For the first time in 10 years or more, the prestigious BBC Radio 2 Folk Award was presented to a piper… and that’s just the beginning

It’s Wednesday, 27th April. I’m about to listen to the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards because two of my very good friends, who I’ve known all their lives, have been nominated for two awards. I’m  a bit late turning the radio on, and when I do I can’t quite believe what I’m hearing. The distinctive sound of Hamish Moore Smallpipes, and what are they playing? Surely that’s William Dixon’s Hacky Honey? (I should know, I played the tune in last year’s competition).
It took a while for it to sink in that I was listening to Brighde Chaimbeul, and that she was about to be awarded the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award. Quite an achievement for a 17 year-old whose piping began on Skye, (inspired by hearing Rona Lightfoot play), with a few lessons from a Greek neighbour, learning Mackintosh’s Lament.

The pipes were not her first instrument, she told me when we later met; she had been playing piano previously. Although the pipes took over, she is still studying piano as her second instrument at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, where all four of her siblings have been or still are, pupils. Thought her mother is a sculptor and her father, Aonghas Phadraig, is poet journalist and actor, all her siblings have studied music, the eldest, Mairi, has just completed a course in jazz and world music in Boston USA; she was twice a finalist, along with her sister Steaphanaidh, in the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards. Steaphanaidh herself is currently studying harp at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. Brighde’s younger brother, Eosaph, 13, and sister Ciorstaidh-Sarah, 15, are also keen traditional musicians and regularly join Brighde in the school’s Traditional Group.
All five of them grew up on Skye speaking Gaelic; Brighde told me that she learnt English when she went to school. Iain Speirs and Niall Stewart became her teachers at school. “I am really lucky and grateful” she told me, “for the quality of teaching that I have received over the years”.
Her list of prizes at under 15 and under 18 competitions is impressive, featuring particularly the U18 aggregate at the Northern Meeting in 2014 & 2015.
“I really enjoy pibroch – I’ve always found it easier to play than competition MSR, but I really like playing the smallpipes - tunes are so natural, not competition-style.”
I asked her how the smallpiping started; “I met Fin and Hamish Moore at a festival three or four years ago and I started lessons with Finn two and a half years ago. Hamish had a set of pipes that he was loaning out on a kind of grant scheme.”
“How did you come to play William Dixon’s music?” I asked, thinking how far it was removed from competition MSR. “I heard Martyn Bennett play ‘Saw Ye Never a Bonny Lass’ on his album Hardlands, and learnt to play it. Then one day Fin by chance took out the Dixon book and I said ‘so that’s Dixon.’ So we went through some of the tunes, and Hacky Honey was one of them. And then I heard Chris Norman and David Greenberg play it.”
“You were playing a ‘C’ set of smallpipes on the award-winning performance, is that right?”
“I originally wanted the C set in order to play the piece Martin Bennett had written for Smallpipes and string quartet and percussion. I’m playing that with string-players from the School.”
In fact, Hamish told me the story of those C pipes; they had been originally made by his father back in 1984 and Fin had fettled them back into playing order. Hamish said his father would have been really proud to hear Brighde win that award playing his pipes.”
“So what’s next?” I asked. “Well, this summer part of the Young Folk Award is to play at three festivals in England, including Cambridge and Towersy, and then I’ve been asked to play at Piping Live in Glasgow.”
“ That’s the LBPS concert? I’m really pleased to hear you can do that.”
At this point in the interview I suddenly remembered the most important question I had to ask - “Are you the athlete Brighde Chaimbeul? When I googled you I couldn’t believe there were two people with your Gaellic name in Edinburgh.”
“Yes, I did do sprinting for a while“until I was 16 - you have to be there, really committed, four times a week - it was tough - I don’t think I had the right mindset to keep going” she added jokingly, “basically your whole life is spent making yourself feel sick.”
 One other thing I had to check with Brighde that she was, or at least would be by the time this was in print, no longer 17. “They do like saying I’m 17” she said, but I am now no longer eligible for the under 18 classes.”
“You’ve reached the end of your schooling, bar your exams, so what will you be doing in September”
“People who have won this award in the past have done really well, and I do feel the pressure to do the same. I’m auditioning at the end of this month for the folk music course in the college in Helsinki. There’s a lecturer there called Petri Prauda who has had pipes made based on examples in Finnish museums. I don’t know whether I’ll get into that course, but I certainly  want to explore global piping.”Congratulations to Brighde and I look forward to hearing more, even some more Dixon perhaps…