John D Burgess

John D Burgess MBE 1934 - 2005

John D Burgess was a phenomenon in the world of piping. At the age of four he began to take an interest in playing when his father made a scaled-down practice chanter for him. When he was ten he went for lessons to the legendary Pipe Major William Ross at Edinburgh Castle, and from this his rise was meteoric. From being an infant prodigy he beacame a boy genius, whose playing in juvenile competitions brought professional pipers in large numbers into the audience.

In 1950, at the age of sixteen, he started his professional career - and started at the top. In his first appearance he won the Gold Medals for piobaireachd playing at both the Argyllshire Gathering, Oban, and the Northern Meeting, Inverness, an achievement never before dreamed of and never likely to be equalled. In addition he won the march at Oban, the strathspey and reel at Inverness, and several other prizes, making him easily the most successful competitor at these two premier meetings. Since then he won all the major awards, many of them several times.

In 1952 he was invited, with Pipe Major William Ross, to visit Canada and the United States, and this tour carried the legend of his brilliance to a wide and appreciative audience. He then spent some time in the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders before joining the famous Edinburgh Police Pipe Band, of which he eventually became pipe major. Later he moved to the Invergordon Distillery Band when this amazing "band of talents" was formed. After two years - when this interesting experiment was discontinued - he decided to stay in the North, where the atmosphere seemed more conducive to the maturing of his ability. There he had further help in piobaireachd interpretation from the old master Angus MacPherson, whose piping is two generation straight from the MacCrimmons.

With the years his playing matured, yet his fingers lost little of their dexterity which amazed his public a quarter of a century ago. His mastery of ceol mor, the classical music of the bagpipe, is evident in his delicate interpretation of The Salute on the Birth of Rory Mor MacLeod, a sixteenth century MacCrimmon composition. The swing in his march playing, the deft touch in strathspey and reels, the breathtaking expertness of his jigs and hornpipes, all combined to make him one of the best all-round competing pipers of his time.

John D Burgess died on 29th June 2005 after a lengthy battle with complications resulting from an automobile crash near his home in Invergordon, Scotland. He was 72.

Details about John D Burgess from sleevenotes to King of the Highland Bagpipes. Written by Seumas MacNeill in 1976.

John D Burgess appears on Vol II of the 1996 Piping Centre Recital Series (COMD2067), available on Temple Records