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


Greetings from Primrose Knowe, your old pal Steenie here. Good to see to see somebody is thinking about how to play those old dances. Down here in the Borders in my day of course we’d never heard of reels as you play them now, or if we had it was something those mountaineers did up in the north. We had the Cumberland’s, the jigs and, of course those tunes the scholars called the Scots measures. It wasn’t until Robert Riddell’s day that they all got replaced. There were the ‘country dances’ in town of course, and some of them eventually made it out to us in the country, but the way they played the tunes was always the old country way, even in town.
Not that we didn’t dance the reel, in the old way of it. Many’s the time I was chided for piping for it as a lad; in those days it was just the round dance, as you might expect a reel to be, with the stepping of course. But then we got the dancing masters with their tiny fiddles and their fancy manners and that was the end of it.
Anyway, I've been looking at these competition results - competition! In my day a competition involved real prizes; I mean money. Not that the piper saw any of the money of course. It was always a wager that was involved - some gentlemen or other would decide that he had a piper who knew more tunes than some other gentlemen's piper and off went the message. A thousand pounds says my piper is better than yours. Old Jamie Bell from Penrith got sent off down to London to compete with that Humphrey guy. Bell won of course, but he didn't see him any of the money. 1000 pounds was the wager. But look what happened to Humphrey, with his fancy ivory pipes; didn't he finish up trying to blag his way into the Chelsea Hospital? Got his name into the Parliamentary records for it too.
I digress. We lowly country pipers sometimes get peeved about that kind of thing. These days a competition means playing one or two tunes. In my day a competition meant playing all day and into the night, until one of the pipers ran out of tunes. And if your piper could come up with a completely new tune then you were bound to win. Which brings me to these new-fangled tunes. How does a highland pipe-band tune come to get a prize in a Lowland piping competition? It wouldn’t have been given elbow room in my day. [Ed. We did point out to Steenie that there was no such thing as a pipe band in his day - he remained as obstinate as ever. ]