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David Hannay

The autumn leaves were beginning to fall as I drove along the Solway Coast to Gatehouse of Fleet from Newton Stewart, where I had just finished evening surgery. Jock Agnew has a small house in Gatehouse where his daughter lives - he being currently in Essex running a sailing school as well as editing COMMON STOCK. We have known each other since          boyhood and this evening he was staying in his house and Matt Seattle was visiting while on holiday in Kirkcudbright.

Jock started on the Highland pipes while in the Merchant Navy, but has since moved on to the small pipes and Border pipes. It is the latter which now increasingly occupies his attention, especially the music of William Dixon which has recently been rediscovered by Matt Seattle. 

Matt had originally been a guitar player, but moved north from the south of England and took up first the fiddle and then the Border pipes. In 1995 he published William Dixon’s tunes compiled in 1733, and so resurrected a lost tradition of Border piping. The music is quite different from Highland pipe music and requires an open mind and a fresh ear to                  appreciate. It is technically demanding and many of the tunes are like piobaireachd in that there are elaborations on a theme, although the variations make use of runs rather than grace notes. There is also an underlying construction pattern based on chords, rather than phrases as described by Alec Haddow for piobaireachd.

When I arrived the pipes were already going in the small front room with Matt playing Dorrington Lads and Jock, Cuthbertson’s Fancy. The evening passed quickly with Dixon tunes played on the Border pipes by two enthusiasts for this traditional music, and only interrupted by a meal of vegetable lasagna and cherry brandy. The tunes played either solo or in unison were:- Have a Care of her Johnny; New Way to Morpeth; Apprentice  Lads of Alnwick; Nickle Foster’s Hornpipe; Mock the Soldier's Lady; The New Way to Bowden;              Berwick Bully; Saw Ye Never a Bonny Lass and An Thou Wert my ain Thing as a duet. These tunes illustrated the full range of Border music, and as the playing rolled on into the                       evening, it reminded me of a description of Sandy Cameron playing piobaireachd, another traditional bagpipe music, like waves rolling on to the shore.

It was late when Jock’s daughter returned and Matt had to go. Outside the moon shone on the house in Birtwhistle Street, named after a north country mill owner who had been part of the development of Gatehouse of Fleet based on water power at the end of the eighteenth century. This was about half a century after William Dixon compiled his tunes and the                   waterwhecls have long since stopped turning; but the music plays on as a living tradition.