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Celebrating Thirty Years of Bellows Pipes

LBPS Chairman Hamish Moore celebrates the LBPS 30th Anniversary

The formation of The L.B.P.S. and the closely related revival of the bellows blown pipes of Scotland is the most significant cultural event in Scottish Piping since the raising of The Highland Regiments and the introduction of competitions at the end of the 18th century.

 

Following these events, piping became associated almost exclusively with the army, marching bands and with competition and as a result was to undergo changes which were to make it unrecognisable from its original form. Piping prior to being adopted by The British Army was a true folk tradition, passed on aurally, celebrating diversity and regional variants and very importantly, including the bellows blown pipes of Scotland in all their varied forms and related styles.

Thirty years ago a small band of maverick enthusiasts set about rediscovering the bellows blown pipes of Scotland. Mike Rowan had the foresight to found the society and I'm sure he didn't realise at the time just what a significant founding this was to be.

Because the tradition had died, subsumed by the dominant military based highland piping, there were no living exponents to whom to refer ; neither were there any playing instruments available. Not only did these revivalist pioneers have to painstakingly copy old museum examples, make reeds for them and tune them to be beautiful sounding instruments, but had to research the music and rediscover the culture surrounding and associated with the pipes. Most notably, Gordon Mooney pioneered the early research into border music and Matt Seattle rescued and republished The Dixon Collection, a seminal work in the border piping tradition.

It was quite common in the early days of the revival for Scots not to believe that this instrument could possibly be Scottish, accusing the pipers of playing something that was “Irish”.

None of the students at the Conservatoire degree course in Piping would have been born when all this research and development work was taking place and now, when questioned about the pipes, not only do they take it as read that the pipes are part of their tradition but they all own and play sets. This has all happened within the incredibly short time span of thirty years and the situation has been replicated throughout the world as these pipes have regained their status within a vibrant and living tradition. This all beautifully demonstrates the appetite for an alternative to the status quo.

The revival is now complete and it is interesting to have been so closely involved in, and to have witnessed the evolution of events up to the present day. In the early stages of the revival (apart from the enthusiasts for border music such as Gordon Mooney who researched, played and recorded the early border music), most players coming to the bellows blown pipes came to them as highland pipers and simply transferred their repertoire and style directly on to their new found bellows blown instrument. This of course can still be the case but it is wonderful to hear pipers playing in what could be regarded as an authentic border style. Two notable examples of this are Paul Roberts and the flute virtuoso Chris Norman. Martyn Bennett blew many cobwebs away with his recordings of Dixon tunes in his electronica dance style on the CD, Hardlands.

The pipes have also been successfully adopted by the instrumentalists of the traditional music community (Iain MacInnes and Gary West to name but two), by pipers of the Gaelic and Highland tradition looking for an alternative to the highly proscribed competition style of the highland bagpipe (Fred Morrison and Ross Ainsley to name but two) and most interestingly for me to have revived the old tradition of singing with pipes. Amazingly beautiful and emotive work has been achieved in this field by Allan MacDonald, Judy Barker, Annie Grace, Davey Robertson and Griogair Labhruidh.

Our leading folk bands such as Battlefield Band and Daimh have incorporated the pipes to great effect and it is lovely to witness some of our best players being women such as Carol Anne MacKay.

There has also been amazingly innovative work with pipes and other instruments and fiddle and border pipes seems to have become a firm and established favourite. Listen here to the work of Finlay MacDonald and Chris Stout or Fin Moore and Sarah Hoy.

The pipes have also been combined into duos with both Northumbrian Pipes (Andy May) and Uillean Pipes ( Jarleth Henderson) producing fine examples of this interesting pairing with our own border or small pipes.

So from the early pioneers such as RabWallace who was the first to record border pipes with The Whislebinkies and Dougie Pincock on small pipes with Kentigern to the modern young virtuoso innovators such as Calum Armstrong it has been an incredible journey of creativity and discovery.

As importantly as reviving the instruments, a strand of our rich musical culture once tragically lost has been reclaimed and, developed in an all inclusive spirit, thus helping us further understand a more complete and authentic version of what it is to be Scottish. Quite simply, the mysteries of Scottish identity are less mysterious now than they were 30 years ago and our countrie's musical culture is infinitely the richer for it.

The L.B.P.S have a full programme of events over the weekend of 1st - 3rd November in Peebles to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the formation of The Society.

Hamish Moore -Chairman L.B.P.S. 23rd September 2013