August 18, 2015

Ed Neigh: a personal piping recollection

worth its salt could be found at the games without a tuning meter, and it was those without who were being mocked. We can all thank Ed Neigh for what is now standard equipment in the pipe band world and for the substantial rise in the quality of pipe band sound that resulted from it.

It should be noted that we were the first Grade 1 band in North America to compete regularly and win with female members. Having a band full of virile young men and attractive young women could make for its own special challenges. But Ed was also an adept politician, personal counselor and manager of people. I often wonder how we didn’t implode into a steaming puddle of testosterone and tears, but Ed kept it all together. We were successful, and I had no experience in my life like my 11 years with Ed in the Guelph Pipe Band.

In the late-1970s with the Guelph, then one of the world’s most innovative pipe bands.

After I left the band in 1981 and began to make my own way in piping, Ed and I drifted apart, at least physically. I was living in and around Toronto and the geographical proximity of our past years was no longer there. He had groomed me to take over the band; however, after one year of running a Grade 1 band my solo career beckoned and convinced me my heart was not in it. I moved on.

Ed took the band back for a few more years. If he ever resented me for that, it never showed in our relationship. If he was ever proud of the prizes I won in Scotland as a result of those great years I had with him he never said. I never hesitated to credit him for my successes, and I think he knew that. Though he never told me so, I think he was proud of me. When I played a recital at a Toronto Branch meeting three years ago and he said with a smile afterwards, “It was great to hear you play again,” it meant the world to me. I was 57, he was 67, but I still treasured his piping approval. Some things never leave you.

After he left the band in the 1980s, his teaching and judging forays spread far and wide, particularly across North America. It was during this time that he touched the largest number of people, and his legion of fans grew exponentially. Despite increasing health problems, he was involved in workshops, summer schools and judging, and in teaching young, competitive players and bands right to the very end. He judged the North American Championship the week before he died.

He’d had one hip replaced this spring. Complications from these procedures are not uncommon. As the next replacement surgery loomed he had a premonition expressed to his partner Darlene Carreiro that he might not dodge the bullet a second time. His passing came suddenly in hospital early on the morning of his second day of recovery. He was 70.

Ed Neigh (right) with his brother, Geoff, at the Georgetown Highland Games in Georgetown, Ontario, June 20, 2015.

It’s hard to meet a piper who didn’t like Ed Neigh, who didn’t smile when they heard his name, or who didn’t marvel at his knowledge, curiosity, enthusiasm, and positive approach to life. The outpouring of love and respect shown on Facebook after he passed on August 8th, the morning of Ontario’s iconic Fergus Highland Games, was unlike anything I’ve seen on social media for any other piper. His infectious love for piping – and particularly piobaireachd – touched a huge swath of people in the piping world, and his generosity with his knowledge was legendary.

At his August 15th funeral in Waterloo, Ontario, I had the privilege of delivering his piping eulogy, then piping his casket out of the church sanctuary playing his favourite march, “The Clan MacColl.” As I stopped at the outer doors of the church, no fewer than 82 (tuned) pipers and a drum corps took up the cause in the parking lot in glorious sunshine and played in unison as pallbearers sent Ed on his final farewell. Pipers had come from across North America to be present at that moment.

A huge turnout for Ed Neigh’s funeral occurred on August 15, 2015, despite many friends being in Scotland for the World Pipe Band Championships.

Whenever our paths crossed in the last 35 years I always tried to converse with Ed adult to adult. As usual, he always had something new to offer. As usual, he would offer it with great enthusiasm. And as usual, I would soon feel once again like the keen 16-year-old piper hearing him wax piping poetic in the car on the way to another exciting band practice. I always enjoyed that feeling.

It’s an understatement to say there was no one quite like Ed Neigh, and I will always be proud and grateful that he unselfishly shared such a watershed time in his life with me. He was an important man in my life, and I will miss him dearly.


  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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