Published: March 31, 2017

Oban 1933: What’s on the program?

Our readers are canny and eager for all things piping and drumming, and Clive Douglas, an accomplished piper from Glasgow, was kind enough to share a program from the 1933 Argyllshire Gathering at Oban, Scotland.

An early image from the Argyllshire Gathering.

Clive Douglas obtained the program at a local auction, and, he says, “The list for entrants for the piping reads like a bit of a who’s who.”

Indeed it does, with solo piping legends like John MacDonald, Inverness; Robert Reid; David Ross; George S. Allan; Robert U. Brown; and Malcolm MacPherson entered. Sadly, by 1933, George Stuart “G.S.” McLennan had succumbed to illness and injury suffered in the Great War, but his younger half-brother, Donald Ross “D.R.” McLennan was on the boards.

Interestingly, outlined in the extensive rules for the events, no tuning at all was allowed on the competing platform, and successful contestants might have to play for the Highland dancing, which not a few of them also entered for, as was common at the time.

Clive Douglas also points out that the list of set tunes is interesting, with the names of piobaireachds required to be provided in Gaelic as well as English, which today could be a challenge for almost every competitor.

While many of us assume that the Silver Medal was started in 1976 to address the overwhelming entry to the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal event, in 1933 such an event appears to have existed.

Of personal interest to Clive is Philip Melville, a competitor in several of the events in 1933, and the eventual winner of the Gold Medal at Oban in 1936.

+ Big Prizes

“I played in the Knightswood Pipe Band when I was a kid and they had a great system of teaching where you moved from room to room, teacher to teacher, as you advanced,” Douglas writes. “I can remember an old gentleman being involved in that process called Mr. Melville. I might be wrong but I suspect that he was the Philip Melville noted in the program. In the program he is entered in both the Open Piobaireachd and the Gold Medal, but he didn’t win any of the medals until 1936 when he won the Gold Medal at Inverness. So I suspect that the entry criteria were different then.

“I’m embarrassed to say that at the time I had absolutely no idea that old Mr. Melville was such a great player. The guy who ran the band was a very close friend of my family and I can’t remember him ever mentioning anything about Mr. Melville’s illustrious past. What an opportunity I missed just to sit and talk to that man about his past exploits and the pipers of his day.

“I think he might have played in the Glasgow Police at some point and he is noted in the history of the Scottish Pipers Association. I did notice a wee thing on one of the forums from a while ago mentioning that someone’s pupil had a set of 1902 Hendersons that belonged to a Philip Melville who won the Gold Medal and they were asking if anyone knew him, unfortunately there was no response.”

We are grateful to Clive Douglas for sharing this historical piece with pipes|drums readers. Check out the 16-page program from the September 13-14, 1933, Argyllshire Gathering that follows.

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