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Anxious to be politically correct, I enquired as to whether they wished to be called Heriot and Allan, or just Robbie and Ann. “Well, we trade as Heriot and Allan. People know us as that ”


Ok. So how did you come by the name?


R In the mid-to-late seventies, while living in the Watford / St Albans area, I met several makers and players of early musical instruments, gaining from them much useful help and advice, especially in tuning and intonation.

My interests extended from woodwind to stringed instruments, particularly the clarsach. I was fortunate enough to receive instruction from Marie Goossens, then an active supporter of the London branch of the Clarsach Society. My first harp was built following published plans, and like so many amateur-built harps it started pulling itself apart even before it was up to tension. It was passed on, with the traditional metal strengthening plates, to another member of the Society. I still have the second harp, which was made to my own design.

This led to several commissions for clarsachs. Then I met Ann Sessoms, who had recently moved to London to work as a sub-editor for a scientific publisher. We shared the same in- terest in early music, her instruments being clarinet and recorders. She showed an interest in the small pipes so I made my first set of pipes for her, a simple three-key three-drone set.

The name Heriot and Allan came into being at this time. The intention was to build up the harp making into a full-time business and, as it was a joint venture, we wanted a name which would reflect this and maintain a distance between our private and business lives. Many of the top harp makers had double-barrelled names like Munson and Harbour, and Lyon and Healey. The intention was to make mainly clarsachs and as both our inherited middle names are Scottish it seemed an ideal solution.

Where did your interest in piping come from?


R My introduction to piping came through the local Boy Scouts troop, which had several Northumbrian half-long pipes (which are now included in the more general term Border pipes). I had one of the sets in my possession until I left home in the early sixties. There has always been a residual interest in this form of bagpipe on both sides of the Border. My first job was in Newcastle, where I joined the Literary and Philosophical Society and became interested in a wide range of early musical instruments through their collection of books on the subject. There were many different bagpipes described and illustrated in these books along with other woodwind instruments.

It was in the mid-fifties when I first met Jack Armstrong [1904-1977], who frequently played the Northumbrian small pipes on the local wireless; he also had a dance band and played the pipes at many functions. (I believe he also played on a film sound track.) I be- came interested in the small pipes then and he introduced me to Bill Hedworth, who made me a nine-key set of Northumbrian small pipes. By then I had already joined the Northum- brian Pipers Society and met Forster Charlton. I became a committee member after a year or two. Forster took me under his wing and instructed me in the arts of reed making and playing the small pipes. He also fired my interest in pipe making.

Do you still play any pipes yourself, Robbie? I know Ann plays the Northumbrian smallpipes professionally.

R My second job was with a company in Wallsend, which still had the remnants of its own pipe band. I received daily instruction on the Highland pipes, and my playing of the half- long pipes improved significantly, but I was unable to stop my right arm flapping when playing the Great Pipes - much to the annoyance of my instructor. I don’t play much at all, now. I’ve got hand problems as well as memory problems - half-way through a tune I forget what I’m doing! But I play enough slow airs for just tuning the Scottish chanter.

When you tune a new chanter you start with the tonic, and then the 5th?

R Yes, and then tune the others into the tonic or 5th. Nowadays playing with a drone tuned to the 4th has become very popular, so I check against that as well.

Do you have enough movement on the tuning pin to tune down from a 5th to a 4th?


R No, I either fit a tuning bead, or use a second, longer, drone end - because moving the drone in or out affects the tone, i.e. the sound quality, noticeably.


The...D chanter made by William Gunn of Glasgow was possibly the first one to play with Highland fingering


You have written to Common Stock [see page 3] about the development of the Scottish smallpipes. Would you like to say a bit more about that?

R The longer D chanter (compared to the smaller E or F of the original smallpipes in those days) made by William Gunn of Glasgow was possibly


the first one to play with Highland fingering. I don’t believe the early smallpipes were played with Highland fingering. And I don’t see why you can’t have the same fingering. They are different instruments with probably a different repertoire and different type of people playing them.

So the design was modified to suit modern requirements. How did you develop your own?


R The design of the drones only involved making typical Northumbrian drones look typi- cally Scottish. I designed the chanter completely from first principles, taking my initial in- spiration from the long practice chanter, i.e. unequal-size tone holes equally spaced and the extra length at the bottom with the a tone hole either side. This gained immediate accep- tance amongst Highland pipers. I gave a presentation on this process at a meeting of the Society I organised at the Bagpipe Museum in Morpeth in the early days. There is enough information in the Cocks and Bryan book on Northumbrian small pipes for anyone with a little imagination to make their own Scottish small pipes.

The shape of your drone ends seems to have remained fairly constant

R I make two - the flared end and the bell or tulip. It depends what the customer wants.

What sort of pipes are these (turning the page of a book of display photographs and coming across a bagpipe with a single drone lying parallel to the chanter, and fitted into the same stock)?

R That’s what I called a cabrette. It can either have a Scottish or a Northumbrian type chanter - something to learn on. Cheap and cheerful.

And the drone is a tenor.... ?

R... Or a bass. You can have either. Just a very simple set. I made half a dozen then the

interest in them died out.

You don’t see many keys (looking at another picture) on Scottish smallpipes.

R Two keys are fairly common. Some that I have made have a couple of keys on the bottom for going downwards.

What pitch of Scottish smallpipe do you find most people prefer?

R A, B flat, C. A/D sets. It depends where they are going. B flat in the southern part of Ger- many, C in the north of Germany. Very few D sets because of the smallness of the chanter (I don’t like D, it’s too brash). I have also made sets in E. One group started with B flat, wanted something brighter for jigs and reels, so went up to B. Some people like a lower pitched set for slow airs, higher pitch for fast tunes.


Do you ever get requests for Scottish smallpipes using closed fingering?

R I think I’ve only made one. To me they are just Northumbrian smallpipes with an open end - the same instrument. The only difference between early Scottish and Northumbian smallpipes is slight differences in style. If the chanter is tapered and the set has combing one would call it Scottish. Closed fingering is not possible on the larger chanters.

I’ve seen, indeed played, a set you made with drone switches. Is there much call for these?

R Only one or two a year. Some people have a switch on each drone, some have them just on the middle drone. Some have them to switch the whole lot off, others to switch from one chord to another chord. It can become fairly complicated at times.

You use the same principle for all the switches?

R No. The swap-over switches are different to the individual ones. It is easier to do individ- ual switches. Switches tend to muffle the sound of the drones a bit. Instead of just being an open cavity, each drone is in a separate chamber [in the common stock], blocked off from the others. You can usually switch drones on and off while playing if the reeds are set prop- erly.

And your design includes little plugs hanging off the ends of the drones as manual stops.

R It’s an old traditional way of doing it. If you have plungers like the Northumbrian system it affects the tone again. A straight through drone sounds louder and brighter than one where the sound negotiates a right-angle bend. It also distinguishes the two smallpipes a bit more.

I’ve noticed that your blow-pipe stock has a mushroom shaped end inside the bag - so you have to introduce it via the drone stock aperture?

R One of my first customers was so heavy handed he frequently pulled the blow-pipe stock out of the bag. So I made the stocks with a mushroom shaped end, and thought “Oh, this is a new idea. Nobody has done this before.” Until I came to make Czech pipes - and they already had stocks with similar ends. I’ve found quite a few things I’d thought innovative, only to find someone had done it before - for instance the way I tie in the chanter stock; I tie it in through the welt. Then I saw an 18th century set in a museum tied in in exactly the same way!

What wood do you like working with best?

R I like working in boxwood, but blackwood is the most practical to all intents and pur- poses: good tone, strong, attractive. Boxwood has the better tone, but it’s liable to warp - it’s nice to work with.

A It’s a mellower tone. It doesn’t have the edge of blackwood, so if you play a blackwood set with a boxwood set the latter gets a bit drowned out.


So the boxwood might be better for singing to - the volume wouldn’t drown the voice?

A Yes.

Any problems getting hold of wood?

R Not blackwood. But good boxwood is extremely difficult to get.

Is the boxwood that you do manage to get grown in the UK?

A The best comes from Turkey - or did. I don’t know if you can get it now. Some used to be obtained from the Spanish Pyrenees, until a German dealer came and cleared out a whole hill-side, and the locals decided they weren’t having that any more!

Talking of materials, I seem to remember you once telling me, Ann, that part of the secret of good reeds is finding the best source for the cane.

A If you don’t have decent cane you’re not going


If you don’t have decent cane

you’re not going to make a

decent reed


to make a decent reed - although different people make reeds out of quite different types of cane.

For instance Colin Ross must use a much softer cane than I do, because he demonstrated at the meeting in Morpeth that by putting guides on his


gouging block he could run the gouge along and the cane slip is finished, ready for shaping and assembling. I don’t think the cane we’ve got can do that - it’s quite hard.

Your cane comes from Spain? France?

A France. I buy it through Howarth in London.

Does it deteriorate in time during storage? Do you have to work it fairly quickly after buying your supply?

A Actually I prefer to get it about six months before I’m going to use it. Other people have different experiences. I’ve had cane I thought was unsatisfactory, and looked at it three months later and it was beautiful. So now I buy it ahead of my requirements.

Do you finish your reeds with a scrape or with sanding?

A I finish off with a knife. With sandpaper it is more difficult to tell exactly what you are doing. Sometimes, if I want the tips [of the reed] slightly thinner, I use the sanding strip.

When I attempt to make chanter reeds 1 have high failure rate. You, I expect, have a high success rate?

A I’m doing pretty well just now. I was having problems for a while, then I realised I was starting with a slip that was too thin.

Do you soak them at all?


A The [gouging] machine is dry, but when I’m working by hand - I actually use a hand gouge to thin them down to just over 0.5mm - I get them wet for that. I use a bassoon reed scraper to finish off with.

You used to make Border pipes, Robbie?

R I think I made a dozen or so in the early days. People wanted a nice strong lusty chanter, now they want quiet chanters, and it would have been a lot of expense to make new jigs and things. It was actually Glens that initiated our change from harps to bagpipes. They asked me to make some Border pipes: the chanters were made using Glen’s mid-19th century settings by one of Glen’s pipe-makers.

A Now they are making very quiet sets. Pipe-makers make what musicians want - a nice bright sound which you can still play in a small room.

R I have more than enough orders for smallpipes, so it just wasn’t worth it [continuing with Border pipes].

Where did you get your Border pipe reeds?

R When I had the Half-longs I used to get reeds from Glens. They were cane practice chanter reeds with the ends chopped off. They would probably still work now if you can get cane practice chanter reeds.

You mentioned that you number your sets. How exactly?

R I punch it onto the drone stock, initially on the top, flat, surface - and on the rounded part for later sets. Probably started in 1984 when I bought the punches. It’s a date stamp rather than a consecutive number. I know then what year they were made, and can quickly find out who had the set.

Finally, you were, I believe, one of the very early members of the LBPS?


R I attended the very early meetings of the LBPS, held in the College of Piping in Glasgow. The first I attended was sponsored by Grainger and Campbell.

A They had a committee, but it wasn’t formalised with a constitution. Meetings moved around - Thirlstane Castle, School of Scottish Studies, College of Piping. They had some very interesting afternoons, with guest speakers.

R I organised one well-attended meeting at the Sallyport Towers in Newcastle in the early days, then two at the Bagpipe Museum in Morpeth with talks and demonstrations.

The Society has developed a lot since those days, I know. Well many thanks for inviting me into your house and treating me to some glimpses of the past. Good luck in your future en- deavours.