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This book of session tunes, compiled by Jock Agnew for the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society, is a convenient size with a spiral binding which opens flat or can be propped up. The music ranges from traditional Highland pipe tunes to the Lowland and smallpipe reper- toire, including Burns and Dixon. All are graded easy, medium or hard, but none are rated more than medium hard.

All the music is written for the smallpipes in ‘A’ with chords for other instruments, but with no grace notes which are quite rightly left to the player. One of the tunes Leaving Lewis, is set for both ‘A’ and ‘D’ smallpipes, and two of the tunes Chevy Chase and Mary Scott, have harmonies. Although most of the tunes are well-known, it would have been helpful to have indicated the type of tune such as slow air, march, reel etc. Also, with a number of smallpipes having a key for high ‘B’, there is a place for showing where this note could be played, such as the second part of The Mill Mill O

However these are minor quibbles for a book which is a welcome addition to the grow- ing body of music for Scottish smallpipes, which are becoming increasingly popular for playing with other instruments. This user-friendly book is very reasonably priced [£4.50 members, £6.50 non members + 50p postage surface mail] and would fit into any pipe box. It would be a boon to anyone who takes their smallpipes along to a session.

David Hannay



GATHERING OF THE CLANS Vol 2. A collection of music, photographs and historical essays. Compiled & collected by Barry Shears

These 130+ tunes were, it must be remembered, composed and notated for the Highland bagpipes - which presents no problem to the players of Scottish smallpipes and Border pipes.

The historical essays include some fascinating vignettes on both well-known and not so well-known pipers who have contributed to the musical traditions that live on in Nova Scotia. Then follows 77 pages of music after .which there are 9 pages of notes on the tunes, (though it would have been helpful to have had the page numbers of those tunes immedi- ately alongside).

Of the 130 tunes, some 56 are marked “traditional”, and most of these are arranged by Barry Shears. The majority are great to play, particularly on Border pipes, but I would spe- cially recommend you try the strathspey Sir Archibald Grant of Monymusk, a lovely ar- rangement of that tune, If I had a wife of my own, the only 9/8 jig, and Farewell to the Creeks as a 6/8 jig.

The gracings, while appearing to be set for Highland pipes, in most cases also work well for smallpipes. Only about a dozen tunes use grips and toarluaths, and while some of them are rather heavy on the ‘G’ grace note, they can usually be ‘adjusted’ by the smallpipe player


(to an ‘E’ or ‘D’) if they become too intrusive.

The marches are mostly, in my opinion, best suited to being played on the big pipes, as is of course the one Piobaireachd - Failte Mhorar Bherisdale. But this leaves 46 reels, 30 jigs, 22 strathspeys, 6 hornpipes and 11 airs and waltzes for the small-pipe player to get his or her teeth into.

Although the reel Oran Na Teine has a tantalising reference to “Melody traditional, Words by Am Bard Ruadh”, no words could I discover! And occasionally I found that I recognised the tune, but not its title. For instance the jig The Leg of the Duck I first played as a 6/8 march from William Ross’s 1885 collection, where it is called Boddach­a­lander.

One tune - J Scott Skinner’s Hector the Hero ­ has seconds printed alongside, and al- though I couldn’t (naturally) play melody and seconds together, it does appear to have been treated in the usual pipe band style, i.e. note for note harmony.

Now I have mentioned mostly traditional melodies up to this point, but there are some really nice contemporary ones. As a taster it is well worth playing Barry Shears’ Aunt Maes Reel, and John Daily’s Biodag Chalein. I have marked many more that I intend to return to - let me just mention Brenda Stubbert’s lament The Longest Night which is really haunting.

This book is rich in music and reminiscences. I could go on, but best you obtain a copy for yourself - you wont regret it.

Jock Agnew


Barry Shears’ recording, A CAPE BRETON PIPER (1999: Taigh a’ Chiuil, P.O. Box 31149, Robie RPO, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, B3K 5T9), is significant to the readers of Common Stock because Barry plays the bellows blown Scottish smallpipe, an instrument that until the present time was never used to play traditional Cape Breton pipe music.

Barry is the leading authority on piping in Cape Breton. His three books, including the recently published The Gathering of the Clans Collection, Vol 2 [See adjacent review - Ed], are as important and influential as any books of pipe tunes published in the last two decades. They sparked the new interest in Cape Breton piping of the last ten years among “alternative” pipers and influenced pipe band medleys as well. The history and photographs they contain are as important as the tunes themselves. For those of us who know these books, the release of this CD is very exciting and long anticipated.

The CD features a very old MacDougall of Aberfeldy Highland pipe with a beautifully reedy chanter and Hamish Moore smallpipe in A. The smallpipe drones are rich and nasal, but you have to listen hard to hear them through the guitar and piano accompaniment. Barry’s strong fingers and rhythmic style show off the smallpipe chanter very well. Bottom hand movements, which tend to disappear on the smallpipe, come through clearly. After listening to this CD many times other recordings featuring the Scottish smallpipe seem lack- ing when compared to Barry’s bold and athletic fingering. Barry works the chanter the way a fisherman works the rod and reel with a big salmon on the line.

“The Foxhunter” is very much at home on the smallpipe in his expert hands. The old favorite, “Hector the Hero,” brings the best elements of old and new together in a seamless and timeless way. Strathspeys appear in the high powered and difficult to master Cape Breton fashion. Reels, too, flow in a style that is traditional and personal, easily recognized


but completely unique, the real mark of an expert who has devoted his life to the music. And, listening to Barry play a set of jigs it is difficult to imagine there could be anything wrong in the world.

The liner notes are well written and informative. Barry gives the background to the tunes themselves, and pays homage to many traditional pipers who preceded him, especially those he was fortunate enough to learn from directly. Unique among contemporary pipers with claims to Cape Breton piping traditions, Barry took every opportunity to spend time with such old pipers as Arthur Severence, Alex Currie, Archie Mackenzie, and Dave MacKinnon before they passed away. He offers the CD as a tribute to these culture bearers.

There is one complaint I must acknowledge. I wish the listener heard Barry on the solo pipe. Only a piping geek like myself would complain about having too much accompani- ment from the best musicians in Cape Breton, but there you have it.

There are other reasons why this is an important recording, having to do with proprie- tary arguments swirling around Cape Breton and Gaelic piping styles in the more mystical comers of our little world. The quality, honesty and vitality of this recording make it unim- peachable in that regard. It is wonderful music because that is just what it is.

John Dally



THE SMALLPIPES SURVIVAL GUIDE (68 pp) by Ray Sloan available from Ray Sloan at Lyndhurst, Simonburn, Northumberland. Price £6.00 plus £2.00 p&p

I fell upon my review copy of this illustrated manual of care and maintenance for the smallpipes with eager anticipation and was not disappointed. My keen interest in tapping into Ray Sloan’s (RS) vast store of knowledge and experience is mainly due to a deplorable personal characteristic of not being able to leave things well alone. Here at last is a manual not just for the likes of me but for all bellows-blown pipers who want to get the best out of their instruments.

The book has 68 pages and numerous clear diagrams and drawings, and is divided into 8 sections and 6 appendices. The first three sections contain (1) a preface by RS, (2) an introduction by Jim McGillivray, and (3) an historical sketch with some carefully chosen words on Bellows Pipes of the Borders by Matt Seattle. The fourth section on “Getting Started” is straightforward practical advice on bellows technique but with three disconcert- ing misprints on page 19.

Moving on to drone tuning technique on p.21, I came across a statement that the tenor drone tunes to low A, bottom finger hole on the chanter. Should this not be second bottom hole or am I being pedantic?

The fingering charts in the appendix are useful and apply both to Borders pipes and SSPs On p.22 on General Maintenance (cautionary notes on caring for ones pipes) there is an in- struction to apply neatsfoot oil to the bore of ones chanter on a weekly basis. To oil or not to oil is controversial ground since opinion is very much divided on this subject (see Common Stock. Vol 15 No 1 “Oiling the wood”). Personally, if it is done carefully. I believe it to be beneficial but to oil once a week might be excessive.


It surely depends on the type of wood your chanter is made of and how often your pipes are subjected to variations in atmospheric humidity. Since we are playing bellows blown pipes moisture from the breath is not a problem. However, moisture from the atmos- phere is readily absorbed and oiling will reduce that.

On p 27 in a section on care and maintenance of bellows a very useful technique is described for removing the inlet bush by popping it out from underneath. This was but one of many examples of good advice and practical knowledge that pepper this manual.

On the matter of drone reeds, RS conflicts with Highland pipe manuals (College of Piping) when he says the reed should NOT double tone, and suggests flicking the tongue up to encourage it to vibrate.

Section 8 is an important section about chanter reeds and problem solving and is followed by the first appendix, which is a chanter reed trouble-shooting chart. In the intro- duction Ray mentions what he calls a very glaring omission, namely a chapter on Chanter Reed manufacture and maybe a section on plastic drone reed maintenance and manufacture. However, these instructions can be found elsewhere (see Common Stock, past issues or try the Internet) and I don’t think he should castigate himself over this perceived gap. There surely comes a time when one has to make a wrenching decision to draw the line and let one’s work be published for the world to take or leave. There will always be people saying “ - why didn’t you include this or that?” This section alone to me is worth the very modest price of the book.

Jim Buchanan