August 18, 2015

Ed Neigh: a personal piping recollection

fondest childhood memories, memories that would not have been made without Ed’s guidance and constant desire to learn and have others learn with him.

Ed Neigh, best man at Jim McGillivray’s wedding in 1979.

By this time he was already more than a piobaireachd player. He was a serious, academic student of the big music, a collector and examiner of tunes in their manuscript form before it was fashionable to be one. He furthered his knowledge with instruction over the years not only from John MacFadyen but from Donald MacLeod and Capt. John MacLellan, as well. On the Scottish games circuit he could frequently be found in the beer tents singing tunes with the likes of the Bobs Brown and Nicol. What he taught me about the subtleties of ceol mor, distilled from this line of instruction, still drives much of my playing today.

Life in the Guelph Pipe Band under Ed was a new kind of education. An alumnus of Gordon Tuck’s superb St. Thomas Grade 1 band in the mid-1960s, Ed had the Guelph band’s sights set on the top of Grade 1. Unfortunately, our out-of-the-mainstream location meant doing it with players more suited to Grade 3. This is where Ed’s magnificence as a piping teacher reached its zenith. Chanter practices were extended works of art as Ed analyzed the faults of each player and overcame them to develop a band that would win the North American Championship at Maxville in 1976, repeating in 1981. Listening to him dissect a difficult passage with a

The famous Guelph Pipe Band hut in the 1970s, the practice facility in Paylor Brothers lumber yard where the band was allowed to practice.

struggling player and put it all back together as music could be a revelation into how pipe tunes and piping technique are constructed. I’ve made no secret of the fact that my Rhythmic Fingerwork technical tutor is based primarily on Ed’s principles of how gracenoting and rhythm work together to enhance melody – principles learned during lessons, band practices and innumerable knee-steering car rides.

Ed always made sure that everyone in the band was aware of the piping world outside of the Guelph band hut. Often the BBC cassettes played in the background while we enjoyed downtime after practice. In those days long before the internet, Ed ensured that the current piping magazines of the day – the Piping Times, the Piper & Dancer Bulletin, the North American Scotsman, the International Piper, the Pipe Band – were available on a rack in the sitting room. How many pipe bands ever provided such a library for their bandsmen? I read them all cover-to-cover and became an inveterate reader of piping literature and a student of piping history.

P-M Gord Tuck of the Grade 1 St. Thomas Pipe Band at left in trowsers, and P-M Ed Neigh at the left in a newspaper cutting.

Those were the days just after medleys were first introduced into competition. Ed quickly became an innovator. He was never afraid to put off-the-wall ideas on the chanter table at practice. He pushed the envelope, and while many of his innovations might seem primitive by modern standards, they were gems for their day. Ed’s willingness to experiment and go out on a limb made the Guelph Pipe Band of the mid-1970s one of the most exciting medley bands of its time.

Without doubt the best example of Ed’s courage in taking new ideas public was the day he brought a Korg Chromatic Tuner to band practice. This would be sometime in the early 1970s, before anyone had thought of using such a thing in a pipe band. Even we in the band thought it strange, but Ed’s unusual ideas had surprised us before, so we humoured him.

He had it all figured out from the get-go: “All you have to do,” he announced in that booming, growly voice he used when he got excited, “is find the best bagpipe in the band, take a reading off the drones, tune all the drones to that reading, then listen to each bagpipe individually and tune each chanter to the drones! It’s exactly backwards to the way we usually tune! Drones first, and then chanters. Ya just tune yer band up backwards!”

It sounded crazy, but it was piping genius. The first time he went around the band and brought all the drones into line we were stunned into submission. We started taking the meter to the games and endured ruthless ridicule from pipe band old schoolers who badgered us with, “What’s wrang wi’ yer lugs?” (“What’s wrong with your ears?”) But soon pipe majors began strolling over to watch our tune-ups. Within a year a small number of bands were following suit. Before long no band . . .



  1. Jim, this is undoubtedly one of the finest articles you have ever written. Although the circumstances for your remembrance are sad, I feel those of us who did not know Ed nearly as well as you gained an insight into his musical genius as a player, teacher, friend and mentor. Thank you for sharing. Because of you his memory will live for many years to come.

  2. Hi Jim, My condolences to you.
    As one who was “as a father” to you, that speaks deeply to the wonderful relationship you and Ed had.
    He touched many in our piping world… solo and band.
    Wonderful, fitting tribute with the players forming a band after the service.
    Great vintage pictures also… Wouldn’t you love to have all that hair back.
    Cheers my friend,

  3. Terrific, heartfelt, and moving. Quite a worthy tribute, thanks for this! I am also going to miss Ed at workshops and competitions. I could never quite believe that a piper of his caliber would be willing to travel to Texas for our rinky-dink games and piping workshops, but he did, and I learned so much from him and like Jim was always hanging on his coattails to absorb every scrap of wisdom or insight he freely offered.



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