March 31, 2001

Major Gavin Stoddart BEM

One could say that, of the many talents that Major Gavin Stoddart possesses, his ability to follow orders is exceptional. Astonishingly, in 1980, when he was 32 years old, Gavin Stoddart was ordered by his commanding officer to commence going “round the games,” to compete in top solo events and do well for the Royal Highland Fusiliers. What ensued from 1980 to 1989 was one of the most successful competitive runs of any piper in the world.

He started by winning the Silver Medal and the Strathspey & Reel at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1980. He went on to capture the Gold Medal and the Former Winners’ MSR at Oban in 1981, both on his first attempt, the Braemar Gold Medal for piobaireachd in 1981, the Inverness Gold Medal in 1983, another Former Winners’ MSR title at Oban in the same year, and just about every contest—including two wins of the overall prize at the Glenfiddich Championship—in between. In 1988 he brought his solo career to a suitable conclusion by taking the Silver Star Former Winners’ MSR at Inverness.

It’s obvious that when he was ordered to compete, in Gavin Stoddart’s mind that meant only one thing: winning.

The son of the famous and well-liked George Stoddart, Gavin Stoddart was born in 1948 in Hamburg, West Germany, while his father was stationed there as Pipe Major of the 5th Scottish Parachute Regiment. Young Gavin learned piping at first mainly by ear, received his initial formal instruction from his father in the early 1960s, and then was sent to Captain John A. MacLellan at the Army School of Piping at Edinburgh Castle.

During his formative years, Stoddart spent much of his time at his father’s shop, the Edinburgh branch of R.G. Hardie & Co., and there he was exposed to all the greats of the time—John D. Burgess, John MacLellan, Hector MacFadyen, John MacFadyen and others—who would stop by for a talk and a tune.

At the age of 16, he was allowed to be a guest piper with the then Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band under the legendary Pipe Major Iain McLeod when the band was at its height of excellence. He stayed with the band until 1966, when, rather than staying with the police until he became eligible to join the force, he decided instead to enlist as a piper in the Scots Guards, in August 1966, following in his father’s military footsteps. Gavin Stoddart remained with the Guards until May 1979, when he was asked to transfer to the Royal Highland Fusiliers as Pipe Major. The Fusiliers was his father’s regiment, so the call was irresistible.

In 1983 Gavin Stoddart was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to army piping, and in May 1987 was posted to the Army School of Bagpipe Music as Warrant Officer Class 1 Pipe Major. He was also appointed Senior Pipe Major of the British Army.

After his glorious eight year competition run, Gavin Stoddart retired from competing and, in June 1990, was commissioned as Captain and appointed Director of Army Bagpipe Music—the most important position a piper in the British army can hold. In the fall of 1997, he was again promoted, this time to the rank of Major.

Add all this to the fact that he wrote “Murdo’s Wedding,” one of the most popular and played tunes of all time, at the age of 16, and one can easily see that Gavin Stoddart is a truly gifted piper.

A proud and well turned out professional soldier, Gavin Stoddart is nonetheless a warm and engaging individual. He is extremely well liked by his peers, and his knack for story telling and jokes is famous. At his office at Edinburgh Castle, Stoddart is the perfect conversationalist, speaking quickly, enthusiastically and candidly about his experiences and views on piping past and present. It’s no surprise that, when he started to compete, his fellow competitors were nothing but pleased to assist him with tips and tricks of the solo piping trade.

In the summer of 1997, Gavin Stoddart was seen all over the world proudly playing the Stone of Scone out of England to its rightful place in Scotland.


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