I had been working for several years on the Highland Society of London MS, as it is more properly and correctly known, and I had come to certain conclusions. So on 5 March 1984 I drove down to the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, and put them to the test.
The question was simple. Why was there no original index to the MS?
With me, I had taken a blue foolscap hard-backed notebook and numbered the pages (see above) from 1 to 30 on the left-hand side and drew a line down the centre of the page. On the right I wrote down the name from the later index by Angus MacKay after his 1838 book was published, and on the left-hand side the original name on the music page, if any existed, including the word Peobaireachd or a single dash where the title should have been but wasn’t. I had long suspected that everything had been a hoax. And my surmise was correct.
There was no original index because the names had yet to be invented when the tunes had been written down in 1820. More devastating information was added by Angus MacKay above the tune names in his own index:-
“List of the piobaireachd in the Highland Societys Manuscript”, he wrote, then added three different marks:-
The MS book, before being bound, was made up of several separate manuscripts (= MSS).
According to the “legend” all the major pipers like Charles MacArthur and John MacKay were trained by a MacCrimmon, meaning they should all have played the same way. The MS book thus raises three riveting possibilities.
1. It shows that John MacKay played differently from Charles MacArthur, proclaiming that the MacArthurs had never been taught by the MacCrimmons at all, despite the claim in the 1838 book that Charles had been taught for eleven years by one, ensuring the apostolic succession.
2. Alternatively the MS book showed that John MacKay had not been taught by the MacCrimmons at all, otherwise he would have played like Charles MacArthur.
3. The third option was that neither man was taught by the MacCrimmons, corroborated by the fact that Charles MacArthur had found it necessary to teach the last MacCrimmon anyway.
In Angus MacKay’s latter-day index, the ominous cross appears against the titles of two “MacCrimmon” tunes, meaning they “differ from my fathers style of Playing.”
Infinitely more sinister was that Angus MacKay wrote the ominous crosses against at least nine tunes in the MS book, but the Piob. Society stayed utterly silent about these destructive facts, for what it indelibly meant was that John MacKay could not have handed on the “MacCrimmon” tunes unchanged at all. The crosses had destroyed the societies’ own fantasy.
The tunes from the MS which were “published” in the 1838 book were: The Bells of Perth, Hector MacLean’s Warning, MacNeil of Barra’s March, the MacDonalds’ Salute, The Highland Society of Scotland’s Salute, The MacLeans’ March, Abercairny’s Salute, Donald Duaghal MacKay’s Lament, The MacRaes’ March, Lady MacDonald’s Lament, MacKenzie of Gairloch’s Lament and the Young Laird of Dungallon’s Salute.
It was the death-wish list, for it showed how many tunes had been plagiarised from the HSL MS alone for the 1838 book, which Campbell-K and his like had repetitively brayed for years that Angus MacKay had produced entirely unaided. Far more compelling was that when the MS is given the most cursory examination, it is instantly apparent that the MS has been spattered with clumsy tails and note alterations which have been carried unchanged to the 1838 book, which I shall later discuss.
What we were supposed to believe was that Old Angus could remember all his tunes impeccably with the exception of one, but could not remember a single name of tunes, most of which he must have been playing from boyhood, apart from those said to be composed by members of his own family. It was all very inconvenient.
But another set of “inconvenient” circumstances had presented itself, which I have never earlier mentioned in public. In March 1991 I had gone to Edinburgh for the first time in years, and for sentimental reasons went into the Oxford Bar, formerly run by Willie Ross, the brother of Dr Roddy Ross, compiler of the pibroch book, “Bineas is Boreraig”, and latterly the “Rebus” pub and was accosted by a loud bookseller who told me that the Highland Society of London MS was to be republished. He mentioned an American called Mary Anne Alburger, was involved.
She had written a book on Scottish fiddle music on which she had inscribed a dedication to me personally: “TO ALISTAIR KEITH CAMPSIE – LET US HOPE OUR WORK WILL BE A LESSON TO ALL OF THOSE WHO BELIEVE THEIR OWN PROPAGANDA – AUGUST, 1983.” and would visit us in Montrose asking about pibroch. The last occasion, she wanted to know about The Vaunting, the pibroch which I had ended the radio series, The Tangled Web with. It had been inexcusably cut by the BBC, and I sang and played the traditional version to her and her partner, Sean Dillon. She said: “Is that what it really sounds like? We can understand that, but not...” mentioning the version from a famous piper, which I found most uncalled for, judging from the state of their information about pibroch.
I later discovered she was an informant of the John Purser, who somehow obtained a typescript copy of my 1980 MacCrimmon book, before it was even published without my knowledge or permission, and proceeded to broadcast a three-part Radio Scotland series on the Silver Chanter contest, knocking the veracity of the MacCrimmon legend, the first person to do so apart from Robert Reid and later, me. Purser afterwards published a book, Scotland’s Music, in 1992, giving Mary Anne Alburger’s name in the acknowledgements. The book was heavily subsidised by the BBC and the Scottish Arts Council. A second version of the book, was published in 2008, still containing the uncorrected multiple blunders over pibroch and canntaireachd.
In the meantime she had become an authority on pibroch, and her partner, Sean Dillon, told me she would often come home and say she was off to, say Cambridge, to give a lecture on the subject. He was apparently approving.
When I myself returned home to Montrose, I phoned Mary Anne Alburger and asked if it was all true. Not merely was it all true. I understood her to say she had a proof copy in her hand. I learned the project editor was Professor (of chemistry) Roderick Cannon and that the book was to be published by The Music of Scotland and the John MacFadyen Memorial Trust. It had also been financed by a number of public organisations, including the Scottish Arts Council and the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, meaning that public money was involved.
I was silenced. To make conversation I then said the sequel to my MacCrimmon book was almost ready and she informed me that she did not think a sequel could be published to the book in its present form.
At which point my scepticism showed through and I decided to inform her that she could tell Cannon from me that I had flipped through his book and discovered 40-odd major discrepancies in it at first sight. And I added that I hoped he published Angus MacKay’s original index with the Highland Society of London manuscript.
But it turned out that Cannon and Co had only admitted in the text in 2001 was: “When Angus MacKay got hold of (was given? A.C.) he added a list of its contents, indicating, among other things, which of the tunes were played differently by his father, John MacKay (c. 1767 – 1848)” Perhaps they considered the meanings of the three symbols too unimportant to mention, although they did decide it was more important to alter the name of the manuscript, which was by then 181 years old, to the “MacArthur-MacGregor Manuscript of Piobaireachd (1820)”, apparently unaware that here was the pre-Culloden music, an arrogance too far to countenance from Johnny-Come-Latelies like themselves.
How the tunes were doctored
The Highland Society of London decided in 1820 to “acquire” the pibrochs played by the MacArthurs, hereditary pipers to the MacDonalds of Skye, and arranged for 30 pibrochs to be taken down from Angus MacArthur, then living in the capital and said by Angus MacKay to be on his deathbed. Angus MacArthur was the nephew of the “celebrated” Charles MacArthur who had taught the so-called “last” MacCrimmon.
According to Angus MacKay’s 1838 book, “The MacArthur hereditary pipers to the Lords Macdonell of the Isles (p.12) Angus...left several MSS of Piobrachds, most of which were noted down when he lay on his deathbed, by John MacGregor for the Highland Society of London.”
The manuscript could not have been more lovingly prepared. While old Angus played the tunes on the practice chanter, the notes were written down by John MacGregor, from Fortingall in Perthshire, with a very fine pen indeed, all supervised by Andrew Robertson, the Society’s treasurer, who was also a miniaturist, and had an equally fine hand. He observed that out of the 30 tunes, old Angus was note-perfect in 29, and only showed difficulty with one tune, an astounding feat of memory by a piper of his advanced years.
Andrew Robertson added a note to tune 21: “The variation does not perfectly agree with the air. This is the only Pibroch in which there appeared the least uncertainty in Mr McArthur’s recollection. Mr Robertson approvingly added: “In all the others there was not the change in a single note in repeatedly whistling them and very seldom even in the time of the dotted crotchets. As it is the foundation of a good Pibroch John McGregor was desirous of recording it which he has done as well as circumstances would admit of. A. Robertson.”
The problem is that in the original manuscript not a single pibroch was given a name. The first 11 were marked “Peobaireachd” and the rest by a single dash (-) if at all, and we are somehow supposed to believe that old Angus MacArthur was note-perfect in 29 pibrochs but somehow couldn’t remember the names of his own tunes, most of which he had been playing from boyhood.
My own conclusion is that leaving out the original names spared the organisers the trouble of altering the titles, and all they had to do was fill in the blanks with their new names, once they had been invented.
Twelve of these pibrochs found their way into Angus MacKay’s 1838 book, three of them now asserted to have been composed by the MacCrimmons, while complete histories were concocted for the tunes.
And with the 21 lifted from the CC it means that slightly more than half of the 61 tunes in the 1838 book came from these two sources alone, disproving the now desperate claim, which was integral to the scam, that Angus MacKay took down all of his tunes from his father, John, who had been allegedly taught by the MacCrimmons, another claim already shown to be false.
It turned out the murky intention of the Highland Society of London may well have been to publish a book of pibroch and present it to George IV when he made his delayed visit to Edinburgh in 1822, organised by Sir Walter Scott, (he had been created a baronet in 1820), to prove how loyal (selected) Highland clans were to the Hanoverian throne.
The sly scheme came to a halt on New Year’s Day 1822, when the piper, John MacGregor, who recorded the notes from old Angus MacArthur’s playing, tragically fell down the stairs and died at the London home of the Society’s secretary, John Wedderburn, while playing for a Ne’erday party.
The project vanished till 1824, after the death of Alexander Campbell, musical trainer of Walter Scott, when an attempt was made to publish Angus MacArthur’s tunes which had originally been scored by the late John MacGregor in his finest penmanship.
Unhappily the MS had been vandalised by an unidentified person using a thick-nibbed pen freehand to scrawl shaky new tails on the notes, cutting their length in half, ruining the melodies.
Possibly it may have been done in the pursuit of respectability, making the ancient music, formerly played in phrases, conform to new musical rules and thus avoid being called primitive. Now the required number of, say, crotchets were rigidly squashed into each bar in a horrid parody of the ancient music where the phrases fluently ended with two equal long notes in both the bardic and the pibroch tradition.
And this mutilated material was the stuff later shoved into the 1838 book bearing Angus MacKay’s name, despite the inadvertent warning written on the page of The Bards Lament by Andrew Robertson, the London society’s treasurer in his fine hand, stating that old Angus MacArthur “very seldom” changed the length of a note “even in the time of the dotted crotchet”, the long notes which end the phrases in traditional pibroch. Yet despite scrutiny I could not find one dotted crotchet in the mutilated MS. Where did they go? Were the notes originally taken down in pencil and inked over, or were they simply obliterated by the ignorant?
The infantile suggestion has been made that John MacGregor himself made these thick-nibbed alterations to the MS, which is instantly contradicted by the piper’s fine penmanship, and the stated care he took over recording the notes so accurately as possible, why would he then alter his meticulous and painstaking work? I have long publicly insisted that the MS should be forensically examined to determine the original notation of the MS, which may well be owned on paper by the Piobaireachd Society (i.e. Pibroch Society) but which it no more owns than the west wind.
And I intend to ask President Obama to request the FBI to intervene as there are now more pipers in Michigan alone than in all of Scotland, and the Scottish Government shows no interest whatsoever in determining the true origins of this most Scottish of all our national artefacts for posterity and restoring the music to its original beauty.
Before the US president is contacted you may want to read part 2 of this review on The Scotch stramash , with an analysis of the book's research methods.