By Jim Lawson
A child prodigy and a composer of hundreds of pipe tunes, his talent and musical prowess took him all the way from the Inner Hebridean island of Raasay to the court of Queen Victoria where he became the first-ever piper to the Sovereign, a post which exists to this day.
So when the present Queen Elizabeth decided to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria recently it was fitting that a piper who was a descendant of the legendary Angus Mackay be asked to play.
That man is the retired banker, Andy Tasker, 62, of the City of Leeds Pipe Band.
With the Queen at Balmoral on her annual May visit to run the rule over her 50,000-acre estate Andy and the band were asked North to pay tribute to Victoria who, with Albert, bought Balmoral in 1852.
Last week, Andy, a married father of two with two young grandchildren, was in Laide, Wester Ross – which looks out to Raasay -visiting relatives.
He said: “What an honour to follow in the footsteps of my illustrious ancestor, Angus Mackay, a musical genius.
“The band played twice on the lawn at the front of the castle. All the visitors enjoyed our performance.
“Playing there was a surreal experience and huge privilege.”
A Royal source said: “The Queen was staying at Craigowan Lodge on the estate because the castle is open to visitors. However you can be sure she listened from a discreet distance”.
Andy Tasker is a cancer survivor who shares his ancestor’s passion and love for pipe music.
He said: ” I am related to the famous piping family from Raasay. One of my relatives helped Bonnie Prince Charlie from the field at Culloden and hid him for three days on Raasay.”
Andy himself has come late to piping. Twenty five years ago he was at an uncle’s funeral in Blair Atholl, Perthshire and was given the old man’s chanter.
He said last week: “I played it for a while but five years ago I saw the City of Leeds Pipe Band was looking for new members. So I had a bit of a gap before picking it up again. It must be in the genes.”
Since then Andy and the band – known colloquially as the “Yorkshire Jocks”- have entertained at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, on the Flying Scotsman, in Guy Ritchie’s ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword’, with Andre Rieu at the Leeds First Direct Arena and last year at Windsor Castle.
Robert Procter, secretary of the City of Leeds Pipe Band said: ” It was an honour to be asked to play at Balmoral for the celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria. The band did a great job. Our repertoire might have been as you’d expect only we punctuated it with ‘Happy Birthday’.”
Balmoral staff weren’t slow to capitalise on Andy’s connection with famous Angus Mackay.
Instagram and the castle’s website said: “Come and join us at Balmoral Castle to celebrate the life of Queen Victoria in her bicentennial year. Leeds Pipe Band are coming to play with one piper, Andy Tasker, a descendant of Queen Victoria’s piper. Performances at 12.00 pm and 2.00 pm.
Angus Mackay was piper to Victoria from 1843 to 1853 playing at 9am each morning for 15 minutes under the window of the Queen to raise her from her slumber, at meal times and at State events. The tradition is continued to this day.
Sadly, a troubled Angus, was confined in the Crichton Institute in Dumfries. Trying to escape he disappeared in the River Nith on 21st March,1859. He was just 46 years of age.
In 2010 a cairn was unveiled to his memory by admirers at the spot he was last seen on the banks of the river.
Two of the tunes he wrote celebrated Balmoral. One, a March, called “The Balmoral Highlanders”, the other, a Strathspey called “Balmoral Castle”.