Steenie Steenson, well-kent grumpy old piper, sends us his ramblings and rattlings

Your old pal was delighted, quickly browsing through these pages, to see a few references to the plight of we poor pipers back in the 17th century. Now I’ve heard it said more than once of late that the repeated quoting of this sort of record gets pipers a bad name, tars them all with the brush of drunkenness and undermines the value of the Lowland piping tradition. Well I want it to be clear - in my opinion we can’t hear enough of this kind of record. It has to be said, over and over it seems, there was a thread of piping tradition that was entirely dance-based. It’s almost completely gone today, I’m sad to say. Time was when wherever people gathered for rest and relaxation there had to be a piper to play for dancing. If it happened that life was organised so that the only opportunity for relaxation coincided with the Lord’s Day it was unfortunate for the Kirk, but there seems to have been no way in which the Session’s blusterings could put a stop to it; weddings needed dancers and dancers needed pipers; nothing more to be said.
So maybe a hundred years later this tradition had gone and pipers now sat in Gentlemen’s grand houses and played sets of variations, and being ‘fit only to play reels to oyster-women’ became an insult. In my day that would have been the best compliment you could pay a piper, oyster-women being well-known for their love of and skill at dancing. Keep all your variorum, give me a stott o’ the spring anytime.
There was, for a while, something I gather was called ‘Tinker piping’. This, it seems was a phrase invented by the gentlemen guardians of the Highland piping world to describe the kind of playing I imagine Lovat took such exception to. You might call this ‘uncultured’ piping, if you were the sort of person who doesn’t have a clue what culture is. In Lovat’s case, it seems that a sufficient quantity of claret was what it took to help him understand.
And while we’re talking of piping and dancing, I’m reminded of hearing not so long ago a piper playing the old lowland reels the way I remember them being played, in my youth that is, before it was all swept under the tartan carpet.  Somewhere between a Kerry polka and American Old Time was how he described it, whatever that means. Sounded like the old border dance music to me, but then, I’m a grumpy old fogey, as you well know.