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You have been making pipes full time for some years now. How long ago did you take the plunge, and what prompted you?

Richard Three years last Christmas. It really came about because Anita had written a web site. We started to get so many inquiries, particularly from the States, via the web site, that there was a decision to make. And after 26 years teaching I was due for a change. So we just went for it.

You taught scientific subjects I believe?

R Yes, I was head of science at a comprehensive school. Did that background help you in your pipe­making at all? R No!

But you’d been making pipes for some time before that.

R Many years - In 1974 I started making Northumbrian pipes at an evening class in New- castle, taught by Maurice Sterrie. Colin Ross used to bring lumps of lignum vitae which had been liberated from the shipyards. We made slow progress but we made pipes eventually.

Two hours a week for two years to make the first set. They worked, but they were ‘iffy’. We went on from there.


Could you play Northumbrian pipes at that stage?

R No, not at all, that was part of the issue. So there were pipes to make and reeds to make and I couldn’t play them anyway. So you never knew whether a problem was due to the player, the pipes, or the reeds, or what. I was friendly with Anthony Robb at the time and he provided some advice and so on. It was a bit of a struggle.

So when did you start to get involved with Scottish smallpipes?

R Early 80s. I remember Colin Ross on a Monday night meeting at the Black Gate Mu- seum in Newcastle. Colin described to me what he was doing. I knew it was important but I didn’t fully understand. He was showing me around the cases of pipes and explaining about key-less pipes and flattened 7ths and things, but I didn’t really understand it all. And he was quite insistent that it was going to be an important development in piping. Eventually, some time after that I made a set in Bb, and being a Northumbrian piper-maker it had 2 keys on it

- what would be the high B and G# if they were in A. And that chanter is still kicking about somewhere, still being used. There was a gap, I didn’t make many for some time. I made that one, and then I made a left handed set very early on. For a guy who was a left handed flute player, and the whole thing had to be tied in the bag backwards.

But you trade as ‘Richard and Anita Evans’ so you function as a team. How does that work?

R Yes. Well before I quit teaching, it was really Anita’s business. She did a lot of the hard work, and all the bags and bellows and reeds, and I did keys and detailed work, and setting up and so on.

Anita I did a lot of the mechanical side, including lathe work, but didn’t have the ability to tune the pipes and play them. I couldn’t have done it on my own.

R So it has always been a partnership. Once it moved past the stage of being a bit of a hobby, it has always been a partnership. Nowadays I do all the lathe work and Anita [still] does all the reeds and bellows, plus the website and the admin side of the business.

And how do you come to decisions about, for instance, design aspects ­ such as arm straps on the bellows, mounts on the pipes etc?

A With bellows, it’s by using them ourselves. We keep to a simple, but flexible basic design that can adapted to a player’s personal preferences. Belts that can be changed easily, and so on. As far as the appearance of the pipes goes, Richard does all the design work, trying out different combinations of materials, and we usually both agree on whether the style and col- our looks good. Our general approach is to aim for designs that are stylish and not fussy.

So you are playing the Scottish smallpipes now Anita?

A Yes, and the Border pipes. Mostly the Border pipes at the moment, because they give some of the tunes I’m familiar with a whole new flavour. I still love the mellow tone of the A Scottish Smallpipes though, so it’s good to have the choice.


R But I think there are certain design principles that we try to stick to. For instance, you respect the tradition because it is a traditional instrument, but you are not hide bound by it. So if you want to use new materials, like ... using a nylon arm strap with a rucksack buckle - I can’t see anything wrong in that. We still use stitching for Northumbrian pipe bellows following traditional pattern and principle. The nailed bellows for Scottish smallpipes are partly cost driven, and I don’t feel bound by tradition because I know the instrument is not an old instrument, although you can argue about the ins and outs of that; it’s a major re- invention, so I didn’t feel the necessity to use stitched bellows for it.

A It gives people an alternative, doesn’t it, both price-wise and appearance-wise. We don’t charge quite as much for the nailed bellows because they are easier to put together. Some of the more traditional materials are harder to find now. For instance with the stitched bellows I use a special thread called a waxed twin. They have wire at the ends, rather than needles, so you can make a really airtight bellows. There is only one firm we know of that supplies it. And that’s the case with one or two things that we need - finding reliable suppliers can be a problem.

Do you have many problems with suppliers’ products ­ for instance quality and choice?

R The only item we actually buy in are the bags, which come from Jackie Boyce in North- ern Ireland. And we’ve never had any trouble with a bag - ever.

A The quality isn’t usually a problem, it’s just that there aren’t so many of them [different suppliers]. For good quality thread and leather goods; you have to search around. This is why you need to keep up to date with new materials, and different methods - so you have alternatives if the existing supply dries up.

What about the more exotic things ­ like the black horn mounts that I’ve seen on your pipes?

R Black buffalo horn comes already turned down into cylinders from a firm in Glasgow, and we just have to pick up the phone to get the quantity we want. It’s not a problem.

A I should just mention here that there is sometimes a misunderstanding about black buffalo horn - what it comes from. People might think of bison, but in fact it is from water buffalo.

What woods do you usually use for your pipes?

R African blackwood. Then we use this muhuhu

Tell me more about muhuhu ­ how did you discover it?

.........I was at a wood turning suppliers, and they had bundles of this wood that looked as though it might be all right for pipes. So I bought some, and it turned out to be very nice indeed. It is not as dense as blackwood, but that doesn’t seem to be a disadvantage in any respect. Nice and light, easy to play, so it is a wood I have continued using. It is very easy to work with and has a nice aromatic odour. I’m looking at one or two other woods, particu-


-larly for Border pipes - possibly boxwood, and another wood called castello boxwood, which isn’t boxwood at all. It has a very pale colour, and seems to make a nice instrument. I think with Border pipes I am going to try and steer clear of blackwood as far as possible - I’m just not in favour of heavy pipes, and the standard blackwood drones of Border pipes are on the heavy side for some people. It’s all a matter of taste.

Of the blackwood and muhuhu that you currently use, are pipers asking for one more than the other?

R Northumbrian pipes are blackwood -I only use blackwood for Northumbrian pipes. The other woods we use haven’t got the mechanical strength for the projecting blocks - the key mounts. Our plain undecorated Scottish smallpipes are normally made in blackwood, unless the customer asks otherwise. We are trying to keep that side of the business ticking over very steadily with a small stock of partly finished components on the shelf, whereas the muhuhu set will have to be requested and then built from scratch.

You’ve used cocobolo in the past, haven’t you?

R Yes, I have used cocobolo. I have nothing against it, but some people are allergic to it.

In the workshop, or actually playing?

... Some people are allergic to it in the workshop, but one person who had a set of cocobolo pipes of ours - a D set of Northumbrian pipes - and with the drones resting on his right fore- arm, he got a rash. So no, I don’t feel a necessity to use cocobolo, other than for mounts.

I’m happy with the woods that I’ve got.

And are there many requests for keys on your Scottish smallpipes these days?

R Mostly without keys. Ninety percent of them are three drone sets in A. We know of the advantages and disadvantages of Scottish smallpipes in A. But it is the de facto standard.

Yes, I would have preferred D ...

... I would have preferred C. Because I think the D set is a bit tight [finger spacing] for some people and can be a little bit shrill. But the C set is gorgeously mellow; but of course there is no point in having one player with a set in C and 49 others with A sets.

Some pipers go for a C set because it is a good pitch for singing.


A As I mentioned earlier, I favour the A, because of the mellow tone. And as I tend to play on my own, the volume doesn’t matter - and I can’t sing!!

We’ve mentioned Border pipes. How long have you been experimenting with these before reaching the present design?

R I’ve been trying out different chanters - well, for 12 years or more. In the past two years I’ve been working on them with increasing seriousness, and in the past twelve months I’ve probably made 15 experimental chanters, of varying attributes and dimensions together with a good number of reeds. And now I think we are getting pretty close to where we want to be


on this.

The reeds ­ I believe you are using scraped­down Highland pipe reeds?

R Yes. Firstly, when you know how to do it, it is very straightforward. And secondly it is very beneficial for the customer not to have to go back to the maker for a replacement reed. If they are prepared to take the time to learn the skill, they can reed up their own chanter without too much difficulty.

Do the scraped down Highland reeds make it easier to set up the pipes?

R Within the last year I have only been using these reeds. I’ve spent a lot of time trying dif- ferent scrapes, and my reed scraping has improved over the years. But the important thing for us as makers is to have a consistent base reed, from which to start.

Tuning the pipes to the correct pitch ­ you use a computer program I believe?

R Yes, there are various programs available. We have got two, one of them is called ‘Pitch Pipe Bagpipe Tuner’ and the other ‘Chromatia’. Chromatia is cheap or free, and pretty good, the other is not free, but is excellent.

What sort of orders are coming in now ­ what proportion of Border pipes to smallpipes?

R The Border pipes are very much on the increase, but as far as time is concerned, half Northumbrian and half Scottish smallpipes at the moment. But that means fewer Northum- brian sets because they take longer to make - the keys, and so forth.

What are your plans for future developments?

R Well in my view the important thing is to work on the Border pipes to provide a no-frills- instrument with a good tone that may be relied upon to play easily and with good stable reeds. I am close to achieving that now. Once this is fully established I will look at a more ambitious development of the accidentals and over-blowing facility.

I remember you telling me about a method you have for maintaining constant pressure when checking out the pipes. Can you give us some details of what it is you do?

R Well, of course you can play whilst hooked up to a Manometer, but I sometimes use a mechanized system. This is a Calor Gas pressure-reducing demand valve, supplied with air from the compressor. The output pressure is set using the manometer, and remains constant, so if you squeeze the bag less air enters from the compressor to compensate, and the pres- sure on the chanter reed remains the same. A very strange sensation!

I believe you are now on the committee of the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society?

R Yes.

And on the Northumbrian Pipers Society committee?


R No. No I have no connection, formally. We have our North Cumbria Pipers’ group which I’d like to mention. We are trying to promote Northumbrian pipes, Scottish smallpipe and Border pipes. We’ve had two very good teaching days [See Common Stock Vol 19 No 2.

Ed], with another coming up this autumn.

Where do most of the pipers come from who attend these events? Mostly local?

R They seem to travel fairly widely from the West side of the Country. From Glasgow, down as far south as Shropshire, and the Leeds area of West Yorkshire. So people who seem willing to travel - and those, by and large, who don’t attend other events, maybe because of the distance. So we get a slightly different crowd.

Thank you very much, Anita and Richard. And good luck for the future.