January 11, 2017

David “D.J.S.” Murray, 1921-2016

The famous military man, piper and amateur piping scholar David Murray died in late December in his 95th year.

Alluded to by some, and highly debated by others, as “the amateur piper who plays like a professional,” Murray’s name was undoubtedly best recognized throughout the piping world via the great reel arrangement by Pipe-Major Angus MacDonald, “Lt. Col. D.J.S. Murray,” of the original 4/4 march by Major John Allan. The tune by Allan was in itself an arrangement of the 2/4 march, “The 91st at Modder River.”

Murray never competed in competitions for money, and was one of the stalwart members of the Royal Scottish Pipers Society for many years. He was one of the last of the tradition of amateur pipers to adjudicate the world’s biggest solo piping competitions at the Argyllshire Gathering and the Northern Meeting.

David Murray was commissioned into the Cameron Highlanders in 1941 after service with the Royal Scots and Black Watch. He saw serious action with the 1st battalion Camerons at the Battle of Kohima, and its subsequent advance into Burma.

He later commanded the training regiment of the Abu Dhabi Defense Force, and was for a time deputy producer of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. From the 1960s until the 1990s he was a frequent voice on BBC Scotland’s various piping programs. A lasting contribution to piping history was his book, The Music of the Scottish Regiments (Pentland Press, 1994), which traced the evolution and use of various instruments in Scotland’s military, including fife, drum, bugle and, of course, bagpipes.

He served as the President of the Piobaireachd Society for six years and in the 1970s and ’80s was a frequent commentator on and host of piping radio broadcasts on BBC Scotland. His “Noble Instrument” show – which, interestingly, he describes as a “magazine” – was a favourite for its strong opinions and analysis of piping history.

He was the piping convener at the Northern Meeting for many years, and was often seen on the judging benches of many of the top competitions, including the Clasp at Inverness and the Senior Piobaireachd at Oban.

David Murray had a commanding presence around solo piping competitions. When judging the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1991, the long-retired and often irascible Murray famously ordered Alasdair Gillies, who was at the time a corporal in the Queen’s Own Highlanders, to leave the stage for tuning too long, denying one of the strong favourites his chance to win the prize. Gillies eventually won the award in 2004.

Testaments to his stature in military piping circles were his delivery of the eulogy at each of the funerals for two of piping’s greatest contributors: Donald MacLeod and Captain John MacLellan.

In 2010, pipes|drums published a fascinating interview with David Murray that the great piper Iain Speirs conducted in 1989.

Murray had followed years of poor health and the last seven months in nursing home care. His death had been reported in July by several media outlets, including pipes|drums, which quickly retracted the piece.

On behalf of the piping and drumming world, we extend our condolences to David Murray’s family and friends at this sad time.



  1. My respect for David Murray grew as the years passed and I read more and more of his invaluable articles — mostly in the Piping Times — on piping people and history. He took me to task for my playing of the opening bar of Lament for Donald Ban MacCrimmon at Inverness in 1987, a bit off-putting given that I had just won the Clasp with it. But he did so with verve and respect and references to Robert Reid’s approach in a way that was palatable and always stuck with me, rather than sticking in my craw. His open-minded approach to piping was a contrast to his advanced years. I wish he had written more. He was an invaluable and vanishing connection to piping as far back as the late 1930s, with a steel-trap memory. Also one of a rare breed who contributed immensely to the art even though he was never a top solo or band competitor. One year at Oban in the 1980s it was raining buckets and the march competition ran nonetheless. When players approached the bench, we were told that if we so much as missed a gracenote we should just stop playing and leave. I played John MacDonald of Glencoe. During one countermarch, with my back to the bench, I sort of half missed a rising D gracenote on C in the third part. Gad, they wouldn’t pick that up, I thought. Before I’d finished my counter-march I heard a rising cacophony behind me. When I faced the judges, there was Andrew Macneill with two fingers in his mouth whistling as loud as is humanly possible, and David Murray pounding the palms of both hands repeatedly on the table, bobbing his head and yelling like a toddler demanding his dinner. My bagpipe squealed to a trailing stop and I slunk off while my fellow competitors under the gazebo laughed and laughed. I had been warned….

  2. My memories of David Murray are of an immensely kindly, warm and powerful personality, with a deep devotion to the pipe and its music. I greatly admired his book, Music of the Scottish Regiments; a model of its kind, showing a masterly clarity of exposition. We corresponded for years, and although he lived crazily far away, on the banks of the Severn in England’s deep south-west, I would go and see him on rare trips to the south. I will long remember our leisurely lunches in the cozy snug of the fourteenth-century Black Horse pub, with wonderful food and talk, always about piping—he seemed to know everybody and everything. He lived in a converted naval college on the shores of the firth, and the stairwell had a glorious acoustic: “listen to that” he said, and burst into a stirring canntaireachd rendering of “We will take the High Road” as he escorted us out on what was to be our last visit, physically frail, but bursting with life and vitality. He will be terribly missed.

  3. As I travel to David’s funeral there are fond memories. Always the twinkle in the eye and the incisive insight. Who can forget his Piper’s Persuasion interview when he again decried Archibald Campbell’s editing and held up Willie Donaldson’s book The Highland Pipe and Scottish Society 1750-1950 declaring “This is my bible!”

    I was the amazed recipient of a prize in Ottawa with Beloved Scotland. David was the judge. Was I wrong in detecting his pleasure that a “foreigner” had done well? His pleasure was undoubted though when as Piobaireachd Society President I played the MacArthur setting of Lady Margaret MacDonald’s Salute at the Piobaireachd Society Conference. “Well done Jackie!” he boomed. And he loved his daily dose of Robert Reid’s playing after his recordings were published on the Piobaireachd Society website. A marvellous man.

    Jack Taylor.



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