Alex Cupples, 1923-2014
Alex Cupples died in his 91st Year, on Sunday, March 16, 2014, at Brandon, Manitoba, Canada.
Born in Broxburn, West Lothian, Scotland, on August 26, 1923, and raised and educated in Scotland, as a boy he learned to play bagpipes from Tom Kettles. At the age of 14, he enrolled as a Boy Soldier in the Gordon Highlanders and was tutored further in bagpipe music by all the well-known pipers of that era, including Bob Nicol.
Cupples served with the Gordons through the war years as a piper, and saw active service in France and North-West Europe. In 1946, he graduated with distinction from the Army School of Piping, Pipe Major’s Course, at Edinburgh Castle, on the same course as Capt. John MacLellan, M.B.E. He was immediately appointed Pipe-Major of the 2nd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, and later was P-M of the 1st Battalion, and is the only person to have been pipe-major of both.
Alex Cupples married his wife of 50 years, Janet, in 1946, and after leaving the army in 1953, they settled in their home town in Scotland, where he worked as a foreman at J&P Coates threadmill for more than 20 years. Cupples became involved in the Pumpherston Pipe Band after the army, and as pipe-major led them to many contest successes. Cupples was a great character, and the stories of his adventures in the pipe band are well known to pipe band friends on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1974 the Cupples family moved to Canada and settled in Brandon. Alex Cupples worked at DND Shilo as a storeman until his retirement in 1988. He was appointed Pipe-Major of Brandon’s 26th Field Regiment RCA Pipe Band, and he played a key role in developing piping and pipe bands in the prairie region. He judged at many events, where he dispensed his no-nonsense adjudications, and also a lot of kindly advice and wisdom on piping, piobaireachd and life matters. He was very involved with the Prairie Pipe Band Association (which then covered Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) and was largely responsible for establishing solo and band grading systems in place of “age groups”, games rules and other innovations of the time.
Cupples taught many players in the Brandon area, and people would travel out to Brandon to get his thoughts on their tunes. He loved piobaireachd, and was a great proponent of the “Balmoral” school, and also taught his Brandon students settings from Donald MacDonald and older collections. He also organized and ran the Brandon Highland Festival for many years, creating opportunities for pipers and bands to compete in the spring months. One of his favourite things was to have visiting judges and players come to the house for a dram and a tune the weekend of the games.
Predeceased by his wife Janet in 1996, Alex Cupples leaves four children, seven grandchildren, five great-grandchilden, and legions of piping friends to remember his accomplishments, antics and stories. Piping has lost one of its great characters.