page 5

Alan Jones has written at length of his visit to the Borders in 1993 where his extensive collection of pipes were displayed at the annual Collogue in Galashiels. While an account of that year’s Collogue has already been published (COMMON STOCK VOL 9 No.1 June 1994), the following excerpts add a further dimension.

Last October [1993] my whole collection of bagpipes was sent (“air mail”) to Scotland, for a two month exhibition at historic Old Gala House, Galashiels - a wonderful building dating from the 18th century and earlier, that has now been converted into a museum.

Thanks to the efforts of Gordon Mooney and the Scottish Traditional Music Trust, arrangements were negotiated with Etterick and Lauderdale District Council to put my pipe collection on exhibition as part of the Scottish Borders Festival and Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society “Gala Rant”.

The history of the Border bagpipe tradition can be traced back to the 12th century. Evidence of a stone water spout in the form of a pig playing a bagpipe can be found from this period at Melrose Abbey. As is common with other Border abbeys, the Melrose order encouraged the work of musicians, and early evidence supports the theory that pipes were in use at least from that time onwards. A similar carving can be seen in Roslin Chapel [see elsewhere in this issue, Ed], but the Melrose Abbey bagpipe connection pre-dates the more northerly religious establishment.

Pipers were employed throughout the Border boroughs of "burghs" dating from the 1400s, whereby they would normally play before sunrise to signal the dawning of the (work) day, and in the evening to indicate the night curfew. Often the old form of County Councils paid these men a small sum of money [see also “Odds and Ends” in this issue. Ed] for their   services and into the bargain (generously?) provided a pair of shoes! For such a seemingly meagre reward, pipers, in addition to their regular daily duties, had to play at official functions and ceremonies as and when required, and in the most part, were required to turn out dressed in a military style uniform.

Amongst others, several generations of pipers belonging to the Hastie family continuously worked in Jedburgh; there were the famous Andersons of Kelso, as featured in the much loved song and Burn’s poem “John Anderson my Jo”; the Jaffreys of Hawick; and one very famous piper by the name of Geordie Sime, personal piper to the Duke of Buccleuch during the 18th century; all of whom faithfully upheld the then noble tradition of piping in the   Borders, Geordie Sime was based at Dalkeith, and it is noted that he was the best piper of his time and wore a yellow coat, red breeches, and a blue bonnet.

Getting back to more modern times, the Galashiels exhibition and the 1993 Border bagpipe connection, there was certainly quite a story to actually getting the pipes prepared and shipped from Canada to Great Britain. Much categorizing, itemizing, packing away in their respective boxes, plus transporting to the city (Montreal) for crating took place before   shipping paperwork, customs and insurance documents and other details could be finalised to get them onto an aircraft. Not a simple task by any means with around 80 sets involved,

The pipes were delayed on leaving Canada, and then on reaching Glasgow (via London), got entangled in customs paperwork and the bureaucracy of import duties.

Fortunately, Etterick and Lauderdale District Council and staff at the museum became actively involved with T.V. and extensive newspaper coverage (e.g. in the national Scotsman, local Selkirk Advertiser, Border Telegraph, Borders Gazette and Southern Reporter etc.) .... . “Bagpipes destined for museum exhibition get held up by customs” . .. . seems to have been the press required to conclude “all’s well that ends well”. The pipes eventually arriving in Galashiels two days before the commencement of the opening of the exhibition.

......Ann Brown of BBC Radio Scotland came in to interview me. A very lively interview ensued, with many well informed questions asked. Discussed with both Gordon Mooney and myself were the long term plans to promote the establishment of a centre for Scottish traditional music under the auspices of the Scottish Traditional Music Trust, and also the potential for setting up a permanent bagpipe museum/exhibition at Old Gala House: negotiations on these issues being currently under way.

An observation that I must comment on, is the fact that it was such a luxury to be able to take pipes out of their cases, tune up the drones, and lo and behold, THEY PLAYED FIRST TIME! Definitely a happier family of pipes in the more bagpipe conducive climate of the British Isles (than in Canada and the North Eastern US). I must conclude from personal   experience, that if a bagpipe is PLAYED in the environment in which it is made, then it   certainly gives less trouble to its owner than if it “emigrates”.