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THE Society's new secretary is Judy Barker, a singer and piper, and an LBPS member of some dozen years' standing.

Judy plays a set of Hamish Moore smallpipes - she reckons one of the first Hamish made with the combination of rosewood drones and blackwood chanter, “as he knew I wanted to sing with them and felt mellow drones were required.

“I wanted to learn the pipes because I had played in a band with a Northumbrian piper before moving to Scotland and enjoyed the experience of singing with the pipes. Singing with the pipes is absolutely my playing passion - the sensation is rather like singing in the middle of a set of organ pipes and is very exciting.



Judy and Mike Barker at the last competition


I enjoy experimenting with harmonies and accompaniments and am glad Hamish added the extra notes and keys to my A chanter, enhancing the possibilities. Recently Hamish changed my small D drone to E and this has added “spice” to songs like She Moved Through the Fair and The Terror Time.

“Having said that, I love all pipe music. I play in a folk band called Welcome the Stranger, with my husband Mike and flautist Sally, and have roped them both into the “pipes and other instrument” class on LBPS competition days. I also write my own songs and am completing one about LBPS compe- tition day. Watch this space...”

Contact Judy on 01383 620184 or

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Early days. Top: Hamish Moore (extreme left) playing with the band Chorda, (from left) Ian Hardie, Rod Paterson and John Croall.

Above: early LBPS session at Thirtestane Castle, Lauder, with Jim Gilchrist making heavy weather of a set of Lowland pipes as our first president, the late Jimmy Wilson (centre) looks on dubiously. Bottom picture: Bill Telfer

The cauld wind pipes revival revisited


Robert Lowe gives a comprehensive review of the Lowland piping revival, based on interviews with some of the leading players, makers and activists involved in the renaissance of bellows-blown piping in Scotland over the past three decades. This extensive article is based on the paper which he gave at last November's LBPS Collogue in Edinburgh.


 Robert Lowe at the Collogue


IN 1997, I wrote a dissertation entitled A Study of the Revival of Lowland Piping as part of an MA in Scottish Ethnology and Scottish History at Edinburgh University. I was very lucky to spend four years in the School of Scottish Studies, which is a wonderful place where you can study fairies or storytelling or indeed Lowland and Border piping and come out of it with a degree.

I was fortunate to have Gary West as my supervisor and he pointed me in the right direc- tion. I visited Hamish Moore, Colin Ross, Matt Seattle and Gordon Mooney and conducted lengthy interviews with each. These provided much of the material for the dissertation, along with back issues of Common Stock.

This year the LBPS asked me to update the work of nine years ago by revisiting these four to see how their views had developed in the hope of gaining a sense of the evolution of the revival. I interviewed my original informants again and also spoke to Nigel Richard, Iain MacInnes, Gary West and Robbie Greensitt.

Just as the research benefited hugely the first time around from the material in Common Stock, so this time it has been very illuminating to read through the issues published since 1997. These are a most valuable record and I thank the Society for making these available on CD-ROM because this is a wonderful resource.

As my interviews progressed over the last few weeks, it became clear that developments in the Scottish bellows piping scene in the last decade have not been dramatic or controver- sial. I found few striking differences to 1997. Rather 1 gained a sense that the revival has continued to consolidate and grow steadily. A number of people felt the revival has “matured” in the last decade. Colin Ross described the revival in 1997 as “many coals all aglow”. In 2006 he sees these coals now brightly aflame. The number of bellows pipers and activities continues to grow and most informants stressed that the standards in bellows piping, particularly of pipe-making, have improved markedly.


This paper may not always run with great coherency, but I have tried to divide the phenomenon of the revival into a number of subject areas. This work is by no means com- prehensive or definitive, but I have focused on what I see as the main points as expressed by those I interviewed in both years. I will use the actual words of the pipers and pipe-makers themselves wherever possible so as to bring out a flavour of these views.

The revival

The stirrings of the revival must have been an exciting time for those who began poking around in the search for this lost tradition. The stories of those involved in the very early days appear to have been fairly similar as they looked to develop Scottish piping outside the narrow confines of the Highland form. Gordon Mooney was especially passionate about going to folk festivals in Newcastle in the mid-Seventies and “first actually seeing the Northumbrian pipes, en masse ... there was all this stuff going on ... which wasn't Highland piping, marching about, you know?”

The first pipers to revive the use of bellows in Scotland seem to have been Jimmy Anderson and Rab Wallace, while Mike Rowan came up with the idea of the LBPS in 1981. Gordon remembers the early meetings attended by a handful of people and with a few sets of unplayable old pipes lying around. But slowly it grew as “at every one, more people would turn up ... with sets they'd bought in an auction 20 years ago or something like that”. Common Stock began in 1983 and the first competition was held in 1984. The quality was described as “extremely mixed”.

The shared use of bellows and similar ancestry of the smallpipes meant it was Northum- brian rather than Highland pipemakers who revived the art of making Scottish bellows pipes. A key early development was the creation of the modern Scottish smallpipes by Northumbrian pipemakers who developed the basic principle of putting a Northumbrian pipe reed in a chanter and playing Scottish music on it with Highland fingering.

This profoundly influenced the evolution of the revival. The society was originally estab- lished to promote what was then commonly called the Lowland pipes, now the Border pipes. As Gordon Mooney said, “at the time when Colin Ross and Robbie Greensitt appeared on the scene ... the Society began to take two directions, really, and one was suddenly people clamouring for these Scottish smallpipes because they were nice and easy to play”. These people, of course, were mostly Highland pipers who transferred their Highland repertoire to the smallpipes and often saw them more as a practice instrument or certainly a second instrument.

The development of the smallpipes gave a huge lift to the revival. Hamish Moore said, “I based the whole fact that I gave up my job as a vet and went into making the pipes on the fact that ... most Highland pipers in the world would want a set of these pipes eventually.” Robbie Greensitt and Ann Sessoms originally made harps but from the early 1980s found that demand for Scottish smallpipes was increasing so steadily that they could make this instrument the staple of their business. Their waiting list time grew to 24 months.

The wider Scottish folk music revival which exploded in the 1970s created a stimulating environment in which the bellows pipes revival blossomed. Gordon Mooney's A Tutor for


the Cauld Wind Bagpipes was published in 1985 and Gordon and Hamish recorded albums which did a lot to heighten what Common Stock referred to in 1985 as “cauld wind consciousness”. The society began tuition courses in 1986 and, at the competition in 1987, Gordon Mooney could say “with a feeling of assurance that the cauld wind pipes are emphatically here to stay”. I will not continue listing the achievements of the society from the late 1980s because I feel the real “revival” period ended around this time. I will bring the story up to 1997 to the present and what follows is taken from interviews in both years because much of the material overlaps.

Curiouser and curiouser: interested pipers at an early gathering The LBPS, the revival and the Scottish piping scene

My original account of the revival was in the main an account of the development of the LBPS. I have not covered the wider world of bellows piping outside the Society and, given the numbers of sets sold, it is clear that most bellows pipers are not involved in the Society. I asked Gordon Mooney if he still saw potential for the growth of the LBPS given this. He said, “I often wonder where these pipers are; there are lots and lots of bellows pipes out there, made by many makers ... they then kind of disappear.” Hamish Moore agreed that the story of revival is not just that of the LBPS, but feels the Society has done and still does fantastic work and he would like to think the stories of the Society and the revival are the same. Gary West pointed out that it is unlikely these thousands of people would be playing bellows pipes if it wasn't for the LBPS. Its influence has been very great, especially through the promotional aspect - the high profile concerts and CDs have been very important.

Iain MacInnes suggested, in an affectionate way, that many players of bellows pipes probably regard the LBPS as fairly eccentric, but also emphasised that it has done great work. Gordon said that when the LBPS is viewed from the Highland piping world, it


probably does look odd, but then if you take a step back and look at Highland piping, it also looks a bit odd. Highland piping has clearly been changing over the last 20 years and Iain feels there is a very healthy interaction between the two traditions.

Rank and file: a motley line-up in the early Nineties Picture Bill Sutherland Repertoire


The repertoire played on Scottish bellows pipes has generated much debate. Some have been passionately committed to unearthing and promoting the old Lowland and Border music, while others show little interest and have been content to play Highland repertoire. Gordon Mooney began hunting Lowland and Border tunes in the 1970s and found that “initially it became quite obsessive”. Matt Seattle has of course taken this work further, most notably with his discovery and publication of the Dixon manuscript.

At times, some members of the Society felt the movement lost sight of its original aims - only a minority of pipers play the conical bore instrument and the Border repertoire. In 1997, Matt Seattle stated that the revival had been sidetracked. “As I see it, the Society was founded to revive the instruments and repertoire of the Lowlands and Borders. And, as it has gone, most people are playing a new instrument, Scottish smallpipes, ironically devel- oped in England, and they're playing Highland music on them. So I really don't see what any of it has to do with the aims of the Society as defined in the constitution.”

Hamish Moore pointed out that “if the people who were buying smallpipes ... Highland pipers ... had not joined the Society, (it) wouldn't be in existence today”. There have been calls for the Society to change its name to The Cauld Wind Pipers' Society or The Scottish Smallpipes Society, but this never happened, I assume because it would have risked an unnecessary fracture in the movement. Colin Ross still feels the LBPS should be called the


Scottish Bellows Pipes Society. Hamish says the society should very much promote Border music and styles on Border instruments but that the name and philosophy does not represent what has actually happened. Gordon suggests the division was caused by the pipe- makers rather than the pipers, because the profitable market for instruments was clearly Highland pipers playing in the Highland style. When pipemakers started becoming the main influence in the society, it began moving very much towards the Highland fraternity.

In 1997, Matt Seattle appeared downbeat about pipers taking up the Border style. “There are very few people taking up the older music at the moment... There's nothing wrong with people playing Highland piping on Border pipes, but why aren't they paying the stuff on the instrument it was meant for?” Gordon Mooney said in 1997, “It's not really a big crusade ... you're (not) going to say you must play this or that,” and felt that the Society had done what it could to promote Border piping. Colin Ross said no-one could dictate what should be played on the pipes, but a wider airing of the music by good players and improved instru- ments would make it more attractive.

Matt said that four things need to be in place for a meaningful revival: repertoire, instru- ment, musicians and audience. In 1997, only the first two existed. Hamish and Colin both said that it would be crucial to improve the instrument, in particular to make it a little quiet- er and more stable.


Revisiting this subject in 2006,1 found that while there have not been any dramatic developments, all I spoke to were even more positive and optimistic about the health and prospects of the Border instrument and repertoire. Hamish feels that while the vast majority still comes to bellows pipes from the standard Highland piping background and it is difficult for people to free themselves from this, Border music is slowly becoming more popular and this is to be applauded and celebrated. The LBPS is doing what it can to promote Border music, and if it mounts a serious comeback, it will do so on its own merits.

Hamish feels the Dixon Manuscript is “very valuable and interesting, although an art form by a specific composer rather than the sort of music the ordinary pipers would have played. The wider story is dance music. Dixon ain't dance music, rather a showpiece for highly technical variations on a theme. You may go into the back of Sandy Bell's on a Saturday night and hear 16 variations of Jocky said to Jenny played by ten people”, but it is unlikely.

Gordon reckons that much of the Lowland and Border music which survived is now uncovered and documented, but expects there will be more and more tunes written in the Border style. Gary feels from his experiences, “judging at the annual competition, that things haven't changed that much at all in many ways. There is a bit of a shift in repertoire, more people trying Border tunes than ten years ago and more of an attempt not to replicate what's played on Highland pipes”.

In 2006, Matt sounded happier with the development of the music and the place it has in the Society than he did in 1997. He said, “It is not about any kind of evangelism, it is really about making it available. This music has not been around for a long time and is not every-


one's cup of tea.”

I asked him about the four elements needed for a full revival. He said the audience has appeared more recently, but less so the musicians and he reckons that musicians “generally underestimate how much an audience can take. The musicians do not yet fully understand the Border repertoire. They can play the dots, but do not fully understand what the music is about. It takes great discipline and a long attention span”.



1995 competition: Peter Cooke, Stewart Gaudin, Steve Hall, Gordon Mooney.


Matt describes the LBPS as a broad church which has supported his efforts and he is happy that what he has done is part of the picture. He does not have a problem with pipers playing Highland music on bellows pipes; it's just not for him. “I'm slightly different, I'm on the edge, on the border, that is where stuff happens, you get friction, interaction. I'm not part of the mainstream, and have no wish to be.” Matt keeps what he calls a “Dixography”, which notes the recordings of tunes from the Dixon Manuscript and he is fairly pleased with the number of these.

A final word on the Border music from Matt: “The really interesting thing about the Border stuff is that it is a blend between the Northumberland style and the Scottish technique. It has its own flavour because of where it is and what it is. It has a great vitality which is like a yeast.” Matt is not in Edinburgh this weekend for the happy reason that Dougie Pincock invited him to the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton to teach Border Pipes.


I gained a sense that one area which has seen some notable developments in the last


decade is pipemaking. Colin Ross is very pleased that there are now a number of very good well-established pipemakers in Scotland. Hamish says everyone is getting much better at pipemaking. This is clearly very important, especially for the increased playing of the Border pipes. Hamish says the biggest challenge as a pipemaker in the last 20 years has been to make the Border pipes quieter while retaining stability. He feels he is getting there, but has not yet found the definitive method, as has generally been reached with the small- pipes. Demand for Border pipes appears to have levelled off after a large increase two-three years ago.

Nigel Richard feels his Border pipe chanter is now good and he is not minded to fiddle with it any further. He feels this is his major achievement. Improving this has been his main passion for 20 years and he now feels that his pipes have nice pressure and volume.

Nigel explained that part of the historical problem in bellows pipemaking was that “the makers had not been trained by another pipemaker and were mostly learning from scratch. There often appeared to be a sort of amateurish element ... After 20 years, much of this has gone This has always been a craft market, particularly because of the variety of

instruments being made. Highland pipemakers' bellows pipes have generally been poorer quality but some are now producing reasonable instruments and have started using technol- ogy such as computer-controlled lathes. This has made and will continue to make a dent in the craft market, but the number playing is expanding all the time and there will always be people who want pipes made by craftsmen rather than computers”.

Colin does not think that there have been any significant developments in the techniques of making smallpipes in the last decade, but Nigel is on the brink of revealing some modifi- cations. He feels that pipemakers can never stand still and must keep developing.

Gordon, Gary and Iain all feel that Border pipes have improved markedly. Gordon said, “You can buy a set now in the confidence that they will be in the right pitch, be easier to play and maintain with a good sound. The early sets, especially made by Highland makers, were a bit brutal, heavy to play and maintain. Furthermore, Border pipes have come more into the folk scene and bands are using them very well       where they really are the ideal


The future

I asked my informants what they felt about the future of the Society and movement. Gary reckons that while the standards of the instruments are now very good there is “still some way to go before people catch up on the standard of playing technique”. He feels this is one of the biggest gaps still and cites the “need for improvement of the basic skills across the board”. Bellows technique, tuning and clean fingering all generally need attention. He feels some pipers try to run before they can walk and tackle the Dixon material too soon.

Hamish reckons standards have gone up at LBPS competitions in the last decade but also feels there is still great room for improvement. “There is lot of enthusiasm and new blood and energy in the society, but large numbers of young people are sadly lacking and the average age is getting older.”

Nigel agrees and says that while there are increasing numbers of younger bellows pipers,


the problem, perhaps unsurprisingly, “is getting them interested in sitting on a committee and working on the pipes”. There is a very strong bellows pipes session scene, especially in Glasgow, which is separate from the LBPS, and Nigel would like the links to be much stronger although this is not always practical. He feels the Society could work on youth initiatives as future growth and dynamism are most important. The Society could also spon- sor the playing of bellows pipes in the Borders.

I asked Nigel what direction he felt the Society would take after he leaves as chairman. He said, “It's going to collapse of course. Actually it is more likely to collapse because Rona [Macdonald, the Society's long-time secretary] is leaving. She has been incredible.”

Gordon feels the LBPS is almost part of the establishment of the piping world now. He thinks it would be “interesting to see it promote innovation, musical innovation, composi- tions, writing tune books, and encourage the younger players who now view it as a given that the Society exists”. He thinks, “The whole teaching scene for traditional music has vastly improved, from effectively nothing to being a very well established part of the school curriculum. There is still a way to go in the teaching of adults and summer schools are the way to do this.”

Gary agrees there is a need for good teachers, in particular to spread the message that Lowland pipes are not the same as Highland pipes. He feels there is a need for “people with technical expertise and an open mind to teach properly”. Gary would like to see the LBPS do anything it can to encourage good teaching: the Society has done a lot already, the new teaching manual is excellent and the recent seminar on teaching methodology was a good idea.


Hamish describes the revival as “the biggest cultural renaissance in modern Scotland, given it has occurred in such a short time. This can be seen in the fact that most pipers, if they haven't got a set of these pipes, will certainly have heard them”.

Gordon, describing the 1981 Edinburgh folk festival “at which two or three boxes of sticks and bits of old pipes” were produced, then compared it to today, “when young people just accept that these pipes exist”. He finds this remarkable. “Many young people don't realise this is a revival, they don't realise it died out.” Twenty-five years ago, he could not have imagined this happening. Gordon says that, because the pipes are so established on the folk music scene, one early objective of the Society has been achieved.

Gary says a measurement of the success of the whole revival is that you can now even ask whether the LBPS is actually needed. The answer is positive, if only because the Highland repertoire still dominates.

The success of the Lowland piping revival is an outstanding example of the revitalisation of a traditional instrument. There have been favourable external factors, but the efforts and talents of those involved in the revival, right up to today, should be recognised and applaud- ed. Peter Cooke made the point that inspiration does not come from a society but from the determination, innovation and enthusiasm of individuals.


I wrote in 1997 that the success of the movement means its status as a “revival” may not longer be applicable, but as Gary points out, there are no rules for telling when a revival ends. These are of course merely

labels and this is an academic question which is difficult to measure, but I would argue the revival stage ended by the early 1990s, possibly by the late 1980s, as the movement had grown out of its infancy and was clearly stable. Gary feels that bellows pipes have clearly arrived, they are a main part of the Scottish musical tradition and he no longer has to explain to an audience what on earth they are.


However, he argues that the revival is not fully over until


Julian Goodacre playing in the back room of Stuart's Bar, Edinburgh


there is a clear number of people who come to bellows pipes as their first and only instru- ment rather than these being secondary to Highland Pipes. It may be that Scottish bellows piping is now in its second stage, or its teenage years, although I think most of the teenage angst has by now been pretty much sorted out. The next stage would be to end the depend- ency, to leave the Highland family home, move next door and pop round regularly for ceilidhs.

There is much to explore further here and Gary has some fascinating thoughts about models of revivals and how this one is so far a fairly classic case. We also had a good discussion about the relationship between identity and this revival - whether it is Scottish, Lowland, Border (it's certainly not “Celtic”) or whatever. This is a “Lowland and Border Pipers' Society”, but these labels, especially “Lowland” are very rarely used in Scotland, as self-definition and cultural expression are dominated by “Highland” and “Celtic” styles.

I will finish with a couple of quotes from two prominent figures which cheer me greatly and go some way towards explaining the success of this great revival. Hamish Moore said, “My motivation is to make an instrument which is as beautiful looking and sounding as I can. I am gloriously happy in my work ... and am in a very privileged and enlightened position.”

Gordon Mooney mused, “I still remain surprised at why there should be so many people involved in [bellows piping] ... it's not an inconsiderable investment... I can't explain it... maybe people are looking for some kind of cultural identity ... or like I got into it, it's a bit of fun ... It still gives me a buzz to play these things, you know; there's a real wild excitement about them.”