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The Lewis and Harris Piping Society were very disappointed when Niall Stuart had to cancel his planned trip across the Minch to do a recital in Stornoway last month due to the vagaries of the weather.

However they are looking forward with eager anticipation to the next recital planned for Friday, 1 March when no such impediment should arise.

On this occasion the evening’s entertainment will be provided by two ‘home grown’, but nevertheless expert, exponents of the noble instrument, Neil Smith and James Duncan MacKenzie.

Neil Smith is originally from Aird , Point, and was initially taught from the age of eleven by the late Angus “Boxer” MacLeod, brother of the famous PM Donald MacLeod, who was the first schools tutor on the east side of Lewis. Neil was subsequently tutored by the late PM Iain M Morrison who succeeded Angus MacLeod as schools tutor, when he returned to Lewis on retiring as Pipe Major of the Queens Own Highlanders. Neil has also had tuition in the past from John Wilson.

Neil achieved significant success on the individual competitive scene in his young days. He won the Silver Medal for Piobaireachd at the Northern Meetings, and featured in the prize lists for the Gold Medal competitions at the Northern Meetings and the Braemar and Skye Gatherings. He also won the A Grade March and the A Grade Strathspey and Reel at the Argyllshire Gathering on consecutive years.

Neil initially trained as a civil engineer, but decided to join the police in 1996. He served in various locations in the Central Belt and in various roles within the service, before retiring in 2022 having achieved the rank of Detective Inspector.

During his early career in the police he played with the Strathclyde Police Pipe Band and enjoyed considerable success with them, winning the British, European and Cowal Championships. He has also tried his hand at composing, and a number of his tunes have already been published.

Neil is currently employed as a Distillery Ambassador based at Glengoyne Distillery near the Campsies, north of Glasgow , and lives in Strathblane. With more time on his hands now he has returned to the competitive scene, and dipped his toes in the water so to speak last year, by competing in the A Grade March at the Northern Meetings. We wish him every success in future competitions.

Sharing the platform with Neil will be James Duncan MacKenzie, another product of the local tutoring system for aspiring pipers in recent years.

James is originally from Back, but now lives in Shawbost with his wife Katie, and is currently employed as the schools piping instructor for the West side of Lewis and Harris.

He was initially taught by PM Nicky Gordon and the late PM Iain M Morrison, and has picked up a number of solo prizes including the Silver Medal at the Northern Meetings in 2019 and the Dunvegan Medal at the Skye Gathering in 2022. Last year he was the first Lewis-born piper to play at the prestigious PM Donald MacLeod Memorial Competition and was runner-up to the overall winner Callum Beaumont.

As well as being a competing piper James is well-known nationally and internationally for his work on the folk music scene, having toured for over a decade with the folk band Breabach, playing Highland pipes and wooden flute. 

He has recorded three solo albums to date, and released his first book, a collection of 70 of his own compositions  in 2021. He also runs a reed-making business, Hebridean Reeds, which he founded in 2021.

So between them Neil and James Duncan should provide a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

They will be supported by two of the Junior members of the Society, to gain some experience of solo playing in front of a critical audience.

Pictures of Neil Smith and James Duncan MacKenzie