March 06, 2024

A pipes|drums exclusive: “The Castle Recordings” – 151 piobaireachds played by Capt. John MacLellan MBE from 1964-’68

From 1964 to 1968, the legendary piper, composer, leader and teacher Captain John A. MacLellan MBE diligently captured his renditions of some 151 piobaireachds at his offices at the Army School of Piping at Edinburgh Castle.

Using a reel-to-reel Ferrograph tape recorder, MacLellan prioritized what he considered to be the most important tunes in his expansive repertoire. His interpretations are very much his own, but with the firm grounding he received from countless hours of instruction from Pipe-Major Willie Ross, 2nd Battalion Scots Guards.

Ross preceded MacLellan as director of the Army School of Piping and the prestigious title of Senior Pipe-Major of the British Army.

Captain John A. MacLellan MBE

Before running the Army School from 1959 to 1974, teaching and training dozens of regimental pipers in the famed Pipe-Majors’ Course at the Castle, MacLellan made his mark as one of history’s greatest solo competition pipers. At the Northern Meeting, he won the Clasp twice and the Silver Star Former Winners MSR four times. He won the Bratach Gorm and the Former Winners MSR five times at London. At the Argyllshire Gathering, he captured two Senior/Open Piobaireachd and four Former Winners MSR titles.

The Ferrograph tape recorder on which MacLellan made many of the recordings.

In 1958, MacLellan was the first and, so far, only piper to gain the Grand Slam of solo piping by winning the Inverness Clasp and Silver Star and the Senior Piobaireachd and Former Winners MSR at Oban.

He published six collections of music and instruction texts and founded and edited the important International Piper magazine for 10 years. Since his death in 1991, MacLellan’s piobaireachd compositions have taken their rightful place alongside the greatest works of ceol mor and are now heard regularly in competitions and recitals worldwide.

Captain MacLellan’s equally famous son, Colin Roy MacLellan, inherited his father’s piping estate. Among the historically essential pieces are the magnetic tapes of the 151 piobaireachds Captain MacLellan recorded, which Colin MacLellan had digitized to ensure their preservation.

pipes|drums is honoured to maintain this sensational archive, making the audio files available to all who wish to enjoy and learn from them.

Using much more advanced recording technology, we connected with Colin MacLellan to chat briefly about TheCastle Recordings.

The Castle Recordings are a perfect complement to Willie Donaldson’s Set Tunes Series, which now consists of nearly 200 tunes, also exclusive and free to pipes|drums readers.

Be sure to watch for the first installment of 10 tunes and then regular installments over the next several months.

What do you think about the historically important exclusive addition to pipes|drums? We welcome your thoughts, so please use our Comments feature below.




  1. It is my opinion that this historically significant and valuable resource should be shared with the Piobaireachd Society and made available to all members of the Society.



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