page 18

page 19

Richard Evans and others report on the much enjoyed bellows pipes teaching day held at Penrith

THE NORTH Cumbria Pipers’ Bellows Pipes Teaching Day was held on Saturday, 29 October at Penrith Methodist Church - the second time we have used this venue, which is ideal for the purpose, offering rooms of various sizes.

This was our fourth Piping Day, and as ever the aim was to bring together players of Northumbrian Pipes, Scottish smallpipes, and Border pipes. The playing tutors were Richard Evans and Philip Gruar (North-umbrian pipes), Matt Seattle (Border pipes) and Donald Lindsay (Scottish smallpipes). In addition, John Hazelhurst offered a workshop entitled “Dance Music of the Lake District”, Anita Evans kept the reedmakers happy, and we found time to squeeze in a talk by Julian Goodacre - a fascinating look at some of the early evidence for bagpipes, entitled “Pipes of Stone: Sounds of Life”, illustrated with images, recorded music and tunes on a wide range of pipes.

We had about 25 players as well as a number of observers, and the atmosphere throughout the day was full of enthusiasm and good crack.

The daytime events finished with a short concert given by Philip and Elizabeth, Matt, Donald and Julian. In the evening we had a ceilidh, with music by the Reunion Band, and floor spots from various pipers. This too was a great success, allowing a good number of “non-pipey” people to hear the pipes live for the first time. Thanks to the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society and the Bagpipe Society for offering financial support for the event.


I’ve asked two players for their impressions:

Eric Twigger, Scottish small pipes:


I write as a first attender at this event, but it will certainly not be my last. My first precon- ception was a misconception. Thinking of a Methodist Church, I had visions of a large single room, somewhat austere but with good acoustics. Only part of that was right: the good acoustics. The venue was large and spacious, with a kitchen, a sports hall, a large meeting room and a number of smaller modern tuition rooms.

For the morning and part of the afternoon, we also split into our respective pipe “loyalty groups”. I can only speak for the Scottish small pipe group, but later, seeing the other tutors perform, and speaking to other students I am certain that the same high standards prevailed throughout.

Our group of about eight had a most excellent day, learning the black art of gracing from an undoubted master, Donald Lindsay, and also some tunes, for which, though we had the “dots” before us, some, like me, were anxious to make the transition to absorbing music without it being written down.

For those addicted to written music, (like me) you will understand how galling it is to play in sessions with those who really know the tunes. Somehow, however fast you can sight read, there is an inevitable slowness about playing while reading music. Donald’s tips on learning by ear were invaluable.

Mid-afternoon found us reassembled for Julian’s absorbing and humorous illustrated talk on the historical background to his wondrous pipe making (one of his slides in particular being so close to a headless animal as to raise a cry from the vegetarians). His playing of English great pipes, Leicestershire small pipes, and double-chanter pipes of all sorts added greatly to his talk.

I have owned a set of his Leicester small pipes, but have always played them with “whistle” fingering - something of which Julian’s brother, John, thoroughly disapproved, while Julian’s close fingering technique produced an entirely different and superior sound. Back to the drawing board for me!

An excellent mini-concert followed, given by John Hazlehurst on concertina, Philip Gruar on Northumbrian pipes and recorder and Elizabeth Gruar on bass viol, plus pipers Donald, Julian and Matt Seattle. It was interesting, varied and extremely musical, but the sight of Julian twirling round and round whilst playing English great pipes, is a sight (and sound) to behold.

By then time had caught up and the day was over. Superbly organised, it was most excellent in every way.


Maureen Davison, Border pipes:

We began the first Border pipes workshop of the day in a way quite unlike any other class I’ve ever attended. Matt urged us to spend a few minutes in quiet contemplation, to try to lap into the history and energy of the tradition. He then challenged us to name as many 3/2 hornpipes as we could remember, this being his theme for the day and something that resulted from his pre-course invitation to participants, for feedback as to what we’d like to do. It was an excellent initiative.

Of course we covered the obvious tunes of this genre, like Berwick Billy, aka Berwick Bully or Go to Berwick Johnny or - my particular favourite - All the Night 1 Lay with Jockey. I’d read somewhere that “Jockey” meant gin but Matt had found a Reavely version, much less ambiguous; All the Night I Lay with Jockey in my Arms. On the subject of titles. Matt also gave us Clarty Bitch the Maiden, which appears in the Vickers and Crawhall manuscripts and one I won’t personally forget! We also did Welcome Home My Dearie, from the John Rook Cumbrian MS of 1840, a superior version of Lang Stay’d Away in the Minstrelsy.

We were encouraged to compare and contrast different versions of tunes and their varia- tions, mix and match according to our personal taste and, hey, to add our own. If something is so good, why not have more of it? It was great fun and thought-provoking stuff, with Matt’s wish that we get to the essence and workings of the tunes, not just play by numbers. There was lively discussion, massed playing and individual musical illustration from tutor and classmates - a very pro-active experience.

We all learned new facts about the Border repertoire, thanks to Matt’s scholarship, but he also told us about the perils of editorship, stressing the editor’s obligation to inform of any alterations they make to the tunes. He also now recognises specific musical spelling mis- takes which he didn’t when he edited the Vickers’ Great North Tune Book.

Matt’s workshops were invaluable and participants, who included one all the way from Canada, took away some juicy morsels to digest. A big thanks to Matt for his sterling efforts and to the hard work of the North Cumbria Group, hosting such a unique bellowspipes’ event. I’m booking now for 2006!

For further details contact Richard and Anita Evans, Fairhaven, Lingfoot, Southwaite, Carlisle, Cumbria, CA4 OEP. Tel: 016974 73799 Website: www. evansweb. co. uk