Obituary: Chris Anderson, talented piper and composer, teacher and judge

Christopher Anderson, Edinburgh piper and composer. Born: 26 August, 1933, in Edinburgh. Died: 5 September, 2017, aged 84.
Edinburgh piper and composer Chris Anderson has died at the age of 84Edinburgh piper and composer Chris Anderson has died at the age of 84
Edinburgh piper and composer Chris Anderson has died at the age of 84

Chris Anderson was never too proud to recall the poverty and hardship of his upbringing in Leith, but thanks to his dedication and perseverance, and a generous helping of talent, his playing of the bagpipes was to take him around the world and help Edinburgh City Pipe Band win five World championships. As a member of the band he marched in Red Square and played or appeared in a number of well-knownfilms. He later went on to help other pipers develop their skills, became a respected judge in competitions and successful composer of pipe music that provided him with royalties during his retirement.

Christopher Anderson was born in Murano Place, Leith on 26 August 1933 to his Irish father Christy, and Scottish mother, Mona. His father originally lived in County Cork, but at the age of 12 stowed away on a ship bound for New York looking for a new life. He was discovered and put ashore in Wales where the authorities handed him over to an aunt who lived locally. She raised him and eventually adopted him before he was called up to serve in the Great War, joining the Seaforth Highlanders in Inverness. So began the Anderson family’s association with the British Army and Scotland.

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Christy fought at the Somme, where he suffered shrapnel wounds, but had met Mona Donaldson in the Highlands and got married before settling in Leith where the couple put down their roots and had their first son James in 1918.

Fifteen years later Christopher was born but Christy, who by now worked on the Edinburgh trams as a points engineer, died early in his childhood and ‘Jimmy’’ became his father-figure, serving in the Paratroops during the Second World War and losing a lung when the transport ship he was on was sunk in the Mediterranean with practically all hands.

As a member of the local Leith Boys Brigade Chris learned to play the bagpipes and it became one of three uniformed organisations that were to shape his life. Providing him with many competitions and ceremonial events Chris established himself as an exceptional and reliable piper and was soon in demand.

Attending Broughton Primary and Secondary Schools, Chris initially worked as a laboratory technician in the Geology Department of the University of Edinburgh but gave that up as soon as he could to join the First Battalion Scots Guards in 1951, where he saw service in Egypt and became a member of its pipes and drums.

Thanks to its reputation and international popularity Chris was now learning and performing Scottish dancing as well as playing to audiences around the world in auditoria such as Madison Square Gardens. Chris had by now met his wife to be, Moira Ponton, an attractive Edinburgh lass whom he married in 1956.

Having served the three years he had signed up for Chris left the Scots Guards with a glowing testimony from his commanding officer, to join the Edinburgh City Police where he now joined its pipe-band. Formed in 1882 the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band had won the Grade 1 World Pipe Band Championships in 1919, 1950 and 1954 but was now about to enter its halcyon days under the direction of Iain McLeod, also a Leither, who became Pipe Major in 1959.

Chris helped Edinburgh City Police became one of the most universally recognised and successful pipe-bands of all time and took up the role of ambassador for Scotland’s capital, travelling the world and performing as part of UK trade delegations and promotions. It won virtually every competition, award and accolade available including the Grade 1 World Pipe Championship in 1963 (Dumfries), 1964 (Ayr), 1971 (Lanark), 1972 (Hawick) and 1975 (Corby), the final achievement as Lothian & Borders Police Pipe Band. It also won the World Drum Corps Championships in 1964 and 1968.

Due to their reputation for excellence the band appeared in many films over the years that required pipers or pipe music, including the James Bond films Diamonds are Forever and the original Casino Royale ­– with its pipers in a dream sequence, allowing Chris to be photographed with Bond girls. Other films included Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Battle of the Sexes, and Let’s be Happy. Famously the band performed in Moscow’s Red Square, marching past Lenin’s Mausoleum at the height of the Cold War in 1966. Due to the band’s popularity, touring the world became demanding and expensive with engagements in the United States, throughout Europe and Japan and South Africa. During Chris’s period the band released five albums with a further CD, Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band Revisited, compiled by Ian McLeod released last year just before he died.

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Following his retirement from the police and the band in 1984 after 30 years service and at the same weight and eyesight, Chris decided that it was his wife Moira’s turn to see the world and they took to cruising the oceans, while in between he continued composing pipe music and tutoring pipers – including Euan Anderson, his late brother Jimmy’s son who had joined the Lothian and Borders Police Pipe Band.

In his later years Chris eventually found piping difficult but had discovered a German company that developed an electronic recorder and it agreed to adapt it to become to become an electronic chanter, thus he was able to continue composing. A great storyteller of army, policing and piping anecdotes, Chris started writing at eighty about his experiences for the ThinkScotland website and became President of the Chevaliers Piping Society that meets regularly in Edinburgh Castle. He was still composing up until his death shortly after his 84th birthday on 5 September.

Chris is survived by his wife Moira, his three daughters and six granddaughters, so he was delighted when a great grandson, Jamie, was born in Ireland last year, breaking the all-girl spell and taking his family’s journey full circle.