Wednesday, 3 July 2013
Calum Pìobaire: Calum MacPherson, Piper of Cluny MacPherson
One of the most famous pipers of the nineteenth century is undoubtedly Calum MacPherson (1828–1898), styled Calum Pìobaire or Calum Dubh. Born in Raasay to a piper steeped in the traditions of the most Highland of instruments, MacPherson became one of the most successful competitive pipers and teachers of his generation. According to his son Angus, author of A Highlander Looks Back, his father had been taught by his own piping father Angus ‘Cam’ MacPherson (1800–1887) who could trace his musical lineage to the famous MacCrimmons of Boreraig, the hereditary pipers of MacLeod of Dunvegan. Like his father before him, Calum Pìobaire was in the service of Cluny MacPherson for a number of years and from his base at Catlodge would walk to various competitions throughout the Highlands and Islands and from where he would teach ceòl mòr, the classical music of the Great Highland Bagpipe, to his many pupils who came from far and wide. This short anecdote was transcribed by Calum Maclean between the 21st and 29th of April from the recitation of John MacDonald of Highbridge:
Chuala sibh uile ma dhéidhinn a’ phìobaire ainimeil (P428.) a bh’ ann an Calum Chluanaidh, Calum Mac a’ Phearsain. Bha e aig an Tighearna Chluanaidh am Bàideanach. Agus bha piobaireachd glé mhór comh-fharpeisean gu bhith ann an Dùn Eideann. Bha trì fichead pìobaire gu bhith cruinn.
“A bheil thu a’ dol a Dhùn Eideann?” thuirst Mac Tighearna Chluanaidh ris.
“Ma-tà,” thuirst e, “chan eil a’ phìob agam ann a suidheachadh air son a dhol a sin.”
“Dé tha thu a’ smaoineachdainn a chosdadh e de dh’ airigead dut air son a’ phìob a chur cearst?”
“Seo dhut not, ma-tà.”
Fhuair e not. Agus bha e gu math trom air an deoch.
“Agus ma dh’ òlas tu sin,” thuirst e, “cha bhi tha na’s fhaide a’s an t-seiribheis againn.”
A-nis bha e a' dol a chumail seo ann an dìomhaireachd, ach na bu dé bh’ ann, na bu de an fhora(fh)ais a fhuair a bhean gun robh an not aige, bha i cho trom sin air an deoch. Ghoid i a’ ‘not.’ Thàinig Calum a-mach is bha e gu math brònach is e a’ dol a chur a dh’ iarraidh rudan a chuireadh a’ phìob cearst. Is thàinig a’ nighean a-mach.
“Dé tha a’ cuir oirbh, a dhuine?”
“Ma-tà, thug Tighearna Chluanidh dhomh-sa ‘not’ air son a’ phìob agam a chur air dòigh is mi a’ dol a Dhùn Eideann. Agus chaidh a thoirst bhuam.”
“Ma-tà, cuiridh mi geall riut,” thuirst ise, “gur h-e mo mhàthair a ghoid a’ ‘not’. Ach goididh mise not oirre-se.”
Bha i a’ siubhal thall is a bhos. Chaidh a ‘not’ a chuir ann an àite gu math dìomhaireach ach fhuair a’ nighean e. Is thug i a ‘not’ do Chalum. Fhuair Calum a chuile rud a bh’ ann air son a’ phìob a chur air dòigh. Dh’fhalabh e a Dhùn Eideann. Is chaidh Mac Tighearna Chluanaidh leis air son nach fhaigheadh e an an deoch a ghabhail. Bha e a’ toirst dà gach biadh is deoch na dh’fheumadh e, ach cha robh e a’ faotainn tuillidh ’s a’ chòir. Agus mar sin ’n uair a chaidh e a dh’ ionnsaigh comh-farapaisean ann a sin, ’s e thug a mach a’ chiad duais à trì fichead pìobaire. Agus bha iad cho toilichte agus cho pròiseil as na rinn Calum. Agus bha e anns an t-seiribheis aig Tighearna Chluanaidh gus na chaochail e.
Bha Calum trip anns a’ Ghearasdan agus e aig na ‘Games’ anns a’ Ghearasdan, agus fhuair e duais gu math àrd ann mur a d’fhuair e a’ chiad té. Bha e a’ dol dachaigh is smùid mhór dheoch air is e a’ cluich na pìob. Bha pìobaire: ’s e pìobaire a bha ’s an òsdair a bha an Drochaidh Ruaidh, fear MacCoinnich. Cha chuala e is chan fhaca e Calum riamh gu siod, is shaoil leis gur h-e pìobaire ceird a bh’ ann. Thuirst e ris nach robh a’ phìob aige a’ dol cearst.
“Ma-tà, chan eil,” thuirst Calum, “is cha mhutha a tha mi fhìn a’ dol cearst. Ach an rud a chuireadh cearst mise,” thuirst e, “’S e deagh-dhrama.”
“Gheibh thu sin,” thuirst a’ fear eile.
Fhuair e sin. O! thug e a mach a’ phìob a bh’ aige fhéin.
“Shin agat pìob agus cluich porst oirre sin. Cha mhór is fhiach a’ phìob a th’ agat.”
“An-dà, a laochain,” thuirst Calum, “tha an còrr ceòl anns an fheadan a tha sin ged a tha i air a ceangal a suas le dearnagan na tha anns a’ phìob agat uile gu léir. Cha toirinn a’ feadan sin,” thuirst esan, “air feadan a th’ ann am pìob am Breatainn. Is iomadh porst a thug mi as,” thuirst e “agus a tha mi an dùil a bheir mi fhathast.”
’N uair a fhuair Calum an drama ’s i air a gleasadh ’s i air a cur an òrdugh, chaill a’ fear eile a mhisneach ’n uair a chuala e Calum a’ bruidheann.
Dh’ fhalabh e anns a’ charabad anns an robh e agus paidhir each ann. Chluich e am porst suas seachad air Achadh Doire agus e a’ cluich ‘Boc Liath nan Gobhar.’ Sin am porst a bh’ aige. Agus bu ghasda leis am porst sin a chluich, ’n uair a bhitheadh e ann an trim math.
And the translation goes something like this:
You’ve all heard about the famous piper Calum MacPherson. He was in service to Cluny MacPherson in Badenoch. There was to be a big piping competition in Edinburgh. Sixty pipers were to be present.
“Are you going to Edinburgh?” Cluny MacPherson asked him.
“Well,” he said, “my pipes aren’t set up to go there.”
“What do you think it would cost to get your pipes set up?”
“It’ll cost a pound.”
“Here it is, then,”
He got a pound note. And he was quite fond of drink.
“If you drink that,” he said, “you’ll no longer be in our service.”
Now he was going to keep this secret, and whatever happened, his wife found out that he had a pound note, and she was likewise fond of the drink. She stole the pound note. Calum came out and he was quite said for he was going to his pipes set up. His daughter came out.
“What’s wrong with you, man?”
“Well, Cluny MacPherson gave me a pound note to get my pipes set up in order to go to Edinburgh; and it was stolen from me.”
“Well, I bet you,” she said, “that it was mum who stole the pound note and I’ll steal it back from her.”
She searched here and there. The pound note had been hidden in quite a secret place but the daughter found it. She gave the pound not to Calum so that he could get everything ready to set up his pipes. He set out for Edinburgh. Cluny MacPherson’s son accompanied him to make sure he stayed off the drink. He gave him all his food and drink that he wished for but he ever got more than was necessary. And so when he went to the competition he took the first prize out of the sixty pipers. And they were very pleased and proud of Calum’s performance. He was in Cluny MacPherson’s service until his death.
Calum was another time in Fort William where he attended the Games there and he got quite a high prize if indeed he didn’t actually get the first prize. He was on his way home and he was very drunk as he played his pipes. There was piper who was an innkeeper in Roybridge, a man by the name of MacKenzie. He had never heard nor saw Calum until then and he thought he was a tinker-piper. He said to him that his pipes were going well.
“Well, no,” said Calum, “and neither am I going well either. But there’s one thing that will put me right,” he said, “a good dram.”
“You’ll get that,” said the other man.
He got the dram. Oh! he took out his own set of pipes.
“Now that’s a set of pipes and give us a tune. They’re nearly as good as you own set.”
“Well, laddie,” said Calum, “there’s more music in that pipe-chanter although it’s strung with string than that which is present in your set of pipes. I wouldn’t give that pipe-chanter away,” he said, “for any other pipe-chanter in the whole of Britain. Many’s a tune I played on it,” he said, “and I expect to play many more.”
By the time Calum had taken his dram and he tuned the pipes and put them in order, the other man had lost his nerve when he had heard Calum talking.
He set off in the coach in which he was travelling with a pair of horses. He played a tune gong by up Achadh Doire and the tune was ‘Boc Liatha nan Gobhar’ (lit. ‘The Grey Buck of the Goats’ but known as ‘The Shaggy Grey Buck’, a 6/8 jig). He could play that tune very well when the mood would take him.
Interestingly enough, one of Calum (sometimes Malcolm) MacPherson’s star pupils was Pipe-Major William MacLean (1876–1957), nick-named ‘Blowhard’, a relative of Calum Maclean’s, who owned the Creagorry Inn in Benbecula for a number of years which probably inspired him to compose the reel Creagorry Blend.
SSS NB 8, pp. 728–31
Mrs Kennedy, proprietor, Calum MacPherson, styled Calum Pìobaire, at Dalwhinnie Inn (Loch Ericht Hotel). This photo may actually date from October 1861 when Queen Victoria stayed overnight. A memorial cairn stands at Catlodge.