James Sutherland was born at Rosskeen, Ross-shire and was taught by Pipe Major James MacDonald. He joined the 1st Seaforth Highlanders as a piper in 1883. He served 21 years with the Regiment. He became Pipe Major in 1893 but was transferred to the 3rd Militia Battalion in 1885.
In 1912 he was made Pipe Major of the 5th Royal Scots (T.F.), Queen’s Edinburgh.
In 1915 he was rejected for active service and transferred to the reserves, where he became Pipe Major of the 1st Volunteer Battalion Royal Scots. He was also instructor to the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society from 1910-1914.
Sutherland’s overseas posting was Egypt where he composed his great little 2/4 march ‘The Pipers’ Cave,’ named after the Pipers’ room in the Barracks in Cairo. The officers saw the potential of the tune but did not like the title and persuaded him to name it ‘3rd Seaforth’s Farewell to Cairo’. This is the title on page 264 of C. A. Malcolm’sThe Piper in Peace and War, but when Sutherland finally published it in the Seaforth’s book, he changed it back to the original title.
He was a successful competitor, though not top-rank, having won neither of the Gold Medals, and was also an adept Highland dancer, winning the Sword Dance at Oban in 1911. Whenever possible, he and his good friend Angus MacPherson of Invershin played for each other in the Highalnd dancing. After his active service he taught piping and dancing for a living. In his later years he was seen much as a judge of both piping and dancing events. He counted Willie Ross and Dr. Willie MacPhail among his best friends.
JM, December 2007
-with notes from ‘Piping Times Notices of Pipers’, April 1975, ‘The Piper in Peace and War’, by C. A. Malcolm, 1927, and personal correspondence with Pipe Major Gavin Stoddart.