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Updated 09/06/2016


Murdo's Wedding
P.M. Gavin Stoddart

For pipers of all abilities, “Murdo’s Wedding” is a staple. The two-part 4/4 march is at least as popular and played as “Flett From Flotta,” and probably approaches even “Scotland the Brave” for its ubiquity in repertoires.


It’s a simple tune with a memorable melody: common hallmarks of music with staying-power. But how did it come about? Many will know that “Murdo” is a fairly common male name in Scotland, especially in the Highlands and islands. So, who was this Murdo, and what was so important about the guy’s wedding?


The tune was written by Major Gavin Stoddart BEM, one of the great competitive solo pipers of the latter half of the twentieth century. Among many big prizes, Stoddart won both Highland Society of London Gold Medals and the Silver Star Former Winners MSR at the Northern Meeting.

One could say that, of the many talents that Major Gavin Stoddart possesses, his ability to follow orders is exceptional. Astonishingly, in 1980, when he was 32 years old, Gavin Stoddart was ordered by his commanding officer to commence going “round the games,” to compete in top solo events and do well for the Royal Highland Fusiliers. What ensued from 1980 to 1989 was one of the most successful competitive runs of any piper in the world.


He started by winning the Silver Medal and the Strathspey & Reel at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1980. He went on to capture the Gold Medal and the Former Winners’ MSR at Oban in 1981, both on his first attempt, the Braemar Gold Medal for piobaireachd in 1981, the Inverness Gold Medal in 1983, another Former Winners’ MSR title at Oban in the same year, and just about every contest—including two wins of the overall prize at the Glenfiddich Championship—in between. In 1988 he brought his solo career to a suitable conclusion by taking the Silver Star Former Winners’ MSR at Inverness.


It’s obvious that when he was ordered to compete, in Gavin Stoddart’s mind that meant only one thing: winning.


The son of the famous and well-liked George Stoddart, Gavin Stoddart was born in 1948 in Hamburg, West Germany, while his father was stationed there as Pipe Major of the 5th Scottish Parachute Regiment. Young Gavin learned piping at first mainly by ear, received his initial formal instruction from his father in the early 1960s, and then was sent to Captain John A. MacLellan at the Army School of Piping at Edinburgh Castle.


During his formative years, Stoddart spent much of his time at his father’s shop, the Edinburgh branch of R.G. Hardie & Co., and there he was exposed to all the greats of the time—John D. Burgess, John MacLellan, Hector MacFadyen, John MacFadyen and others—who would stop by for a talk and a tune.


At the age of 16, he was allowed to be a guest piper with the then Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band under the legendary Pipe Major Iain McLeod when the band was at its height of excellence. He stayed with the band until 1966, when, rather than staying with the police until he became eligible to join the force, he decided instead to enlist as a piper in the Scots Guards, in August 1966, following in his father’s military footsteps. Gavin Stoddart remained with the Guards until May 1979, when he was asked to transfer to the Royal Highland Fusiliers as Pipe Major. The Fusiliers was his father’s regiment, so the call was irresistible.


In 1983 Gavin Stoddart was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to army piping, and in May 1987 was posted to the Army School of Bagpipe Music as Warrant Officer Class 1 Pipe Major. He was also appointed Senior Pipe Major of the British Army.

After his glorious eight year competition run, Gavin Stoddart retired from competing and, in June 1990, was commissioned as Captain and appointed Director of Army Bagpipe Music—the most important position a piper in the British army can hold. In the fall of 1997, he was again promoted, this time to the rank of Major.


Add all this to the fact that he wrote “Murdo’s Wedding,” one of the most popular and played tunes of all time, at the age of 16, and one can easily see that Gavin Stoddart is a truly gifted piper.


A proud and well turned out professional soldier, Gavin Stoddart is nonetheless a warm and engaging individual. He is extremely well liked by his peers, and his knack for storytelling and jokes is famous. At his office at Edinburgh Castle, Stoddart is the perfect conversationalist, speaking quickly, enthusiastically and candidly about his experiences and views on piping past and present. It’s no surprise that, when he started to compete, his fellow competitors were nothing but pleased to assist him with tips and tricks of the solo piping trade.


Now retired from his esteemed career with the military, during which he was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to his country and to piping, we contacted the always congenial and humble Gavin Stoddart to ask if he could enlighten us on the roots of and reasons for “Murdo’s Wedding.”


Here’s what he returned:

“In 1964 I was playing the practice chanter in the back of my father’s shop in the Lawnmarket, Edinburgh. I was really just messing around and killing time before it was time for my lesson with Captain John MacLellan. I was using a tape recorder and when I replayed the tape a musical phrase stuck out – this consisted of the first two bars of the tune. It was quite easy from there to develop it further and the first part was completed fairly quickly. I was stuck on the start of the second part and when my father heard what I was playing he said the tune had something going for it and helped out with the first bar for the second part and the remainder of the tune flowed from there.

Murdo Murray, 1966 – then a married man.

“I didn’t have a name in mind for the tune and it wasn’t until Murdo Murray, a tenor drummer with the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band asked my father to play at his wedding and if he would compose a tune. Murdo came from Laxdale just outside Stornoway, Isle of Lewis. He was a ‘beat’ policeman on the Royal Mile and used to pop in to my father’s shop. Murdo married Catherine Anne Maciver on the 17th March 1965 at the Free Church in Stornoway.

“Around this time Iain McLeod, Pipe-Major of the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band, included ‘Murdo’s Wedding’ on a recording and it quickly became popular.

“I was aged 16 when I wrote ‘Murdo’s Wedding.’ I had lessons from Captain John from 1961 and until 1965, and in August 1966 I enlisted as a piper with the Scots Guards.”

A photo taken in 1966 when Gavin Stoddart was a guest piper with the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band on a trip to Moscow, which coincided with Stoddart’s eighteenth birthday. The band was there for a British trade fair and the band threw a surprise birthday party for him. L-R: Ronnie Ackroyd, Chris Anderson, Chief Inspector and Band Secretary Willie Orr, George Lumsden, Jimmy Orr, Tam Richie (looking up), L-D Bob Montgomery, Gavin Stoddart, Bob Gibson (his left eye), Neil Sumner, P-M Iain McLeod, Harry McNulty (his left eye), David Laird, Murdo Murray, Alex Shand, D-M Jimmy Hermiston, Lawrie Gillespie.

“Murdo’s Wedding” is a simple tune with humble origins, for a humble tenor drummer, from the imagination of one of the piping world’s most humble personalities, Gavin Stoddart.