Gary West was invited to talk to the Collogue about his experiences of the bellows pipe revival. An edited transcription of his talk is given here

Ican make no claim to have been one of the ‘core’ revivalists, as the academics would tend to call them. I was still at home in Perthshire when it was all happening down here, playing the Highland pipes, with the Vale of Atholl Band in particular and it wasn’t till I arrived in Edinburgh as a student, coming into this very building when I was 18, that I first really became aware at all of bellows pipes. As a stu- dent I became hooked on the whole concept of tradition. I was lucky enough to come here in 1984, when some of the great figures of the School of Scottish Studies were still here, Hamish Henderson in particular. Hamish was many different things to different people, but he was certainly inspirational to an 18 year-old discovering this whole world of academic tradition which I knew nothing about. I was a highland piper and was into folk music, I listened to all the bands of that time, Silly Wizard, Ossian, Five Hand Reel, Battlefield Band and the Irish bands, Planxty, Bothy Band, people like that – but to discover that you could come and study this kind of thing for a degree was a real eye-opener, or ear-opener, and people like Hamish were responsible for opening my eyes to the links between all these different aspects of tradition – and that is my main theme here today. I very much saw bellows piping – and all piping in fact – as part of a very much wider thing and growing up in a highland piping world I hadn’t appreciated that there were so many links. One of the things I do with my teaching now is to try and look at these links. So I have an academic interest in these things. I’m not an ethnomusicologist and a lot of the stuff I teach here is not music or about music. I teach ethnology really and if I was to sum up what I teach now in academic terms it’s how we relate to the past within our present, so I’m not an historian, I don’t try and recreate what happened in the past. I’m interest- ed in things that come into the present from the past and how we make these links. So tradition is a big part of that, for example. Tradition is something that flows into the present from the past, and heritage is another thing, the way we construct a certain sense, or a version of the past, in museums or the tourist industry or what-have-you.

Another thing that links the present and the past, of course, is revival – the deliberate bringing back of something into the present from the past. Academ- ics are becoming quite interested in the whole concept of ‘revivalism’, asking lots of questions about what are our attitudes to the current cultural offerings, that we feel we need to go back into the past and dig something up and bring it back- why do we do that – that raises all manner of, for me, interesting questions. Of the links that I was made to think about once I came here, there are many which are still very much with us now. I’ve spent a lot of my time playing bel- lows pipes with harps – I wasn’t the first to do that of course – Hamish [Moore] played with Kaitie Harragan and Iain [MacInnes] played with Patsy [Seddon], but it’s probably been my main thing with smallpipes and of course it is very much a revived instrument – going back a century, the 1890’s is when we can pinpoint the beginnings of the clarsach revival in a very deliberate intervention, linked to the Mod and Sir Archibald Campbell, going into museums, just as people in this room did 80 or 90 years later with bellows pipes, getting measurements, getting instrument makers to make harps. That was part of a much wider Celtic revival, the ‘Celtic Twilight’ was there in literature as well as in music. And then into the 1930s and the beginnings of the Clarsach society. But the instrument – the clarsach was never a folk instrument, I suppose, it was always an instrument that was set apart - it had a particular role. It wasn’t until the 70’s that Alan Stivel in Brittany and others here, Alison Kinnaird, Patsy Seddon, Iain MacMaster, Wendy Stewart, began taking the harp into the folk scene, where it still firmly is. And of course we talk about ‘the folk revival’ in the 1950’s and that is a key part: if that hadn’t happened, would we all be sitting here now, doing this? I rather doubt it – it was a seminal moment, and this is an important anniversary year. 1951 saw the first Edinburgh People’s Festival Ceildih – that was the event when Hamish Henderson and Alan Lomax brought all these people they had discovered who were traditional singers from the communities across the breadth of Scotland and put them on a stage here in Edinburgh and said look what we’ve got – everything that was being put forward as Scottish music up until that point was either the kind of Harry Lauder parody of it or dressing up in Italian-type clothing and singing it in that very ornate style. Hamish and Alan were saying ‘we don’t have to have that, we can have this - we can have Jimmy Macbeth, we can have Flora MacNeil, we can have, and very importantly, and I think this was a master-stroke by Hamish Henderson, John Burgess, who was then just 17 years old- [he had won, I think, both his gold medals by then] the ’boy genius’ and recognised as such, but what I think Hamish Henderson was saying by putting the only instrumentalist that night amongst Scots and Gaelic singers was that piping is part of that same well-spring of folk music; it had been pushed aside for a couple of hundred years as something different, but it’s part of the same thing.1 The list of revivals is still being added too - not just bellows piping but story- telling, ‘old’ highland piping and step-dancing. It’s important to remember that although the 20th century saw a blossoming of revivals, it was by no means new, in that revivals had been happening all the time in Scottish cul- ture - Walter Scott was a revivalist, Burns was a revivalist, Macpherson and the whole Ossian thing was a revival. Once you begin to study tradition over the centuries you can see that no single tradition really has a smooth line, it is always peaks and troughs; it’s when the trough goes out of sight that you need to revive it, though sometimes it disappears off the graph altogether… Here are ‘the big questions’ I’m interested in:


    Why do they take place?

    How do they work?

    Who is involved?

    How is it influenced by the past?

    Quest for authenticity?

    Role of modernisation?

The question of authenticity is crucial one - how do we bring something back? Do we try to bring it back in exactly the same form as we know or think it was when it disappeared or do we accept that there’s a hundred years of cultural water under the bridge and therefore we need to change it and make it valuable and relevant to the current day? There is a problem with authenticity, the idea of an archetypal or pure form in the past- in all traditions this was probably never true – if you take the view that the further back in to the past you go the purer the tradition becomes then you’re onto a loser: things can only get worse. Hamish Henderson had this metaphor, ‘The Carrying Stream’ - the tradition as flowing through time. What it’s carrying may change; stuff may get pushed aside, other things thrown in, but you will always recognise it as the same stream. Revival is going back up the stream, collecting the things that have been pushed aside and bringing them back in again. Here is Tamara Livingston’s model of revivals:

A Model of Revivals

    Core revivalists

    Informants / original sources

    Ideology and discourse

    Revivalist community

    Revivalist activities

    Enterprises and market (Livingston, T., [1999], “Music Revivals; To- wards a General Theory”, Ethnomusicology 43 [1]:66-85) All successful revivals do these things: if they do not it does not work; our revival is a classic case; it fits the model beautiful.

There has to be a link to the past made through whatever bridges you can find to the past; in our case there were not really informants. I find it remarkable how astonishingly quickly disappearance of the bellows-piping tradition disappeared. Even Hamish Henderson, inter- viewing old men who remembered one of the last carriers of the tradition referred to the bellows-pipes as ‘Irish pipes’; the knowledge had been com- pletely eradicated in two generations. So we have had to go to original sources, both for context and for tunes. As for the ideology, a revival needs a vision- the LBPS constitution is the evidence for this vision. Different views are healthy, however; in many ways if it doesn’t happen you’re in trouble. A narrowness of vision can become controlling, preventing different ideologies emerging. Highland piping has sometimes suffered from this. One of the marks of success of the LBPS as a lead- ing player in the revival has been its open approach to both its ideologies and its activities. I think we’re doing pretty well. As for my own experience of the revival as I said at the beginning, I was not one of the ‘core’ revivalists. As some of you know, I have been a recurring sufferer of Bell’s Palsy. If I were to be honest, I would admit that it was this that encouraged me to take up bellows piping; put simply ‘I couldnae blaw’. At that time my grandmother bequeathed me a small sum and I wanted to buy something to remember her by so I bought an ‘A’ set of smallpipes from Hamish Moore. However, a group of my fellow pipers in the Vale of Atholl band had acquired sets in ‘C’ and so I never played in Skidleybrees [Gary then showed a video from 1990 of four players of smallpipes ‘doing what pipe bands do’] I have never seen their likes again. The smallpipes remained a 2nd instrument for me for quite a while- not unusual even now for highland pipers. It took a long time for me to realise that this was a very different instrument. My first recording of smallpipes, [‘O’er the hills and far away’ sung by ????] opened up the whole area of playing with singers, which I love to do. Then, as part of the progression of folk band pipers, I replaced Gordon Duncan in Coelbeg when he moved to the Tannerhill Weav- ers. Even there I was mainly playing highland pipes, though the presence of Davie Steel as singer meant I got to play smallpipes to accompany him. I then began teaching -first with the LBPS and later internationally. Teaching is an essential part in this severed tradition: there’s a big responsibility about what you teach and how you teach it, in relation to these big issues of ideology and authenticity that I have discussed. I will always teach as a highland piper – pretty much all who are teaching bellows pipes come from the highland pipe – however I am very conscious not to make it the highland pipe in smaller form but to recognise and elucidate its own particular characteristics and develop playing styles to match.

So what stage are we at in our revival? Are are we still reviving or re we revived? When is a revival just part of the tradition? I’ll leave that as a question; there’s still such a dominance of the highland pipe- I’m not sure we’re quite there but what is very clear is that it has broken out in different directions; I think the current situation is really healthy.”

[Editor’s note: Gary had opened his talk with the story of his fall from the quay at Raasay and finished it with a performance of his commemo- rative tune ‘The Plummetting Piper’]

Note 1    A celebration of this anniversary took place on the following Thursday at which Flora MacNeil, who had been 16 at the original event, and was now the only surviving participant, was present.

The fourth speaker at this year’s Collogue was Hamish Moore, who gave a presentation entitled ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing’ about ‘internal dance rhythms in pipe music’. Owing to space restrictions, this talk has been held over till the next issue. A full version will however be available on the website in the near future.