John MacDougall, 1936-2016
John MacDougall, the famous solo piper of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, died suddenly on the morning of February 18th. He was in his eightieth year.
He was a major exponent of the “Balmoral” school of piobaireachd, receiving tuition from Robert Nicol and, primarily, Robert Brown, which led him to great competitive success in both piobaireachd and light music.
He was a five-time winner of the Former Winners MSR (1969, 1972, 1974, 1977, 1978), twice winner of the Senior Piobaireachd (1978, 1981) and winner of the Highland Society of London Gold Medal (1969) at the Argyllshire Gathering; he won the piobaireachd title at the Grant’s/Glenfiddich Championship (1976); the Clasp (1978), Silver Star MSR (1966); the Highland Society of London Gold Medal (1960) at the Northern Meeting; the Open Piobaireachd at London (1976); and the Silver Chanter twice (1968, 1980) among many other prizes.
In the 1970s John MacDougall was such a successful competitor around the Scottish Highland games that he earned the nickname “The Highland Hoover” for his efficiency in sucking up the prizes. Perhaps apocryphal, he was said to have won three piobaireachd competitions at three different Highland games in one day.
Stories about John MacDougall were many. He was known for his mischevious wit and charm, and had a reputation for being absent-minded at times, often not returning trophies and, when he did, not investing in the engraving to include his name. He was alleged to have found more than £10,000 in cash and cheques amassed from prizes that he had won over three decades, simply thrown into a desk drawer.
He was said to have routinely practiced in shirtsleeves in an unused granite quarry in all types of weather to toughen himself against the elements one must be prepared to face on the Scottish games circuit.
A native of Bucksburn, Aberdeenshire, MacDougall did his National Service with the Cameron Highlanders, was a printer to trade, and was piping instructor to Badenoch and Strathspey area schools. Two of his most successful pupils were the Highland Society of London gold medallist Niall Mathieson and the top-flight soloist John Don MacKenzie. MacDougall lived for most of his life in the small village of Kingussie.
His pipe band career was limited, starting with the local Boys Brigade and later playing with the Bucksburn Pipe Band. In the 1960s he was recruited by Pipe-Major Donald Shaw Ramsay to be a member of the Invergordon Distillery Pipe Band, the first band of all-star pipers and drummers, which also included John D. Burgess, Alex Duthart, Bert Barr and Kit Reynolds.
In his later years, MacDougall was a frequent adjudicator of top solo piping competitions.
On behalf of the piping and drumming world, we extend our condolences to John MacDougall’s family and friends at this sad time.