Jim Gilchrist was present at the 1983 inaugural meeting of the LBPS. Here he recalls his first encounters with bellows piping

It was during the long, hot summer of ’76 that I awoke to “cauld wind consciousness”. I had arrived in Edinburgh from the west the previous November with a burgeoning interest in traditional music and had become a habitué of the famous Sandy Bell’s bar in Forrest Road, where one’s extra-curricular studies might take in an amiable lecture from the late Hamish Henderson and, of course, many’s the tune, be it from Cathal McConnell, Aly Bain or the emergent Cunningham brothers.
There were three things that occurred that memorably hot summer, however, that brought Scottish bellows pipes, hitherto little more than a rumour, sharply into my ken, and I think I have them here in the right order. The first time I knowingly saw and heard Lowland pipes was one Saturday afternoon, early that summer, when I wandered into Bell’s and, as he poured my pint, the late, wonderfully acerbic landlord, Jimmy Cairney, leaned over the bar to inform me in a confidential manner that there was “a young man up the back there playing a sheep”. Pint in hand, I made my way up to the often tumultuous musicians’ corner to witness this marvel for myself, and there, amid the more regular sessioneers, there was indeed a man elbowing away on a set of bellows blown pipes.
I didn’t even know what the instrument was called and I asked the player, who turned out to be Jamie MacDonald Reid, whether they were chamber pipes, which I had heard of, and he replied that they were Lowland pipes (I had just missed witnessing the “sheep playing” episode, which in fact referred to one of the eastern European bagpipes he also played). MacDonald Reid’s pioneering role tends to be somewhat overlooked in accounts of the early days of the bellows pipes revival, and I was pleased, back in 1989 or 1990, to have him speak and play for a LBPS meeting in the School of Scottish Studies (my report of the meeting is in Common Stock, Vol 5 No1, March 1990).
Then, at the end of June, some friends and I took the meandering 20-mile road from Hawick into deepest Liddesdale and the Newcastleton Traditional Music Festival, for what would prove a landmark weekend in my developing interests. I can recall vividly the shrilling of pipes and fiddles in the back yard of the Grapes Hotel mingling with the screich of swifts tumbling through a brazen evening sky and clipping the drone tops of Highland pipes (played, as I recall, by Ian MacDonald (PM of Neilston & District Pipe Band and Finlay’s dad).
I was introduced to buirdly ballads from both sides of the Border, and a wonderful back room full of Northumbrian pipes, bubbling sweetly along with an entranced canary, and an auld feller with a straw basher set rakishly back on his head singing Keep Your Feet Still, Geordie Hinny. There was further enlightenment, however, in the form of two of the Whistlebinkies, Eddie McGuire and Rab Wallace, who were among the many musicians circulating and playing, unbilled in this least formal of music events, with the latter playing ... yes, Lowland pipes.
A couple of months later I had the chance to see the entire Whistlebinkies lineup in full fling when they played for one of the Fringe concerts the National Trust for Scotland used to run in the beautifully restored Gladstone’s Land in the Lawnmarket. The sheer brio of their performance helped dispel the somewhat drawing-roomy atmosphere and, as I later recorded elsewhere, their musical recreation of the battle of Sheriffmuir threatened to seriously upset the equilibrium of some of the more senior members of that douce audience, as Mick Broderick let rip in a sort of one-man Heilan’ charge.
But I also remember thinking how right and natural it all sounded, that combination of Lowland pipes, fiddle, harp, flute and pipe band side drum. This was at a time, remember, when the bands Alba and the Tannahill Weavers – both of whom would feature the high-powered Highland piping of Alan MacLeod (where is he now?) were yet to record, although I had heard of what the ‘Binkies were doing, and had heard one track, on a sampler, of the Clutha, with Jimmy Anderson breaking into Sleepy Maggie on what I presumed at that, uninformed time were chamber pipes but in hindsight may have been early revived small pipes.
These early encounters, however, did somehow chime with my own nebulous and little more than gut feelings that there somehow must have been a more pastoral Scots bagpipe to fit in with the Lowland culture of the 18th and 19th centuries.
My listening, learning and occasionally writing on folk music in general in The Scotsman continued until 1981, when I interviewed Hugh Cheape, at that time a curator with what was then the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, and who had just attended a piping workshop in Falkirk as part of the town’s annual folk festival. That workshop, as I was moved to write, the article appearing on 24 November, 1981, “could revive the sound of the pipes as they were heard in the Scottish Lowlands until the last century ”.

That article, headed “Pipe dream in the making” [see. page 7], referred to the workshop as being organised by the Lowland Pipers’ Society and described Hugh as “a founder member of the new society”, thus placing the existence of the LBPS as far back as 1981 although the meeting at which the Society was properly constituted was indeed at the College of Piping, Glasgow, on 16 April, 1983. I note that the minutes for that particular meeting in Glasgow were taken by one Jim Gilchrist, Minute Secretary.
By that time, I think, I had met Mike Rowan, Gordon Mooney, Colin Ross, Hamish Moore and other early movers. The rest, as they say, is history. As I wrote of that 1983 Glasgow gathering in The Scotsman in February of this year, anticipating the Society’s 30th anniversary tune competition: “An onlooker might have been forgiven for regarding it as a convocation of eccentric antiquarians, as they opened boxes to reveal sundry bits of unorthodox-looking bagpipes. This was the first official meeting of the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society which, over the past three decades, has played a vital role in the revival of Scotland’s bellows-blown pipes ..