John MacDonald on the Radio at 84

June 29, 2021 on 3:58 pm by Michael Grey | In Photographs, Solo Piping, Stories | Comments Off on John MacDonald on the Radio at 84

Anyone who has visited the excellent G S McLennan website will have seen a smashing photograph of John MacDonald of Inverness. I include it here for easy reference (well, for those click-averse). This version is colourized and “enhanced” – and I’m not entirely sure its better than the original.

You’ll know John MacDonald was a VIP in the history of piping. In 1949, when he was 84 years old, Seumas MacNeill (another VIP, but I think for different reasons) invited John MacDonald to record a radio broadcast. The plan was to have MacDonald record tunes from the pen of the late, great player and composer, George S McLennan. GS was a contemporary of MacDonald’s and Seumas could likely smell the scent of a big news story in getting John MacDonald to agree to his proposal. And agree he did.

At the time of the BBC broadcast John MacDonald would have been 84 years-old. The radio show would likely be live. That’s a tall order for anyone at any age. John MacDonald won the seventh of his Clasps at the record-breaking age of 68. So he had a track record of delivering the goods past conventional prime performance age.

G S McLennan’s son, also George, was a keen keeper of McLennan piping history and archives; his son, Hamish, carries on the tradition. Thanks to him for this material. [N.B. The McLennan / MacLennan spellings are intentional – that’s the way it is]

It looks like John MacDonald’s luck may’ve run out when it comes to high performance in advanced years. For those not used to cursive penmanship I’ve transcribed the letter written by Donald Ross MacLennan (he was always known as “DR”), the master piper GS’s brother, to to his nephew, George :
Tantallon Golf Club
North Berwick, 3rd June 1949.

Dear George,

The two enclosed letters are self explanatory.
I must say that I myself am very much in favour of the proposal.
What I would like to know (so that I can reply to Seumas MacNeill) is whether or not you would be prepared to loan the three records for this laudable project?

If you will let me know by your earliest what you think of it I will put MacNeill in touch with you.

You would have heard the broadcast. Frankly I was much disappointed. The script (mostly culled from notes supplied by me) was not too bad! but the playing was just too bloody dreadful altogether!

Poor John MacDonald wasn’t playing anything like he was twenty years ago! I suppose we are all the same!
I’d say this is one small illustration of John MacDonald’s great energy – and that he was not immortal.

He died four years later. His June 1953 obituary is pictured (below).

John MacDonald. Not immortal. But a legend.


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