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7 had the good fortune, a few years ago, to be the house-guest of Malcolm and Rosanne when they lived in Hobart. Earlier this year I again stayed with them but at their new home in Brisbane. While glancing over his extensive collection of technical books, one particular title intrigued me: “Tuning for Speed”. Aha, 1 thought, help is at hand to improve my reels and jigs. Then J discovered it referred to Malcolm's other major interest - the restoration of vintage cars!

I believe you are virtually one of the

founder members of the LBPS?

Yes. I first became aware of the LBPS in 1981. I was on holiday in Britain with my family, and in Oban we found some copies of a magazine called International Piper (it’s no longer in print) and one of them had an article about the LBPS. I was desperate for information. Early on I had a lot of assistance from Gordon Mooney and Mike Rowan which resulted in me joining the LBPS. So I’ve been in on the early days. And it has been interesting to observe and read the development of the society.

So when did you start getting involved with pipes and subsequently pipe-making?

Well, as it is with most people, through Highland pipe band association. And in my case - the earliest I can put my finger on is 1955.

I sort of lost contact with it a bit until 1981 when Alistair Anderson came to Tasmania for a Folk festival and played Northumbrian smallpipes. 1 took an instant liking to those simply on the basis they indicated to me to be a more user- friendly and musical instrument. I’m not saying that Highland pipes aren’t, but we have situations where not everybody is happy with the Highland pipe sound, particularly in home surroundings.

Later that year (as I mentioned a few moments ago) I was able to visit the UK, and 1 set about finding myself a set of Northumbrian pipes. I also called on my old friend wee Donald MacLean who lived just outside Inverness, and subsequently purchased from him the old set of Border pipes that 1 now have and which were the basis for the Border sets that I made. Now I say the basis because it was obvious to me early on, and it is more than obvious now, that the pipes had been fiddled with to try and make more of a Highland sound from them. In other words the bores had been reamed larger to fit Highland drone reeds. The chanter, I think, is basically as it always was. It is fairly loud, but it does have the ability to blow into the second octave rather well. It is a louder chanter than I personally desire but it is an original one, and I wouldn’t touch it. It has no name on it, and on my last visit to the UK I showed the instrument to Colin Ross and he thought it could have originated from a maker near the Bridge of Allan. And we’re talking about a set that would be conservatively dated about 1820.

From 1983 onwards I was seriously making smallpipes in an attempt to achieve the same music as Hamish Moore and Gordon Mooney had started to publish in LP form at around that time.

What woods do you favour for your smallpipes and Border pipes?

Well of the indigenous species there are some that are quite good. Horizontal Scrub is a rainforest timber that grows in the southwest of Tasmania in a pretty inhospitable climate, and it has a fairly dense grain and is quite workable. The other one that came to light recently is a material called Native Olive. It’s probably as good as the boxwoods and the like that you use in the UK. Boxwood as such does exist here, but in slightly different species. It still exhibits the same problems as boxwood where it tends to be unstable. I make most of my pipes from what we call Brazillian Rosewood. I’m not exactly sure whether it comes from South America or New Guinea, but it’s a musical instrument wood. It takes a varnish or a polish or a light stain very well, and all the folk I know that have had instruments made from it are very very pleased with the performance.

Do you have any problems with leather? A lot of European makers have difficulties with the quality of leather.

It is difficult to get a consistent supply of suitable quality leather for bag making. Unless the dressing is dead right you’ve got lumps and wax and what-have-you in it and that causes problems. Leather overall tends to be a far stronger product than vinyl. I use vinyl on most of the smallpipes but if I use vinyl on Uilleann pipes where you need more pressure, I put a leather coating over the outside to give it the strength. I don’t treat the inside of the bags with layers of plastic or with latex or anything like some people do.

I saw you rubbing something into the leather of the bellows you were making yesterday.

I actually experimented in Hobart some years ago with beeswax, rosin and neatsfoot oil. And one of my friends said “look, there’s a product put out at the local horse shop that I use for saddles and leatherwork”. It’s really just to put the


fats and oils back into the leather. This one is a proprietary brand - JL - that comes in a tin. It’s got a bit of a scent which makes it smell rather nice - it hasn’t got that harsh smell of saddle-soap. You wipe it on with a cloth and hang the bellows in the sun, and the heat helps it soak in. Where in Hobart I had problems with getting sunshine 1 used a hair dryer instead.

Staying with the bellows, I notice you have protected the air intake from getting smothered by the player's sleeve.

The type of air inlet that I use over the clack-valve is based on the Irish style ones where you raise the height of the outside piece sufficiently to drill some radial holes in it so the main air intake could be blocked off but around the sides would be the little holes drilled to prevent it from sealing up.

The brass blowpipe fitting you install inside the bellows is also quite unusual.

I used to weld the brass tubing onto a flat plate at an angle of about 60° and screw that to the hole in the side of the bellows with a rubber or neoprene seal. It occurred to me that if I was to make the tube maybe half an inch (15mm) longer and put it through from the inside and screw it into the wood from the inside and seal it with silicon, that would then present a neater outside looking piece. It would be structurally a lot stronger because of the metal being screwed directly to the wood and provide quite a substantial bracket to support the rubber hose that I put on afterwards for connecting to the pipes.

We have talked about wood we have talked about leather. Now I happen to know that you 've got a local supply of reed-making material

I’ve never ever made a reed from anything but a local product. Now the type of cane that is traditionally used is called Arundo Donax. There are at least two varieties that I know - there is the variegated and the non-variegated. We use the non-variegated simply because I was told that’s the better one to use. I tried to grow it down in Tasmania when I was there but it didn’t grow as successfully as it does here in Queensland. And over the last 15 or so years on my annual trips up here I would scout around and find the stuff which actually grows everywhere. It’s just a matter of looking for it. It’s in peoples’ gardens, it’s on bush land, it’s in supermarket car parks. And the best stand that I’ve used until recent years is under the railway bridge on the Brisbane river in the middle of town. Some might say it is probably not as good as Spanish or French cane - but I doubt that. 1 think it is a good product. And indeed we made that reed the other day for your smallpipe chanter from a piece I cut at Wellington Point in September last year. It's not even 12 months dry which is totally wrong when you think about cane - more or less as an experiment, and it actually turned out to be quite reasonable.

I use a lot of plastic for reeds. I make styrene reeds for Border pipes and for Highland pipes - 1 can make them for smallpipes but 1 still haven’t achieved the same response with a styrene reed in a smallpipe chanter as with a cane one. I’ve tried with the Irish Uilleann reed but because it needs the second octave it’s trickier. So I use cane for smallpipe reeds and for Uilleann reeds. Now because the Irish reeds are subject to such problems with humidity and stability in different weather conditions, quite a few people have indicated that they might he treated with some chemical or whatever to stop this problem with the change of humidity and moisture. I used to use silicon - silicon spray to put on vehicle brakes - and that used to wet the cane really well. It left no residue, it had no weight, and I thought it made the cane water resistant. 1 still think it does, and I’ve never hud any problems with it. But in recent months there have been a few suggestions that neatsfoot oil is good for cane. But it sounded to me like it might not have soaked in as well as the silicon did because of its thicker consistency. So what I’ve done, I’ve actually watered it down with a 50/50 basis of turpentine and neatsfoot oil. I put it on fairly liberally, and wipe it off with tissue paper - not entirely off; I leave a residue there, which actually soaks into the cane over a period of 24/48 hours. 1 did this to your reed, Jock, simply because 1 wanted you to see it did not make any alteration to the tone of the reed at all. And if it does what I hope it does, that is. restrict the ingress of moisture, it makes the reed a far more stable proposition. Effectively if you can solve the reed problems you have solved 90% of your problems with bagpipes.

What other musical instruments do you make? Apart from Scottish small pipes and Border pipes?

Well its is predominantly Scottish smallpipes and Border pipes, but I do make a lot of whistles now. Whistles have always interested me. I make them from wood, aluminium and plastic. As far as the other pipes are concerned I concentrate mainly on Irish Uilleann pipes.

Yes you've got, I know for I’ve seen it, a very old set of uilleann pipes - or maybe they 're not uilleann pipes. Would you like to tell us a bit more about them.

Well this set had been down in Hobart a few> years. It came to Australia in the 1960s. I had measured them and they were written up in the NP magazine back in 1997 I think. At that stage we thought they were a very early set of Irish pipes. My current thinking, and I’m waiting for confirmation, is that they are in fact a set of Pastoral pipes. Now that interests me greatly because it has a Scottish association and more than likely this set was made in Scotland. It would be a very old set between about 1780 and say 1810. Hamish Moore did see these when he was out here ten years ago and claimed they were very old as well - he’d seen a similar set in the USA. We haven’t been able to decide who made them because there is no maker’s mark. It is extremely well made in boxwood. The bass drone is triple bored in the first section of the drone itself and not in the stock, and that allows for a very compact set of pipes, because we are talking about a section that is in the order of 250mm (or 10 inches) long. It is triple bored where the wall thickness between the three bores is probably less than a millimetre. That allows you then to get a nice deep bass - in this case the key of ‘D’. Another unique feature is that the end sections of the drones slide into and not over the lower section. It doesn’t seem to have any major advantages, however aesthetically it tapers out towards the end, inwards rather than outwards. A further interesting feature is that the three drones that were there, one of them had been cut around by some butcher in the past to make it down to a small ‘D’ drone. In actual fact 1 think it should be in the key of ‘A’.


It has just one regulator, but the interesting thing is that it has only three keys. The bottom key is tuned to the tonic note of the chanter. The other two could be ‘F’ and ‘G’, but at this stage I haven’t, apart from replacing the keys on them, I haven’t put the rush up the centre of the regulator and waxed it (or in this case put blue tack on it) to tune it down, and I’m not sure that I can do that properly - it might even be a reed problem. The chanter that came with it had what everybody thought were signs of excessive wear around the chanter holes. I’ve given that some thought, and I think it was maybe a method of tuning the bore of the chanter from the outside rather than the inside. It has altered the chimney effect of the tone holes - a way of actually tuning a note at that point. If it is a Pastoral chanter (and

the “experts” think it is), it has been fiddled with on what we will call the ‘E’ hole where it has been enlarged; I’ve actually sleeved that to get it back in tune. It exhibited all the properties of being an Irish chanter, but when I re-made the chanter with a small throat in it - similar spacing for the holes, and fitted a foot joint [see picture p 14] as you do for a Pastoral pipe, using measurements given to me that I think are based on a set in the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford, it is possible to used that foot joint to make the chanter play with Highland fingering; the same tonic note but with the pinkie finger off. So that gives you a lead-in note which doesn’t exist with the Irish. Obviously you can’t stop it on your knee when you are playing, so you are relying on the back pressure of the bottom joint to give you the second octave, and indeed it does do that as you’ve noticed, Jock. You can play an Irish tune on the chanter using Highland fingering. It’s not fully developed at the moment, because I’m still waiting on some more information from overseas. I have asked a lot of people about it, and not having a set of pastoral pipes to look at, and to see, I’m sort of governed by of what I think it should be, and from what I have heard - for instance on Hamish’s album where he plays Roslin Castle.

Interesting. 1 hope you 'll pass any developments straight on for Common Stock!

The only thing that really worries me is the fact that some of the writings of previous people who know more about it than I do indicated that the instrument lost favour simply because there was an inconsistency in its jumping from first octave to second octave. This is where the Irish I think cleaned up a bit. They decided to discard the foot joint, to place it on your knee, have a slightly different fingering and indeed bump it up into the second octave accurately with an increase of pressure and of course that stopping on the knee.

° You’ve also been measuring and working on the Fraser pipes [see pp 18-20] that £■ appeared on the front cover of the December issue of CS 1999. 1 know you’ve been getting them into working order for the owner. What’s the present position?

■ Yes, the Fraser pipes came to me in a remarkably intact and complete state. Because of their completeness and the accuracy with which one can date them, they represented to me a sort of bench mark of the state of pipe making at that period. They were presented to their original owner in 1878, so we’re talking of a set made in the last half of the previous century - well two centuries now. But the pipes themselves I can almost say are MacDougal of Breadalbane. And one chanter certainly is (the set came with two chanters). Now I reeded the chanter as best I could, but it is terribly loud. African blackwood, I know, tends to be a loud material, but the chanter itself is very loud for what I thought it should have been. But then when I reeded the drones, they themselves were also very loud. And checking the bores, they were larger than the bores which I would have used in a Lowland set of pipes.

The leather bag that was supplied fitted the pipe cover - the original cover - that came with the set. So you’ve really got a good indication as to the size of the bag - which seemed to be a bit small. With bellows it took a lot of effort to keep the set going. The original bellows had unfortunately been dressed in some form of preparation that made the leather go all sticky, so I supplied another set. They are playable, but they’re loud. And I was just disappointed because I felt that the pipes themselves warranted a more musical tone.

So we 'll possibly hear more about that when the present owner has played around with them a bit more.

I hope you will. I don’t want to do anything to the pipes reed-wise that would not show them up in a good light. I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that the reed I’ve got in it at the moment is about as good as - or the same as - the reed that was in it originally. They came complete with a lot of spare drone reeds, but there was never one chanter reed to give me a clue as to the staple size. Frankly that’s the problem; you’ve really got to strike a compromise. I couldn’t tell whether it was in Bb or A, but I suspect it was Bb, and that’s what I’ve put it in now

Perhaps they were more of a presentation than a playing set in the first place?

That thought did pass my mind, and the fact that they are in such good condition might well justify that statement - because they weren’t played. More importantly I think the pipes were made by an established Highland pipe maker, who scaled down the measurements from say the GHB. And indeed people can argue that Lowland pipes were that anyway. We don’t know, we’re guessing.

Now you ’re more or less set up here in Brisbane, have you found any problems with the change in climate?

The swings that you get from humidity here are quite dramatic. We can have 90% humidity on some days and down to 50% on others, but we are based in a city on the eastern seaboard of Australia and it is influenced greatly by the sea. The difference between Tasmania and Queensland is basically that we don’t get the extremes that that you do in Tasmania. And it doesn’t get as hot as Tasmania which some people cannot understand. In Tasmania it can go to thirty-six or thirty-eight degrees C in the summer on a few days with extreme heat from northerly hot winds. Here in Brisbane the temperature seldom goes above thirty- three or thirty-four degrees. But the difference is in overnight temperatures which here are a lot higher; we could be up to twenty-five or twenty-six degrees at night. That’s a little uncomfortable.

And finally, how do you see the smallpipe and Border pipe scene developing in Australia?

There is a real interest in the pipe band world particularly in Hobart - and some of the older pipers, the retired pipers, from the pipe band. 1 made a few sets of pipes and we ended up with what we called the Bathurst street group that go every fortnight into Hobart and play. That was in the order of a dozen of us prior to me coming up here (you actually visited them on your last trip out, Jock). I think at the moment there are nearly 15 that meet on a regular occasion - pipes in ‘A’. And we keep in constant communication by ‘phone and e-mail. Now we’re going to try and set up another group here in Brisbane. We sort of had an inaugural meeting last night. We’ll form a group that will meet regularly, with the purpose of playing the smallpipes. And that will give us the chance to have inter-State exchanges, and the gang in Hobart are pretty keen about it.

It’s such a wonderful instrument and you get so much musical satisfaction from it. As we all know, smallpipes in particular are very user-friendly, and you can have a room-full of 12 of them and they’re still not making asonuch sound as one set of Highland pipes. And musically that is very satisfying. I think probably the thing that enthuses me the most, and gives me most satisfaction, is the fact that a lot of other people are now experiencing and playing smallpipes. There are a couple of other makers here in Australia - Bill Hart in Sydney in particular. A couple of sets that have been imported from the UK have come to me from time to time for repair and setting up; so there are sets being imported here as well. And it augers well for the future. It’s one of the best kept secrets of the piping world - the smallpipes - and I’m sure all Highland pipers who see them secretly wish that they could play them.

Thank you, Malcolm. And good luck with all your piping endeavours.

Some further notes on the James Fraser Border pipes (drawings pp 18 -20).

l.The pipes are in remarkably good and complete condition. They were obviously “restored” in recent years. 2. The leather bag was in my opinion rather too small. 3. The drones use a lot of air (not helped by the bag). 4. The chanter was LOUD, louder than I would have thought comfortable. The Dn McDougal chanter was more suited to ‘Bb’ than the Jn McK chanter which played in ‘A’ more readily.

5.1 have made several copies of the Jn McK and find them fairly easy to reed. It is possible to get a good ‘C’ nat and ‘F’ nat with cross-fingering. 6. A better balance between drones and chanter can be achieved by using smaller bores in the drones than those measurements given (p 18) .... A size smaller in all cases will suffice. 7. The wood is African Blackwood ... reproduced in a softer wood, a more mellow tone would possibly be achieved. 8. The owner, Andrew, is well aware of their rarity. I’m sure I can look again at the pipes if necessary. Just e-mail me with any queries This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Measurements of 2 Chanters ... Taken from the top, (in mm. ) down to the throat