Heirloom Center/Gillanders dynasty pipes being played again
The December 29, 2020, article for pipes|drums subscribers by Jeannie Campbell and Jim McGillivray on the Gillanders dynasty of bagpipe-makers prompted the attention of several important links to the family, chief among them George Gillanders himself, son of the last of the three Robert Gillanders who ran the business.
Now living in Spain, George Gillanders worked in his father’s pipemaking shop in Dundee, Scotland, for many years in the 1950s and is himself an accomplished player.
Three years ago, George Gillanders decided to give his then-dormant silver and ivory mounted Center bagpipe to the Dundee-based MacKenzie Caledonian Pipe Band. He contacted Neil Nicholson, who was at the time pipe-major of the accomplished Grade 2 band, telling him that he wanted to donate the instrument to a deserving piper.
“I received an email through the band three years ago [after George Gillanders had] seen the band’s progress,” Nicholson said. “George had decided to donate his pipes, a very fine set of Centers to the band. In due course, I returned home from a two-week holiday to find a small cardboard box on my doorstep. Not sure how long it had been there. He had parcelled up all the parts and sent them over.”
The instrument was in fine shape and, after a bit of maintenance, Nicholson decided that the pipes should go to Jordan Ednie of Monifieth, Scotland, an excellent young solo piper and a member of MacKenzie Caledonian, who is also pipe-major of the 1st Monifieth & 44th Dundee Boys’ Brigade Pipe Band.
“Jordan and his tutor Andrew Wright had been looking for pipes for some time and, when I passed them to him to look at, Jordan fell in love. Andrew told him he would not get a better set,” Nicholson said. “A remarkably generous gift!”
Ednie lightly oiled the pipes over several weeks and to reduce the risk of cracking did not play them for two months, which can happen when long-unplayed pipes suddenly get played. “Once going, their quality was evident in the band hall and on the boards,” Nicholson added.
“They have quite a mellow sounding bass, are easy to reed and are very stable,” Jordan Ednie said about the engraved German silver and ivory mounted cocuswood pipes, made before 1908 when John Center immigrated to Australia, where he set up shop in Melbourne as a bagpipe maker and photographer. Center drones infrequently come up for sale.
We were in contact with George Gillanders, who also shed some light on the Dundee-based Center-Gillanders-Thow business, commenting on the Pipemakers article.
“Early in the piece it states Center/Gillanders pipes were of exceptionally high quality,” George Gillanders said. “I disagree with Ron Bowen’s statement that Gillanders pipes were ‘steady’ but ‘not in the same league’ of the other makers. I remember through the 1960s dad was courted by some of the Grade 1 bands (Shotts & Dykehead, Glasgow City Police, etc., etc.) to have him supply X amount of sets, with the promise of winning bands naming their instruments as Gillanders-made. His reply was always that if they wanted to play Gillanders pipes, they could pay for them like everyone else. The thing was, dad was never a good businessman and absolutely refused to see the potential of sponsorship, according to Bob.
“In 1959, when Dad moved from Gellatly Street in Dundee to Osnaburg Street, Forfar, the sign on the door said ‘Gillanders & Sons.’ I was already working in the shop, and dad obviously assumed that I would join the team on leaving school. At 15, I left Morgan Academy and had a disagreement with the old man over starting wages. I had already been working, albeit part-time, but dad offered me first-year apprentice wages, whereas I was expecting much more. At that point, I continued at Kingsway Tech in Dundee and thereafter joined the Merchant Navy.”
George Gillanders included another memory: “In 1972, dad and I went for a pint in the Royal Hotel, Alness. I was working . . . in Invergordon and he told me he had sold the business to Stobo of Glasgow. [Iain] McLeod bought in later.”
He also corroborated the curious fact that Center was a professional photographer: “One aspect of John Center getting into the bagpipe business in the 1860s was, prior to this, he was a photographer as listed in the Edinburgh Directory. How did he learn the trade of bagpipe making from a photography background?”
The Pipemakers: Robert Gillanders
December 29, 2020
The 2001 Iain McLeod Interview
May 25, 2017
The 1987 Iain McLeod p|d Interview
April 24, 2017
Iain McLeod, 1931-2017
March 31, 2017
Enjoying the pleasures of pipes past
October 4, 2015