October 13, 2013

Angus J. MacLellan, 1936-2013

Angus J. MacLellan, one of the great figures in modern Highland piping, died on October 12, 2013, at the age of 77, after many years of declining health.

In piping, “Angus J.” was an underrated superstar. Anyone who knew “Angus J.” knew his incredible playing ability and his knowledge of the Highland bagpipe.

In the days when playing with a pipe band was almost taboo for top Scottish soloists – and almost unheard of for top piobaireachd players – MacLellan was a pioneer. While committing himself to the Highland games circuit and along the way winning most prizes available in both ceol mor and ceol beag, he was a tireless member of the famed Glasgow/Strathclyde Police Pipe Band under the band’s greatest pipe majors. While some pundits frowned upon this great piobaireachd talent committing himself also to a pipe band, Angus J. defied them, proving them wrong with a bold, sympathetic, and always musical approach to piobaireachd.

Born in South Uist in 1936 to Gaelic-speaking parents, Angus John MacLellan initially received piping instruction, as many Scottish pipers do, from his father. His family relocated to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute in 1946, and there he received tuition from Alex MacIntyre, whom he credits when with influencing his piping career greatly. When Angus turned 16, he joined the Merchant Navy, which took him to all corners of the earth.

In 1962, Angus J. MacLellan left the Merchant Navy and joined the Glasgow Police as a constable. Interestingly, this was the same year that Iain MacLellan joined the force – and simultaneously the band – and when Pipe Major Donald MacLeod relocated to Glasgow to become part of the now defunct bagpipe making firm, Grainger & Campbell. This incredible convergence of piping talent in Glasgow would play a major role in shaping that city’s future as the world’s centre of piping.

While with the police band, Angus J. played under Angus MacDonald, until Ronald Lawrie took the top spot in the late 1960s. When Iain MacLellan took over the band in the early 1970s, Angus J. was appointed Pipe-Sergeant, and remained in the position until his departure from the police in 1990.

During his time with the Glasgow/Strathclyde Police, Angus J. MacLellan played an influential part in the band’s greatest years, winning 11 World Championships, including the band’s remarkable streak of six consecutive titles in the 1980s. He was known for his high-impact instrument, his deft and nimble technique, and his ability to put together a full musical package.

In his solo career, the impact of Donald MacLeod on Angus J. MacLellan was profound. It can be said that no one had more formal and informal instruction from “Wee Donald” than “Big Angus.” Because the Grainger & Campbell shop was a part of Angus MacLellan’s beat as a police constable, from 1962 until MacLeod’s death in 1980 Angus gained knowledge from Wee Donald almost daily. Angus J. was one of the purest and most reliable links to the teaching of John MacDonald of Inverness.

His solo competitive record was formidable, and his success encompassed both piobaireachd and light music. In 1973 he won the Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering playing “Glengarry’s March.” This was the last year, incidentally, that the requirement for the Gold Medal at Oban was a submission of six tunes of the competitor’s own choosing, thus making the event more difficult to win. He won the Inverness Gold Medal in 1976 playing “Lady MacDonald’s Lament,” and over the years picked off most top prizes around the games and at such prestigious events as the Scottish Pipers’ Association, the Uist & Barra, and the Highland Society of London Competitions.

His teaching career has been equally impressive. Since 1965, Angus has taught regularly at the College of Piping, where he worked with the legendary Seumas MacNeill. He has travelled to numerous piping summer schools throughout North America, and, until recently, was a regular at the Seumas MacNeill schools in California.

pipes|drums Magazine conducted an extensive interview with MacLellan in 1992, which will be republished in due course.

Angus J. MacLellan was a great friend and genuine spirit to all who knew him. On behalf of the piping and drumming world, we extend our sympathies to his family and many friends at this sad time.


  1. RIP Angus John. He taught here two years at the Lyon College piping summer school. He was so knowledgeable, and so able to transmit that knowledge. He was a true gentleman, and a pleasure to spend time with. I wrote a little jig for him called The Dragonfly, framed it and gave it to him. “And it MIGHT go something like this…”

  2. When I first started to compete in Scotland, Angus J. was one of the first top pipers to treat me as an equal. He made me feel welcome, and encouraged me to think that I could actually succeed in this heady company. I will never forget his kindness. As his health was sabotaged by what turned out to be spinal tumor, his wit and wisdom never left him. Wheelchair bound for the remainder of his life, he continued to sing the praises of Ceol Mor. He educated me, and I know, many others over the years. A sweet and funny man, (wit is so important) whose knowledge of the big music was encyclopedic, especially as conveyed by Wee Donald. In recent years I had many chances to judge with Angus at the Dan Reid Memorial in San Francisco, and it was always a pleasure and an education. A great guy, and a great talent. Not many like him, then or now.

  3. Thanks for the excellent article. Angus was a terrific piper, mentor and friend. He had many friends throughout North America and especially in British Columbia. I will miss him very much.

  4. Angus taught me at the old College of Piping from the age of 10 through until I was around 18 – the most important of times for any aspiring piper. His patience and encouragement, not to mention his enormous knowledge of music big and small, had and continues to have a big influence on me. His obvious devotion to Donald MacLeod, and his ability to convey that musicality, served as a thrilling insight and connection to the past. I owe him a great deal. Thank you for the excellent obituary. John Mulhearn



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