. Latterly, along with tutoring he was a fair, uncompromising and highly respected solo and band judge and there was always much to be learnt from having a chat following competitions. A real legend has passed and he will be sadly missed, and thoughts with Kay and family at this time.Very sad news indeed. Lewis was an inspiration and a wonderful player, and it was always a real treat to hear him play. He had a big influence on many pipers in New Zealand and I remember him vividly as an outstanding director of the New Zealand Youth Band in 1990 – he had a great rapport with everyone, a wicked sense of humour and a unique way of passing on the music. I distinctly recall the City of Wellington under his direction in the mid 80’s, it was some band and really set the standard in NZ back then. Latterly he was a fair, uncompromising and highly respected solo and band judge and there was always much to be learnt from having a chat following competitons. A real legend has passed and he will be sadly missed, and thoughts with Kay and Family at this time.

  5. Rest in Peace, Lewis. A great piper, a gentleman, a sharp wit, and the knack for a good story. Listening to Lewis play 6/8’s was a pure joy. He still played in Grade 1 until just a few years ago, with aplomb. A class act, taken too early. Vale.

  6. Lewis was a terrific person and I consider myself a lucky man to have known him. Much like Jim McGillivray, I had heard about Lewis for many years and finally had the opportunity to meet him. What a character he was! He was so interesting to be around – dynamic, funny, interesting and thoughtful. We judged and taught together a number of times and I respected him greatly. I was very impressed by his thorough knowledge of piobaireachd. Even though he had not ventured to Scotland for many years he continued to study, enjoy and share the great music throughout his life. I recall an afternoon in Christchurch 2 years ago when Lewis heard me practicing the clasp tunes. It was one of those years when the tunes were pretty unusual. I heard a tap on the door so I stopped playing and opened it to see Lewis standing there. He simply said “I haven’t heard the Bishop of Argyll for so long – nicely done”. I was very impressed as there can’t be more than a handful of people in the world who have ever heard that obscure tune let alone played it. I invited him in and we had a grand time rattling through some of those tunes. I will miss him very much.

  7. Lewis was all about the music. In any conversation with him, you just knew you were in the presence of a great musician. He was such a positive spirit and in a phone conversation I had with him last September I knew that he was confronting his illness with that same ever present positive energy. I cherished my visits with Lewis and Kaye. The stories flowed as effortlessly as the drams. Now that he’s gone I realize that behind all he achieved as a soloist and bandsman beat the heart of a truly humble man. Deepest sympathy to Kaye, Alastair and Catrina. Rest in peace, Lew. Bob Worrall

  8. I was a member of the City of Wellington while Lewis was P/M and have many happy memories of that time and hearing him play. Lewis always liked to play and was a delight to listen to, regularly he would play after band practise finished, his repetoire was so large I never heard him repeat a tune in the 5 years I was in the band with him. It was always good catching up with him over recent years, and to always see him so happy enjoying life.

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