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Vicki Swann plays small pipes - and other instruments - in the up-and-coming Essex based band “Muckle Flugga”. She also teaches music.

Following the success of last year’s piping course on the Isle of Skye [see COMMON STOCK Vol 12.2 Dec 1997 - Ed] it was deemed necessary to ensure the course ran again, come what may. So when it looked likely that Skye was not going to be the hallowed place, David Hannay and his wife Janet very kindly stepped in and agreed to let their home be                 invaded by a herd of various breeds of bagpipe.

Kirkdale (pronounced curdle, as in the milk) is situated on the beautiful coast of Galloway (which is not in Ireland, as my mum helpfully tried to inform me). The present house was built in the 1780’s, but the area’s first inhabitants date back to prehistoric times. The discovery of ancient prehistoric cave drawings depicting pipers apparently quaffing copious quantities of mead during our stay there made the course all the more special. As last year Davey Taylor was invited to again tutor the motley crew, and this year we welcomed Jock Agnew with his specialist knowledge of the Border pipes. As is traditional on all courses of a bagpipe nature Davey spent the first evening stripping down bags, refitting tubes and tying-in stocks to try and seal up the many leaks and make old and battered instruments playable.

The attendance was very healthy with pipers coming from all over the country. Monday morning saw people arriving by all means of transport including boats, bicycles and halibut.[!]

In the main the posse was split into two groups; the able players, who also wished to learn to tame their Border pipes, and the players who looked down their noses at the Border pipes wishing to perfect their delicate dance like marches and jigs. The mornings were kick started into action by a very kind gentleman who came in specially to help us with new age meditation techniques. This consisted of twiddling your thumbs, staring at a piece of carpet, counting up to five and instantly dropping off to sleep - luckily on-one snored. The days were spent in building up a repertoire of pieces in various styles both on the Border and smallpipes, whilst the evenings consisted of trips to several pubs and folk music meetings.

One particular night included a trip to a fairly large and welcoming folk night. The songs, however, were so slow and mournful that it looked like we all were going to fall victim to the dreadful condition called melancholitis. Davey had already fallen victim, so to try and prevent any more casualties Jock decided to try and liven proceedings with a rendition on his Border pipes. This was unsuccessful, so I attempted a lively reel set, all to no avail. Our only option was to cut and run and lick our wounds with some home brewed crack.

The second folk night was much more successful. The small pub was extremely friendly and even served sandwiches late on in the evening. Here Davey was much more at home and managed to get a groove going. The surprise of the evening was a young lad (aged 75) who, after being plied with ale, not only admitted to being in one of the top grade pipe bands in Ireland, but was also the first piper ever to play “The Train Journey North”. The gentleman in question hadn’t played his Highland pipes for nearly 18 years and after a                     faltering start on his gleaming new set of smallpipes went on to play a never-ending stream of tunes with the largest grin that has ever graced a piper’s face. He had to be physically separated from his instrument and firmly but was kindly told “they’ll still be there in the morning for you to play with!!”

A lot of creativity took place on the course with two pieces of music being composed. The first was dictated over breakfast by Jim (with his grin) and was entitled “Mrs Janet Hannay of Kirkdale House” [see elsewhere in this issue - Ed]. This was originally conceived as a very strict Highland march, but as the week progressed and Davey worked his wonders on us it gradually evolved into a much more lyrical and sweet melody. The second piece was completed in Galloway via a fax link to its composer in London. Written for smallpipes and string orchestra its premier is still to be arranged. This work was called “The Mists of                Galloway” to reflect the fact that it rained the whole week (‘mist’ being a prehistoric word meaning constant downpour’)!

The course over-all was excellent, the teaching, the social aspect and the humour make for a very enjoyable week. With us smallpipers being so thin on the ground it was well worth the six hour, full tank of petrol drive to the Borders to meet and play with so many dedicated fellow bellowers. To be able to exchange music and views is always an opportunity not to be missed, and I’m certainly looking forward to next year’s course with bated breath.

               Outside Kirkdale House, the pipers look out across the Solway Firth