Scottish Small Piper’s Barbecue

Scottish Small Piper’s Barbecue is held on the Sunday after Piping Live. This was the 2nd time it has been run and it seems to be getting stronger. The Glasgow small pipers meet every Tuesday at the Piping College and work on tunes. Once or twice a year they have a big meeting where they all come together to play tunes and to have a barbecue in the Park not too far from Central Glasgow.

It was a relaxed atmosphere, with a mixed group of small pipers from a Highland/Lowland bagpipe backgrounds to total beginners. It was a mixed group of musicians also, with guitars, flutes, whistles, saxophone, and a Cajon. I was the only Border piper there but it gave the music a ‘top edge’ to the overall sound.

The LBPS book repertoire was on show, which was a good idea; I ended up buying Mat Seattle’s new manuscript of the possible repertoire of Geordie Symes, which looks a good read and some excellent tunes.

We had been sent several tunes to learn and we all played them together on the day. It went quite well considering we were all from different musical backgrounds. There were lowland tunes as well as Highland and even Spanish tunes.

A choir came along and sang a few popular melodies, and also individuals led a session, then it was back to the small piper’s to run through the set once more.
We are pleased we went and we will go next year, and I will try to go along to the Tuesday nights session also.

I came away feeling that small pipers and Border pipers should meet more often in localized sessions, and then to have a bigger meeting throughout the year. we meet too seldom and we rely too much on the internet to communicate our music.

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Piping Live 2017

This year at Piping Live we saw good performances from such diverse countries and regions as Italy, Sardinia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Brittany, Northern Ireland and of course Scotland and northern England (Northumbria).
In the morning I went to the Clasp competitions and listened to the hypnotic melodies of the pibroch, not everyone’s cup of tea first thing in the morning, but it appears to be mine.

At noon the Street Cafe concerts start and this is where we let the different acts wash over us. I like the way the Scottish highland performances are followed by the international acts. I guess some would be happy with wall to wall highland piping but I prefer a variety.

I recorded all of the performances with the intention of archiving them for 5 or 6 years, then to put them online. My reason for this is to let time pass. To let the performers change their style, progress with their music, or even let the band’s break up, reform etc. Very often band’s do not think to record themselves to keep an audio archive, but this can be quite beneficial especially if you think of it like a CV. So by letting time pass you can see a band’s or a musicians progress. I have been coming to this festival for over 5 years now so I will be putting the recordings online soon.

I did not go to the World’s pipe band’s championships this year, due to the high ticket prices, I fall into a pricing category of concessions but i could not prove it, so i would have to pay full price. a few people i spoke to commented on the high prices and it would work out a lot of money for a family, and for me who came via Spain and spent a week in Glasgow I have reached my budget by the end of the week. It would have been better to have a cheaper price so all could go and if it is cheaper than more would go.

The week is not over yet on Sunday there is a Small pipe and Border pipe meeting in Glasgow I will be playing in that.

To see a listing of the acts and events that were at Piping Live 2017 have a look at the programme at this link
https://pipinglive.co.uk/events/

Rothbury Folk Festival 2017

I have just returned from Rothbury Folk Festival (in Northumberland), a really good festival with a lot of different music going on. The session on the Friday in the Queen’s was good, a nice mixture of Northumbrian songs and instrumentals.

Saturday was a good day for me as it started with Northumbrian Pipe music at 10am and all through the day there were opportunities for NSP playing, with the session after the competitions and later that evening with a session in the Coquetvale Hotel.
Fewer pipers there this year, but Saturday was still the main day for piping.

The weather stopped the open air concerts but the music continued in the Mart and by all accounts it was really good there with concerts and dances until the early morning.

On the Sunday I went to my first Ceilidh and observed (I did not dance, to the relief of the others) what went on. I had never been to one before, although I have started to play for a Playford group.

In the afternoon there was more sessions and in the evening also in the Queen’s.
Monday we left and are looking forward to going to more Festivals this summer.

Concert: Newcastleton Folk Festival

I decided to have a theme for this year’s concert at Newcastle Folk Festival. Last year at the Friday night concert, I played a random set of tunes from the Peacock Manuscript. But this year I wanted to select different “variation” pieces of Northumbrian music played on the Northumbrian Small pipes.

These variation sets, are long pieces of music; similar to having 5 or 6 melodies added after each other. They are very characteristic of old Border Northumbrian melodies. There are suggestions why these variations came to be added after the main piece of music (the A and B sections of a melody). Some say they are for dancing, for the musician not to be bored; some say they are for listening, as in a concert environment and the player can express their virtuosity and skill.

Whatever the reason these variations can be simple or complex, often long in length sometimes having 25 sections; or as little as 2.

The old manuscripts have variation pieces in them: Dixon, Peacock, and Bewick are the manuscripts I chose to play from.

I started the concert with a reason why I chose to do the variation pieces. This was because 2 years ago I was sitting in a session listening to a friend of mine playing a variation piece on the Scottish Small pipes. As I was listening a man learned across to me and whispered in my ear “it goes on a bit”. He clearly did not like these long pieces of music. It is an expression I have heard before, especially from non-musicians. They do not understand why it is so long, or what the tune is trying to convey to the listener.

People have a short concentration span, 3 minutes on average, as long as a pop song; after that their mind goes onto other things. The variation piece needs concentration to listen and understand it properly; or the audience needs activity as in dancing. These melodies more makes sense when one is playing for a dance; it can get very boring to play the same melody over again, often 15 times while the dance is going on. It makes more sense to keep adding parts so the musician can keep an interest and therefore put some life into the playing.

The comment, made by the man in the session, kept in my mind for a while and I mused upon its reason and solution. “How could I make these traditional pieces of music more understandable and digestible for the listener?”.

In the concert at Newcastleton, I began with a very simple variation piece, Peacock’s “Highland Laddie”; mentioning that the 2nd part of the tune, is another melody called “Butter’d Peas” also from Peacock with the parts changed around. Instead of parts C and D, as in the Highland Laddie, they become parts A and B in Butter’d Peas.

With this example I began to mention my method for other variation pieces. I said “I began to chop up the variations into A and B parts, to make them more easily remembered, as well as giving them a life of their own, then when I had mastered the 2 parts, I joined them onto the variation piece once more”.

To demonstrate this I played Dixon’s “Highland Laddie” mentioning that I missed out the last 2 parts as I found it was “enough for me to play”. I wanted to say that musicians should play what feels comfortable to them, what they like and what they consider appropriate. There is no law that you must play all of the variations. Pick out the best parts and play those.

My next example was Bewick’s “Blackett O’Wylam” where I played all of the parts; followed by Peacock’s “Newmarket Races” where I only played the first 4 parts.
The next melody was Bewick’s “Sir John Fenwick’s” where I played all of the parts, and lastly I played Dixon’s “New Way to Bowden” where I played all the parts.

The concert was recorded and I will upload the recording at a later date.

Newcastleton Workshop 2017

It was my 3rd year running the Small pipe workshop at Newcastleton Folk Festival (always the 1st weekend in July). This year was different as a lot more people attended; in fact more people than sets of pipes. No way can I cater for everyone, I brought 5 sets of pipes and the group was good enough to double up during the workshop. I estimated 9 people came, as well as 3 others from the festival that had some role to play. 9 I thought was a nice size. I began by giving a talk about the construction, maintenance; and technique of blowing up the pipes; bag pressure; finger styles used with the small pipes, and bellows technique etc. and then a demonstration of what I hoped they would achieve from the workshop… to hold a note steady for 3 minutes.
Then I gave out the pipes for the students to try.

It is difficult to cater for the different age groups and sizes of the students. I made these pipes with my own body size in mind, but a young girl was there and she found them too big, and adults with a large waist was pulling the blowpipe out of its stock and due to the increase of girth. I am not sure how to cater for all the different sizes of people? It is a case of redesigning the pipes for workshops, something which might be difficult; and I guess, if they had more time, it would not be necessary, as they would master the correct position.

Another comment was that the bellow of a student was pinching into the student’s wrist, indicating that I should put padding around the edges of the bellows like the Irish piper’s bellows. I should have pointed out that the shape of the bellows is traditional and there was never any padding on the bellows cheek. What could be happening is that the posture of the student was not correct and this put the pressure on one side of the bellow, making the other side to rise and cut into the wrist. It is a case of the “beginner is always right and the instrument is wrong…” errrr no! If a student spent more time getting the basics right then they would see that the basic technique is important. They all seemed to be in a hurry to play…but without these techniques you cannot play.

To be fair on the student, what is required from them is nearly impossible, to master a technique that would normally take days to master. They have just over 1 hour. It is a tall order for anyone.

Another comment was that my pipes are quiet. Well small pipes are relatively quiet, I think what might be happening is that they hear pipes being played in a session, a Border pipe or a Scottish small pipe made by a highland maker (possibly the Reel pipes,) which are made for a Highland player, and these require more pressure and give out more volume, and they think all small pipes are the same, which they are not. My pipes are intended to give a quiet sound as I do not want 5 pipes playing loudly in a small room. They are meant for the student to listen too, but ideally not for the other students to hear them.

Another point I noticed was that the student wanted to play the chanter. So they ignored what I was saying in the introduction, that “if you can keep a steady pressure and play a steady note continually for 3 minutes, you have advanced a lot”. They immediately went for the chanter and seemed to think the pipes were at fault because they could not get a good sound. These things are natural of course, who would want to play 1 note for 3 minutes when more notes are there to try? But next time I might just start off with a chanter without holes, just a piece of tubing would have been more useful and if someone can get that right then give them a chanter to try. Most had difficulties in holding the chanter anyways, so it would be one less thing to worry about if the chanter was left to dangle and not to worry about covering the holes.

Over all I think the workshop went well. I improved my delivery to the students, and I learned more about how to present the small pipes as well as dealing with a bigger crowd.

Workshop: Newcastleton Folk Festival

This weekend, there will be a workshop (3rd year running) at Newcastleton Folk Festival in the Scottish Borders. It is for beginners, showing the basics of playing (bag pressure, holding a steady note etc.) how getting started on the small pipes. Some sets will be available for people who want to have a go, or bring your own if you want to start. More details will be given at the Festival Office, but the workshop will be on Sunday morning, about 10am and will officially last 2 hours (but in practice it continues!).

“Play Something English”

It’s all becoming a bit too much. Brexit and the media have released in people a bigotry that was hidden. A few occasions in the past 2 months I have gone busking to be faced with a mindless ignorance that comes from people who are prejudiced against foreigners.

These people seem to think the instruments I play (English concertina and the Border Pipes or the Northumbrian Small pipes) are foreign instruments and therefore I am foreign too.

The latest encounter happened yesterday. A young couple (who had a Lancashire accent) came up to me while I was busking with the English concertina. “Where are you from” he said. I replied I was from Carlisle. “O’ good as if you are a foreigner I would not give you any money”. As he said those words I pulled a face of disapproval, he noticed this and said “O’ I am not racist” he thought for a second and came back and put 1p into my box, he must have felt guilty!

Another occasion was when 4 kids, aged roughly 13-14, came past me while I was playing the Border pipes. One girl did not like the sound of the pipes and was shouting at me to stop, then screaming at me to stop, holding her hands over her ears and screaming, she kept on saying “play something English”. The 2 boys with her began to get annoyed so I decided to stop. I told them that with all their screaming they had no idea that this instrument was from this region and the tune I was playing was from Northumbria. They were actually de-crying their own culture. I told them they should get to know their own culture and music before they open their mouths.

Ok, they are young, bored teenagers, and as they hung around I learned that they had nowhere to go, and had no family as such; so they were looking for mischief. One other girl egged on the screamer to throw a pint glass of water over me, but she threw it on the ground instead in front of me.

Another experience was again when I was playing Border pipes and 2 young boys walked past and shouted “play something fucking English”, again I was playing a Northumbria melody on an instrument that was native to my area. These sorts of comments happen a lot.

A couple of years ago I was playing the Northumbria small pipes when 2 police men stopped me. One had a London accent the other was from Carlisle. The Londoner was obviously looking for a promotion, or to make his mark. He said derogatively “which country is that instrument from” I said “country or county? The Londoner looked confused, and that’s when the Cumbrian said to him “these are Northumbrian Small Pipes” the Londoner looked embarrassed and they both walked away.

When I sit and play the majority of people like my music. But when they approach me they always mouth the words “it is nice”, like I cannot understand them, some look at me as though they want to speak to me but feel I cannot understand English.

I can only draw from this that they see a busker and they see a foreigner. To tell you the truth I feel like a foreigner, as I do not recognize the prejudices that are on our streets these days.

Rehearsals in Retiro Park

Sun, nature, music and good company…for me, you can not beat that. Alba and I decided to rehearse for the first time together with the fiddle and the Galician chanter. We met in Retiro Park, inside of Madrid, on a saturday morning and with our little red book containing our set list – a collection of Northern Spanish and Northumbrian tunes – we began rehearsing the melodies to who ever passed by.Fiddle and Gaita

The bagpipe is a “hybrid” a combination of using a Galician chanter (in the key of D) and drones, which I made, based on the Border pipes, using a Northumbrian tuning (D and A). Alba simply tuned her fiddle into my chanter… and away we went.

Some people decided to sit on the benches and listen, take videos… old, young and a group of Hip-hop teenagers! The weather was great.

here are some of the videos from the rehearsal.

The Millar’s Daughter, is a Northumbrian Smallpipe tune found in Peacock Manuscript.

Frisky, is a Northumbrian Smallpipe tune found in the Peacock Manuscript.

Danse La Pirineo is a Aragon, Spain.

Muiñeiras De Rengos, a Asturian tune, here is just an extract.

Kelso Lasses, is a tune from the Scottish/English Borders, a 9/8 tune.

L’Arrastrat’ is a tune from Catalonia, and the following tune is from Mallorca, Bollero de Santa Maria

Ribeirana de Redondela is a melody from Galicia.

I’m Over Young to Marry Yet, and the Highland Laddie, are Northumbrian tunes, both from the Peacock Manuscript.

A melody from Zamora, Spain.

Another version of the Northumbrian melody “Frisky”

Xeremies’s “Ancient” Scale

We went to visit Juan Morley, in the town of San Joan. He is a researcher, musician and maker of the Mallorcan bagpipe “The Xeremies”.

He told us about the old scale used by the Xeremier players in the 60s. He said they used a different scale than today. A scale that is not based on harmony, or harmonizing with the drone, or perfect 5ths.

he explained: “you tune your drone (C) to your root note on the chanter (C) making sure the top octave (C’) is also in tune with the drone. Top and bottom of the chanter is in tune with the drone.

The 4th note (F) and 5th note (G) are also in tune with the drone using the harmonic series. So far it is normal to other modern bagpipes.

Here is where the differences occur. The tuning of the rest of the scale is different. It does not use semitones (or half tones) but quarter tones (1/4)…approximately!

Normally the 2nd would be a D (440cents), but with this old Xeremeis scale it is flat of of D, of about a 1/4 tone. Normally the 2nd note clashes with the drone anyways but this would make it more so.

the 3rd note should be an E at 440cents, and therefore harmonizing as a 3rd in the harmonic series… it would be a nice harmony, either using a major 3rd (an E) or a minor 3rd (Eb), but this old scale uses neither, it plays a 1/4 note flat of E.

the 6th note is a A (440cents) but again this is not concert pitch, it is a 1/4 note flat of A, again not harmonizing with other instruments, not with the drone.

the 7th note is flat also roughly a 1/4 tone, not a semitone.

Here, Juan Morley plays the “ancient” scale on the Xeremier.

I have only seen one other example of this tuning in Spain and this was with the Sanabresa Gaita, which also uses 1/4 notes in its scale.

Xeremiers in Sant Llorenç

We met the Xeremiers des Puig de Sa Font the next day in Sant Llorenç (Mallorca) for the Christmas parade in the town. They played at different venues as the main square was full of children’s activities. We had spent the previous day hearing them rehearse in the theatre.

They play a mixture of traditional Xeremies melodies from Mallorca, medieval melodies and new compositions by the director of the group, Antoni Genovart.

The Xeremies is a traditional bagpipe from Mallorca, with an unbroken line of musicians. I have been a fan of them for many years but I finally got a chance to hear them and to try them out during our time there. They have 3 drones out in front of the bag, 1 chanter with 9 holes, and are mouth blown. The other instruments are :

La Tarota – an oboe type instrument
Flabiol – (5 hole flute) and Tamborí (small drum)
Trombone
Tamborine

The Millers (Galician) Daughter!

Here is a recording of a Northumbrian Small Pipe melody called “The Millers Daughter” from the Peacock manuscript from 1800. It is a melody I have played a lot on Small Pipes and Border Pipes over the years.

I am experimenting a lot these days, by playing various Small Pipe melodies on the Galician chanter. The reason why I am playing these tunes on a Spanish bagpipe is not for this blog right now, but there are certain Northumbrian tunes that go well with the Gaita (bagpipe) and certain tunes that do not feel ‘right’.

I bought this chanter, which is in the key of D. A high pitch sounding instrument, that is not that common in Spanish music. Normally you would hear a chanter in C or Bb. I chose D as I wanted it compatible with a lot of Northumbrian/Irish session instruments.

The pitch is a little high, so I made a bass drone in D and a tenor drone in A, but this did not sound right either, it did not suit the melodies too well, so I made another bass drone in D. 2 bass drones in D, give a deeper harmonic in relationship to the high-pitched D chanter (although this recording does not show it too well, this was only a demo).

 

Northumbrian Smallpipes

This years Newcastleton Folk Festival (2016) was enjoyable for me, I played various pipes (Gaita, NSP, Border and Scottish Smallpipes) and played at a few concerts and gave my workshop on the Smallpipes.

I was asked to play at the opening concert in the Church, part of it was video’d. I played for about 30 minutes and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. The melodies are all traditional Northumbrian/Border mainly from the Peacock manuscript (1800)

Melody: Si Vas A La Romeria

This is a recording of a melody I did in 2015, in the UK. I was practicing an Asturian melody on the Galician chanter. The melody is called “Si Vas A La Romeria”; I learned it at Casa de Asturias, in Alcala de Henares, Spain. It is my own interpretation of the tune, and I guess I am putting a British “accent” on it… but I hope it is recognizable to the original!

“What is that?”

If you are reading this from outside of the UK you might not get the full weight of the statement when I say “it was sunny today”! A little bit of sun can make all difference, especially when one is busking with the gaita.

In the center of Carlisle this weekend there was an European Market, stalls mostly selling different foods from various countries/regions of Europe. Sadly, the music coming out of the stalls was of the nondescript type… so I took myself away from the center and down a back street. I took out the gaita and played…

Since I play mainly Asturian melodies these days I was scratching my head when I had exhausted my repertoire, but it is amazing how melodies that have not been played for several years come back quite effortlessly. I often remember another tune when I am half way through playing a melody, which makes me to quickly continue onto the next melody. In this way I can play one tune after another, with little break between melodies, with only a quick tune-up and off I go again.

Melodies popped into my head from Catalonia, Sanabria and Galicia, and I have been learning several Northumbrian melodies from the Peacock Collection that go well with the Galician chanter. Sometimes people stopped me and asked “what instrument is that? It is better than the bagpipe!” well there is a bag, and there is a pipe/chanter so how can it not be a bagpipe? but they mean the GHB anything else is not a bagpipe in their eyes. I have had this for years, when I started playing my NSP they used to ask the same questions, but today they know what the NSP is all about (a sign of progress I guess) but the definition of what is a bagpipe still needs some work!

I started playing at 12.15 and I stopped playing at 15.45, I did not repeat many melodies with in my set, but I began to get tired and I thought it was time to go home when I saw a big black cloud coming straight for me. It had rained once or twice while I was busking, but I continued playing through it and it quickly dried up. This one looked more substantial.

A nice way to spend a Bank Holiday, I hope I can do more like it…

Newcastleton Folk Festival

We spent another good night at the Folk Club in Newcastleton in the Scottish Borders. The Folk club is on the last Tuesday of each month and is partly a singers night as well as musicians. There were interesting songs from all centuries some unaccompanied others with guitars. Mandolin and button accordion, recorder, Anglo Smallpipes, and Galician Gaita were the instruments used for the instrumentals.

We had spent the day with Liz and Dave (organizers of the folk club, as well as being on the committee of the Newcastleton Folk Festival) and we learned about the structure of the Festival for 2016 which is held this year on the 1st weekend of July, a 3 day even from Friday until Sunday (check out this blog for last years description)

My Smallpipe workshop will be on the sunday morning at 11am until 1pm. Where I will be giving basic instruction on the bellows blown bagpipes, covering technique to get you started. I will not be playing any melodies, it will be a workshop on bellows technique, bag pressure, and combining all this with chanter and drones. It may not seem a lot but it is when you consider it needs to be crammed into 2 hours!

I will be providing some sets of smallpipes for those who do not bring their own, but these will be of limited number so get your name down at the Festival Office, or contact Liz via her “Newcastleton Folk Club” web site; or contact me below this blog.

I will also be taking part in the concert on Friday night, for those of you who come for the weekend camping.

Jinn & Tonik / The Flying Cats

I have been playing with Alba, a fiddle player from Madrid over the past few years. I put to gether a few mp3s connected with our rehearsals. We are called “Jinn & Tonik” and we are trying to mix Spanish and UK music with musical “accents”, how each of us look at each other’s music.
Jinn & Tonik

Another musical project was with a Alba and a singer called Isabel, we concentrated mainly on Scottish Songs, but with the phrasing and “accents” of Spain. We called ourselves “The Flying Cats” (the name was taken from Isabel’s cats who decided to jump from one side of the room to the other and land on our heads while we were reheasing).

The Flying Cats

Re-Sealing Bagpipe Bags

I have had a leaking gaita bag for some time, I could still play it but it was not holding the pressure after sometime. Perhaps the stitch was being stretched and the air was escaping through the stitching (the bag material was airtight). It was an old bag I made, and I have changed my technique since then for making.

Today I undid the stitching of my bag, took off the strip of tape that I had around the edge which was used for decoration, and cleaned up the loose threads. I then started the process of sealing the bag with a waterproof/gutter sealant. I did this to both sections of the bag, leaving an unsealed section/trip around the edge of the bag. I put extra sealant around the drone stock holes. Once I had sealed all the bag I went and covered the edge of the bag using a thicker film of sealant, then I left it to dry over night.

Tomorrow I will silicone the edges of the bag again with the same sealant and press them together, then leave to dry.

Once dry I will sew the edges with thread.

I will then glue one side of the bag/edge and reconnect the tape that I removed earlier. This gluing is only to seal the stitching/holes. When that is dry, I will do the same to the other side. Once dry I will tie in the stocks.

New Design for Drone

I have been playing my C gaita recently and I decided to make a small drone to go with it. I did not want to make the large C drone that normal go with a C gaita, but something I can carry around and make drone while I practice. I drilled though a piece of Bubinga wood and made 2 half from the one piece, 50cm each length. internal bore was 6mm. then I began designing the top sliding part. the internal diameter was 12mm. and I played around with the design.

The bottom standing part has an outside diameter of 12mm. the overall outside diameter of both pieces was 15mm.
The design for the bottom standing part was an idea I have been had for sometime and I wanted to try it out. if it did not work it could always be used for a chair leg!!

When I make the reed I will cover it in a removable stock and this will be inserted into a drone stock in the bag. It plays in C and I will make different sections for the top/movable part so I can play in D and Bb. I was gonna drill holes further up the drone but I decided to make new sections. This will add to the tembre of the sound.

I also intend to make a middle section to this C drone until I have a bass C playing alongside this tenor C. with 2 drones going it will be nicer for the gaita chanter which can be quite shrill. I have been thinning down the reed and now it plays a lot quieter than normal, this is for use indoors (pub setting).

Removable Drone Stocks

I completed 2 drone stocks for my “workshop pipes” (2 drone holes are drilled at the top of the stock).

If you need to take the drones out of the stock the top part of the stock is removable, the drones stay still and the drone reeds are protected, the bottom stock is fixed snug into the bag via the grove.
The drone stock (lying down) has a smaller hole drilled into its bottom end for air to pass through, this reduces the size of the air hole to stop any drone reeds falling out of the drone seat into the bag; if this happens the top part is removed and the reeds retrieved.

The bellows are finally taking shape to what I imagined. They have studs around the edges for cosmetic purposes, the bellow’s fabric matches the fabric of the bag (different fabric can be sort to the buyers choice).
The shape of the bellows were sourced from a Musette’s bellow I had seen in the National School of Piping’s museum in Glasgow, I thought the design was unusual yet attractive.
The straps have a quick release and adjustable clasp. The bellows have a hinge attachment inside of the cheeks this gives a solid connection. The bellows are completely airtight, they are large enough for NSP and SSP as well as Border Pipes, as they are large less action is needed to inflate the bag.

Although the chanter and drones are still under design, the bag and bellows are beginning to be finalized.


Small Pipe Workshop in Hexham

The Small pipe workshop went really well last Saturday in Hexham (Northumbria). The students engaged with the exercises very well and I think got a lot out of it…well I know they did. I got good feedback from them and the boss of Core Music, who ran the event. I would like to do more events there, and do a follow up workshop for the Small pipes, as I feel the students wanted to go further with their playing. They managed to get a regular bellow technique; they got 2 drones in harmony and the beginnings of a steady chanter note, not bad for 3 hours. Northumbrian/closed fingering was popular; I guess Scottish Small pipe fingering is more popular over the border. If lessons could be held regular then I feel they could advance quickly.

Busking and Begging

When I finally emerged into the tunnel it was late morning. I had not intended to go playing at all, but I positioned myself underneath the arches, where there is a good echo, and played Northumbrian small pipes. I play to practice, to play melodies; I gave up doing it for money long ago when the money dried up. I keep my brain active by playing all the tunes I know. This is an ever changing format, new tunes come and go and I revise them all the time.

These days I am memorizing Peacocks tunes, I hammer them into my memory by playing them over and over again, busking helps to play them well, as it is a performance, and I have to get it right. It is good to play new tunes, it refreshes the set, and it puts new life into an old rehearsed format. I rework the notes, rhythms, and style. I play them fast, slow and everything between, a reel becomes a hornpipe, a slip jig a jig then becomes a waltz… a hornpipe a slow air… I am free to improvise.

As the morning wore on I noticed out the corner of my eye another busker with a guitar standing at the other end of the tunnel, I cannot hear him, but it is cheeky. Normally a busker would not be down here standing so close, there is not the space for 2 musicians. In fact I have never seen another busker there for many years. No one goes there, it is not a good place to make money and it is dirty and dark. But he was singing with his guitar, moving positions, and stopping a lot. Then he was gone.

After a break at 2pm I went back to play a little more. I get tired from standing, and I play until I cannot stand much longer. After a few minutes I notice a few meters away a man, it is like he is on his holidays with a carrying case and bags. It looks like he is arranging his case, but he sits on the floor and there he stays.
He is homeless, he is begging, he just sits there a few paces away.

What to think? This is not the first time a homeless person has sat in this tunnel while I am playing. On one occasion it was nasty, the person had once threatened to “stick a knife in me” if I came back, and a few days later he had knifed another homeless person in the park. Others have told me to “fuck off”, but only this one had sat. I played on. I noticed a couple of his friends hanging around; a man passed and whispered “careful of your case”. Things where turning serious. I played on. No abuse, no threatening movements only silence, only looking on … waiting. As time went on more lost people where hanging around. The park is well known for homeless people at night.

I was called a “beggar” in the early 80s while playing. Thankfully those days are gone; I think people realize playing music is not an easy thing to do on the streets. And I have only had abuse from drunks and drug addicts this then. I guess some people see me also as a “beggar” as a “homeless person” but I am neither.
In the end I moved off, I had played enough, this man was turning a dirty tunnel into something else… something where music is not welcome. I better quit while I still had pipes to play.

I packed up and passed him. I thought him a fool; he chose a place where he would make no money… I was making it. He could have gone to the other end, but he sat in the dirt and dog piss, where he would make nothing while I was there.  When I passed him he looked at me and I at him, he was the type who did not look after himself, a drunk and waist.er Let’s hope he gets lifted and put into a home… like so many others who had sat in his place. It is cruel to be kind as that is no life for anyone.

 I wandered into the center of town, a large merry-go-round was pumping out music… was this the reason why the other busker had come down to the tunnel, to escape the noise? I heard a brass band playing amongst the noise, then they stopped, a police man had stopped them and told them to move… recorded music is ok but live music is not. They were 5 people from Rumania; they looked confused and lost, wandering off down the street with nowhere to play, it was time to go home.

New (Old) Tunes to Learn

Coming back from Rothbury Folk Festival i set myself a task of learning new tunes. An interest of mine for many years now has been the old manuscripts of the Scottish Borders: Dixon, Peacock, and Bewick.

I have decided to learn these melodies, memorize them and perform them. They are not being played a lot at festivals, the NSP players are choosing other melodies…which are great, but there is anot a balance.
My task is to first lean the A and B parts to all the tunes, then when I have done that to revisit the manuscripts and learn the C and D parts. I know a lot of the tunes already and I know quite a few of the variations, but I have been concentrating too much on the variations and not on learning the basics of the other tunes.

The tunes I have been working on this week are from the Peacock manuscript, trying to source background information and other links connected with it, it has produced some results, mainly I found another manuscript from the borders that I did not know before.

The titles of the Peacock tunes which I am learning for the first time are:
Over the Border, Jockey Stays Long at the Fair, I Saw My Love Come Passing By Me
  .
Tunes which I knew but had forgotten, which I have been revisiting are:
Neil Gows Wife, Sr. Charles Rant, Bonny Mare and I,  and Tulloch Goram

Rothbury Folk Festival 2015

The weekend started on the Thursday before the weekend by going through to Newcastleton, getting up early morning and going to Hexham and playing Northumbrian small pipes for 3 hours in the shopping precinct. Luckily there was not much disturbance and I played ok and got some good responses… always a bit uncertain as Northumbrian pipes in Northumbrian can be a bit like teaching English to the English! Before we left Hexham I visited a music shop (also music co-operative) where I knew they held workshops, I asked about holding my “Small pipe workshop” there, I had a positive response.

Then onto Rothbury Folk Festival, we got there about 5pm set up the tent and headed off for a session in the Queens Head pub. Due to a lot of background noise I opted for the Border pipes tunes.

Saturday was a quick listen to the town pipe band, then the Andy May Trio on the village stage, then off to the piper’s competition in the hall. It was full of people and a good turnout of performers. This year there was Border pipes competition. Listening to the Northumbrian pipers beginners and intermediate performers I noticed a lack of “drone tuning” therefore the pipes sounded horrible “TUNE YOUR DRONES TO THE CHANTER”  it is basic stuff, the judges need to be more strickt about this.

After the duets we headed off to a small room above the Newcastle pub and played a few sets. It was funny really as Border pipers sat in one end of the room and the northumbrian pipers sat in the other end… they did not mix… of course they were friends, but musically there was no common ground. Different tunings (A verses F) loud and soft… except for a few tunes in G (one G border pipe and some had G Northumbrian).

Then off to the Queen’s again for an evening session. This lasted until about 01.30am for me then I wandered off back to the tent. Then a strange thing happened about an hour later I had strong car headlights on my tent, voices calling out “are you in there”. One of my fears in a car/tented campsite is that I get run over by drunken drivers. This seemed to be happening with a car nearly on top of me. I stuck my head out of the tent and there was a police car. They kindly shone a strong beam of light deliberately into my face and asked me “I had seen Andy, who wears a green arm cast?” I replied to the negative. There had been a police helicopter above wakening everyone up and I guess the infrared camera had singled me out as I walked home.

The Sunday was a good small session in the Queen’s lots of varied music and a mixture of styles and instruments and song, I played Northumbrian small pipes more here due to the lack of background noise.
An excellent weekend.

Newcastleton Folk Festival 2015 (review)

I had a different, and in many ways a better festival this year. I did not attend the sessions like I normally do. I found last year a bit frustrating with all the noise (drunks not music) and a lack of places to play (for quieter instruments) all added to me walking aimlessly around. This year was different the organizers had added new venues to the places to play, one was a “quiet room” not in the main square (away from the pubs) but where you could have a tune. Also there were fewer drunks there this year and possibly less musicians (?) so I could find places to play.

I found the marquee empty on a Saturday morning so I played my Northumbrian small pipes, I played and played and slowly people began to sit down, after 2 hours of playing the tent was getting full, a few more musicians arrived and added more… then I left, found another piper and played on the grass (Border pipes and Scottish small pipes) and spoke to some people about the festival, piping and things in general. I met with a Northumbrian piper and had a few tunes together.

The after-hours sessions were great, songs and music, which went on until the early hours (got to bed 3am both nights) and on the Sunday night the “survivors session” we finally got out at 5.30am… and excellent sessions (I even sang while playing the pipes… a rare occasion).

The workshop went well, 10am to 12.30pm was useful to the students and myself (I even got a hug off one of them) what was apparent was the lack of contact the individual pipers had (isolation) and no advice or after care help; something they found the workshop was useful for. After the workshop we chatted and played until about 4pm!

I learn a lot too about my pipes and the adjustments I need to make, but the comments about the pipes were good and positive. I will make some mouth blown pipes too incase they will be needed. I will look for more festivals in the future and other venues to attract the students.

Completed Small Pipes for Newcastleton Folk Festival 2015

There are 7 completed Small pipes for the Newcastleton Folk Festival. I have covered most of the bellows with a fabric except for 2 of them.

Bubinga chanter, cherry and cedar drones. The bellows were donated by a friend this is the only item that I did not make.

Indian Red Wood chanter and drones, the deeper colour on the chanter is due to oiling. The bellows I made in 1994 in Lithuania

Bubinga chanter and drones, cedar wood decoration on drones

Cherry chanter and drones, walnut wood decorations on drones

Bubinga chanter, cherry drones with Indian red wood decorations

Indian red wood chanter and drones, cherry wood decorations on drones, cedar wood decoration on chanter

Cedar chanter and drones, this was the first bagpipe I made in Spain in 2014

An Old Sackpipa at Gagnef 2015

I have just returned from a 10 day trip to Sweden to visit my friend and bagpipe maker Bors Anders, we spoke about many things: making pipes, publicizing and developing Swedish bagpipes on line, the development of the reeds etc.

1 week later we drove north to the village called Gagnef for the Sackpipa Meeting. This was my 4th visit and my best due to the fact I had my own sackpipa this time, and was able to join in with the melodies.

The Gagnef group visited the local museum where we saw an old example of a sackpipa with an imitation small drone attatched in the same stock as the larger playable drone. The instrument was in a bad condition, not playable, we noticed the cutting marks of the handmade instrument, the bored out chanter and discussed if it had been turned or drilled on a lathe. 

There was some beautiful design work on the stocks, as well as wooden pegs to place a leather strap over the bindings. Obviously a lot of work was given to the construction of the bag and leather work, but other things like the wooden parts were poorly done. 

The chanter and drone stocks were not centered, the cut of the thumb hole seemed to be for a left handed player (left hand at the top of the chanter), and the finger indentations were all symmetrical cut into the chanter wall.

The ‘owner’ of this pipe was a landlord of a village a few kms away, he owned a pub and also was skilled in leather work, this reflect the workmanship of the leather, but not the wood parts. The bag had been repaired and chanter holes were slits and all had the same size and dimensions…was it ever playable?

Why was there a 2nd drone added? Did he see it somewhere and copied it? Was he copying a set he had seen before or just heard that pipes had 2 drones? Owning an Inn would let him see and hear bagpipes being played from people passing through. Perhaps he had acquired the pipes from a traveler? Perhaps he had seen one and tried to copy it but could not play? Who knows… but it was interesting to see a historical sackpipa which was dated roughly 1850-1900.

The rest of the weekend was playing; sorting out the reeds, socializing, eating and having a great time in the Swedish countryside… loved it.

Making Bagpipes: Workshop Leaflet

A leaflet will be given out at the workshop giving contact details and letting people know about other workshop ideas…

“The intension of the workshop is promote the Small pipe tradition to people who have an interest in learning the Northumbrian Small pipes, Scottish Small pipes, Leicestershire Small pipes and other types of bellow-blown pipes. The aim is to provide sets of pipes to develop the student’s playing techniques and offering 3 levels of classes:

The 1st level is the total beginner’s workshop to show the techniques for starting to play.
The 2nd level is a workshop to introduce tunes from the Scottish Borders.
The 3rd level is to teach more demanding tunes and build a varied repertoire.
Within the 3rd level there is the opportunity for the student to buy their small pipes and to continue the classes privately.

(The small pipes in the workshop are made by myself and are of different quality depending on the level of workshop).

To learn more about the musical activities, concerts, lessons and workshops visit my web page http://ethnopiper.blogspot.co.uk or email me at ethnopiper@gmail.com

Bagpipe Society Blowout, 2015

It was my first time at the ‘blowout’ (Polesworth, Tamworth, England) in a beautiful surrounding of the Abbey. Each piping culture has its traditions and this was a new tradition for me. Here there was a different style and feeling about the music, pipes, people and events, perhaps a more European style or perhaps an ‘English” style. I say English as it is a reinvention of a tradition that died out. And the reintroduction of the tradition has established a very firm and loyal group of people to their type of music.

I was expecting a heavy influence of French music, but I was surprised to see a good mix of styles in the form of workshops and concerts: Northumbrian/Borders; Occitan from the French Pyrenees; Hungarian; Irish; Welsh… these music’s were played on a type of bagpipe that I have a problem in naming.

They call it a “Border pipe” but I cannot see where their border is exactly? The majority played a type of pipe similar to the French/Belgium bagpipe: mouth blown or bellows blown, conical bored chanter, 2 drones, over-blown into a 2nd octave. Not so loud, plastic reeds, no African Blackwood in sight (made a nice change too) therefore the sound was mellow, perhaps they could call it a “French-Anglo Pipe” as the makers are English and the pipe is modeled on the French/Belgium style.

The makers present (selling their pipes) were in the main hall alongside a Society stall, a flute maker, an Occitan maker. Zampogna maker. There was a 2nd hand section of music books, CDs, cassettes…

One of the workshops I attended was a ‘beginner’s workshop’ to sort out teething problems players were having. This was very informative as it gave me a chance to see how the workshop was structured (with relation to my own workshop); I was also looking for some advice about my Spanish gaita as it was sharp in the bottom notes.  It came apparent that the information was only for a select type of pipes from a select few pipe makers. A general knowledge was not there of conical bored pipes.  The Society was open to all pipes but in reality (at this blowout in particular) only certain types of pipes were represented. Sometimes it felt like if you did not have a bagpipe from a certain type of maker then you were excluded from activities and advice, there was no advice about the Gaita. Also it presumed that because I had “asked the question” that I did not know anything about pipes or conical bored pipes, and I was told to go and “ask (someone) and you will find that the pipes are fine” (meaning “it is you who is wrong” well it seems I know as much as the person who is giving the advice, as he did not know either, a little condescending I thought).

The only sessions available were in D or G, G being the more popular of the 2. G pipes are common in French music, a large bass G. Which is fine, they sounded beautiful. But there are other pipes and I would have liked to have seen a session where any type of pipe could have been played… a few people had brought their sackpipa (key on A minor), , Spanish gaita (C),  , I had with me bagpipes in A minor, C, A major, D, F, and C minor… but no G. I did attend the Irish workshop which was in D, but others I could not. This did not lesson my interest. Other pipes present were a Welsh Pibgorn (D), Leistershire Small pipe (D), Italian Zampogna and there was a Dudy from the Czech/Slovak regions.

The D session on the Saturday was titled “English Session” this apparently is a new occurrence as only English melodies are played (I did not know this at the time and I played a Catalan melody which was met with a silence). After I realized my “mistake” I tried to play along with the English melodies, which there was a lot of. This was the biggest surprise of the weekend, a firm selection of English tunes were being played by all. The Northumbrian tunes came at the end of the night when they had played out all the English tunes. This is great as it establishes a firm melody base of for an English tradition, and leaves the Northumbrian tradition a little apart (which I feel is more accurate as it is more akin to the Scottish/English Border tradition).

Another surprise for me was the Occitan music and bagpipes. 2 makers from the French side of the Pyrenees were offering their instruments for sale, CDs, workshops and concerts. It was a music I only knew a little about (and only recently). They seemed to have a cross-over from the Catalan and Aragon side of the Pyrenees with the Sac de Gemecs (made from a fruit wood, a type of apple) and the Gaita de Boto (complete with snakeskin and girls dress). But also they had their own type of pipes a very large bagpipe in F with a large drone with a knitted “flecco” (decoration). A shepherd’s bagpipe without a drone, deep sound, sad sound, lovely (I had heard this on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees). And the Boha bagpipe with the drone apart of the chanter which can play 2 notes… (Therefore is it really a drone?). Also there was a variant of this having 2 melody pipes and 1 ‘drone’ built into the chanter, single reeds, polyphonic sound.

In the sessions I heard the Welsh Pibgorn, a dingle reeded instrument, 1 octave mouth blown with a distinctive sound, a beautiful decorated horn cut away at the bottom of the chanter, with cylindrical bored chanter.  Their melodies were not dissimilar to a Breton tune, in a minor mode.

The Hungarian duo (pipes and hurdy gurdy) were fantastic players, (I had seen them at the Piping Live Festival in Glasgow a few years previous) tight in their music and ‘tuning’ (an important lesson for us all). Played beautifully with traditional and composed pieces, improvisations and structured parts. The pipes were not so dissimilar to the Occitan Boha. With the Hungarian ’suggesting’ that the Boha was taken from their pipes. They look similar… but who’s came first is a question too far…

My final observation of the weekend was that there is a danger of the “small pipes” becoming obsolete in time due to their quiet nature. Those who had them were drowned out by the conical chanters. This is a reflection of what is happening in sessions too all over the country. If you are “not heard”, why play them? The highland pipe makers are increasing the volume of the “session small pipes” but not so with pipe makers (although there are exceptions). Perhaps the small-pipes need to become more assertive, and insist the venues, meetings, and festivals are predominantly ‘small-pipe sessions’ the same way the ‘English Session’ has become?

Bagpipe Making: Small Drone Parts

I have been making ‘small drone parts’ over the past few days. The original plan was only to have bass drones for the workshop, but the small drone adds to the techniques and is an important part in learning how to play. It can be a little difficult tuning a 2nd drone easily and successfully, an out of tune drone is annoying as an out of tune chanter, so tuning ones ear to a harmony can be useful to know.

I am experimenting with woods, mixing them together, joining them together and playing with outer designs. I do like making the wooden parts.

I made another bellow, still trying different techniques out, experimenting with different glues and ways of assembling in a less messy manner.

If I get the time I will use it with the workshop, but at the moment I am finalizing 7 sets and if I can squeeze in an 8th all well and good.

Bagpipe Making: Tuning Chanters

The chanters are being tested to see if they are in the right key. My original idea was to have them all playing in the key of D (a common key for sessions) but after assembling them and testing them out I am finding they are quiet for sessions (due to wood type and reed limitations). So I am forgetting about unifying the chanters in the same key, I will make each of them in tune with the drones so each player can practice by alone (and not as a group).

Thinking more about it this makes more sense as anyone coming with their own small-pipe will be in a different tuning (possibly F, C, Bb, G, A) to my D set,  it only takes 1 key difference to make the group sound discordant. I cannot cater for this. It will be easier to ask the student to play alone, and I can see to them individually, and occasionally to get them together as a group for general discussion.

The workshop will not only be “hands on” practice, but informative with maintenance tips, buying guide, types of pipes etc.  a general introduction. It is catering for the “person who is intending to own a set of Small pipes in the future”. This workshop cannot give them hours of practice (which is what is needed) it can give them ideas on what to look out for and to suggest the steps to practice when they have their own sets.

Sackpipa Practice Chanter

I made a “sackpipa practice chanter” by putting my original chanter into a highland bagpipe practice chanter mouth piece. This gives me an opportunity to learn the melodies before applying them to the bag.

Many years ago when I began researching the sackpipa I made a PowerPoint slide show of the melodies I had collected from the internet (mainly from the early version of Olle’s page), I found the mp3 recordings and added them to the slide show. I had intended to learn these melodies one day using the slide show… now is that day. On screen comes the notation and the music automatically plays; as it plays I follow using fingering patterns only, and then I play the melody myself.

The tunes I have been working on so far with any regularity are:

Jag blaste I min pipa (which I have memorized)
Ljugaren (I have memorized)
Sackpipslat efter Jont Lars Olsson (memorized)
Krigsvisa om danskarna (struggling with this one, to remember the melody, it feels a different style in some way).
Steklat fran Sarna (memorized, but the 2nd half creates some mix ups with the finger order)
Vals fran Enviken (memorized)
Visa fran Venjan (I have been playing this one with the C natural just for easiness; the tune requires a C sharp).
Langdans fran Solleron (memorized)
Bjorskottens polska (memorized)
Polska efter Troskari Erik (struggling, due to the polska rhythm)
Gardsbygubbarnas polska (struggling, 2nd half looses me, the polska rhythm and the duplicate notes)
Miller of Dee (memorized)

Bagpipe Making: Help in Making, near Completion

What a difference a few days make when someone comes and helps with the making. Leila flew over from Spain to help with the sewing of the outer bags; she also helped with other aspects of making. By the end of the 3 days we completed all of the assembly, the finer tasks of clack valves, blow pipes, belts for bellows, decoration on the bellows, a new design for the bellows, and securing the wooden drone parts to the metal sliding section.

What is left to do is to drill and fine tune the chanters against the drones, and complete making the reeds. Last week I was wondering if I could complete everything in time but having someone help and encourage and just to bounce ideas helped get through the mountain of jobs that often overwhelmed me. Sometimes, I just froze due to the amount of jobs still to do.

1 bag had to be discarded due to leaking. It was an old bag, an experiment from Spain. It will be easier to make a new bag with the current method than to try and find the leaks.

The next jobs will be tuning of the chanters and making reeds for the drones. It is the last and trickiest task to do.

Bagpipe Making: Bellows (1)

I finished gluing the leather to the cheeks of the 1st bellow, and then I left it to dry over night. It was beginning to look like the finished bellow. Instead of screwing the leather to the cheeks, I inserted safety pins into the cheeks to hold the leather while the glue dried. This worked very well and took a lot quicker to do. I can simply pull the pins out and insert the screws later then the glue is dry.

I then started on the 2nd bellow (my own design). I connected the two ends of the leather by stitching and smearing silicone between the folds and over the stitching, and left it to dry over night.

The glued cheek covering (a green velvet) that was done the previous day had glued smooth and came out nice.

I took the stocks out of the bags, ready for dying them to give them some uniformity in design.

Half-Long Pipes: Dixon Melodies

Since 1991 my Half-long pipes have never played correctly mainly due to excess of air needed to keep a pressure in the bag suitable for playing.

Recently I have done some modifications to the drone bore (narrowed it), chanter holes (made them smaller) , and used larger bellows; the result being a in tune chanter of 440c in the key of A, a bag pressure which is slight, and a bellow action that does not have me flapping around like a scared bird.

I have been concentrating on a few melodies to get me back into playing them in a public environment. The melodies are taken from the Dixon manuscript (1733), which is written for the Border pipes.

The titles are:
“Jack Lattin” playing the variations from 1-8;
“The New Way to Bowden” with variations 1-5;
“Mock the Soldier’s Lady” with variations 1-4;
“Dixon’s Highland Laddie” with variations 1-5;

Bagpipe Making: Bellows

I had some success yesterday, I began by redrawing the plans for the new bellow cheeks, and I also standardized the plans for the leather, ignoring the Northumbrian style as well as the Irish bellow style. I thought why not experiment with my own style.

After drawing the plans, I cut the leather to the new plans.

I started on the Irish bellows, I glued the leather to the cheeks first instead of adding the screws to the cheeks, and then I loosely place the screws to keep the leather in place, and left it to dry for 24 hours.

I drilled the new holes in the new bellow cheeks and put a covering over the wood for decoration.

I then went to the lathe and finished off the bass drone, my best yet, a nice combination of woods (bubinga and cedar).

Bellow Trouble

Sometimes the work can go smoothly, other times like today it can be really slow and frustrating. The final bass drone is still yet to be completed due to the gluing of the ornamentation.

The fixing of the leather to the bellow cheeks had to be postponed due to the cheeks splitting/cracking. I had to cover the cheek with glue; hopefully this will seal and strengthen the sides making the wood stronger for the screws to go in without splitting the wood. I do not want to revert to the traditional Northumbrian method as I know this works; I want to try new things out. But it is a very slow process having to measure the leather around the cheeks, then sealing and sewing the two ends of the leather together (which I did today), then fixing the leather to the edges of the cheeks.

I do not want to abandon the process just yet, I want to see if I can do it, but it is a method I will not try in the future. Irish pipers have this method for making their bellows, it works fine for them, but for me I need a different system for making bellows.

My own system I will try, straight after I have completed the ‘Irish method’. I have started it already but it is taking time due it is my first try and I am working ‘blind’, after this one it should be smoother.

I dyed and varnished the stocks to make them seem uniform in the bags. This is not essential but from afar it will look presentable; they look like a dark oak colour now.

Cheeks for New Bellows

Today I glued the bass drone pieces together using bubinga and cedar woods, it looks attractive. I will shape it tomorrow then I will have the 7 bass drones made.

I made 7 bellows cheeks today, cut them and sanded them down ready to apply the material. I did away with the curved ends; I want my own design, something to make them a little different. The construction is my own idea, so I might as well make the design a little different too.

The glued fabric on the 2 bellows cheeks I did yesterday was a success, it is ready to apply the “leather” part now…. the tricky bit. 

Workshop Venue

Yesterday I completed shaping another bass drone this time with bubinga and cherry. After taking advice from the “Bagpipe Makers Exchange” forum, I began different tasks to rest the eyes and mind so not to make too many mistakes in the future.

I worked on the bellows by drilling the outlet holes and gluing fabric over the cheeks and letting them dry for 24 hours. Then I went back to the bass drone making, cutting the wood, long boring and shaping it down to 19mm. This will be my 7th and final bass drone for the workshop.

At Newcastleton, I looked around the venue space where the workshop will be held. There was a leather couch type seating around the wall which is good for spacing out the students so their pipes will not overlap each other too much.

The room also took me back to the 1980s Festivals where they used to hold the Northumbrian small pipe competitions, times change, next year it will no longer be a venue but flats.

Newcastleton Folk Club

Newcastleton Folk Club is on every 4th Tuesday of the month, just over the Scottish Border. I have been going for a few months and enjoying it a lot. There is a nice mix of singers and instrumentalists, with a mixture of ballads, modern songs, humorous songs and the odd poem.

The musicians always have an element of piping as one of the organizers (Dave) is a small piper, and has been introducing the larger French-Anglo pipe and the Swedish Sackpipa into the mix. I play my Northumbrian and Scottish Small pipes, and this time I was joined with a fiddler and guitarist. There are a few guitarists generally to accompany songs or to perform solo. Other times there have been Irish pipes, mandolins, mandolas, and a whistle.

There is a rotation of music, so everyone gets a chance to play/sing. This week I played 3 sets on the Scottish Small pipes, the first being composed of 2 Lowland Scots tunes “Now Westlin Winds” and the “The Gallowa Hills”; the second set was made up of 3 Northumbrian tunes “Neil Gow, Chevy Chase, and Frisky”.

The next set of tunes was on the Northumbrian Small pipes, I played 2 tunes called “Bonny at Morn” and “Fairly Shot on Her”

The last set was on the Scottish Small pipes, which was accompanied by a guitarist and violin player. The tunes were “The Rowan Tree” and the “When the Battle’s O’er”, 2 Highland pipe tunes.

Bass Drone and Bent Reamer

I finished off the bass drone from yesterday, it was gluing over night and today I turned it down and added decoration. There is a mixture of woods: European cedar and cherry, a white wood mixed with a light pink wood, it looks nice. That makes 5 bass drones in total completed.

An accident occurred yesterday as I was re-boring the drones to clean out some chaff. The reamer came out of the lathe and hit the tool rest; the reamer was bent and came out of the chuck. It happened so fast I could do nothing, luckily I have another. Was it tiredness which made me not fix it securely or just one of those things?

Today, I used the Visio programme and redesigned the measuring and cutting of the bubinga wood for another bass drone. I will mix the woods again, this time using the cherry as a contrast wood to the bubinga.

I long bored the bubinga and choose a piece of cherry to complete the length of the drone. I will try and join them now and glue them before I leave for a folk session at Monkhill tonight.

Drone Design with Computers

I spent too much time over a drone yesterday. The boring and rough turning was done the day before, so all was left to do was shape it, but this is where the time went, designing and turning all has to be done in my head then acted upon; and since it has been months since I had made a drone I was again remembering how to do it. I had altered the design since last time too by using new measurements and new forms; using my chisels instead of the tool post and cutters. It was a success, it looked ok, until the last piece was to be turned and here (again) tiredness took over and I glued the finishing piece and left it for the night. I should have left the gluing until today, as it was not long enough. Not to worry the beauty about wood is that you can redo it.

Later I decided to revisit the design of the drone, not in my head, but on the computer by using a “vsd” format. This allows quite detailed drawings to be experimented with, and a working blueprint to be achieved ‘on paper’. So I am hoping today I will have gained some time and drones will not take so much time.

I started working on my new idea for the bellows, I submerged the wood into a barrel of water to make it more supple, then I laid heavy weights on it to iron out any lumps and bumps, and then let it to dry.

Drone Configuration and Melody Types

An interesting talk with a young piper yesterday in Carlisle prompted me to write a little about drone tuning. Our conversation centered on the types of drones one should use and for which melodies. He was interested in using the drone configuration of A, d’, a’’ (Bass A, tenor D, alto A) with his ‘A’ Scottish small pipes. This drone configuration is not unusual in the European style but it is with Scottish small pipes. When I first heard about it I was skeptical, there would be a clash of sounds, but it was not as bad as what I thought as I listened to him play.

The problem is the amount of melodies he could play, not many would fit the harmonic arrangement. The Highland tunes would be more willing to blend in with the drones especially the one which were routed in the D note, but the Northumbrian and Border melodies that used the C# (3rd note of the A scale) a lot clashed with the D drone. He thought it sounded ok, but I begged to differ.

When I started to play the Northumbrian small pipes in G I looked for melodies that played with the A drones (a’, a’’) there was not many melodies either, the root note of the melody being the A note on the chanter. With the drone playing the root note it harmonized with the rest of the scale. Not a problem.

My young friend was interested in a small pipe that “fitted all situations”, I was too, many years ago and in some respects the addition of owning chanters reflect this still. But perhaps this has been tried before, in the past, and the best that was achieved by the tradition was a drone configuration of A, a’, a’; giving a strong root note for different types of modes/scales to be explored. For me it was interesting to see a “work in progress” but I wonder if it will be followed up in a few years time… I hope so.

Drones, Bellows and Reeds

I have not turned any drones for a couple of months so yesterday morning I had to spend most of my time trying to remember how to do it, or in what order I should do it. Also, within those months I have changed my making process and now I do things differently. What is the point (besides documentation) in writing anything down, to remember the process, when it is changing all the time?

With the new drill I bought the boring and drilling went very well, I did 2 sections of wood which will become a tenor drone.

Later that day I got given some wood which will become bellow cheeks. A change of design has been growing in my mind for several weeks now, to make the design of the bellows more airtight. My present system is an adaptation of the traditional method, but I have this idea and it will not go away! What I need to do is try it out, and this wood will be ideal for that. The process is not quicker but I believe it will be a cleaner and more secure/airtight that the traditional method.

I bought screws for the bellows cheeks, not the ones I was looking for, but they will do for the traditional bellows. This is the problem of making pipes in 2 countries (Spain and the UK), there is not the same product in both countries, not the same measurements and not the same price, and availability is not the same either. These screws will do for now until I can source better ones.

Later on that afternoon, I met a piper and we went to the park in Carlisle, the meeting was an interesting one but for the point of this blog I noticed that the reed I had made was not so bad. It was louder than what I had thought and the tone was sweeter. There were some problems with it (too sharp in the chanter) but from the point of view of making I was pleased.

Removable Chanter Stocks

Yesterday I made 5 removable chanter stocks; these stocks are made for each chanter so they protect the reed if removed from the bag.

In hindsight I could have made only the bag/chanter stock, but this is not only about the workshops, it is also about learning and creating a finish product I am pleased with. The bag/chanter stock would have been quicker but the chanter would have to fit each chanter stock exactly and I would not be able to interchange the chanters in different bags if there were any deviation in size. This might have been limiting if a student wants to try Northumbrian fingering and then they want to try Scottish small pipe fingering… they would have to change bags, bellows etc. which is all time consuming. With the removable option I can simple take one chanter out of the bag and add it to another without damaging the reed (most damage done to the reed is when it is removed from the bag).

As I was completing the 4th stock it suddenly jumped out of the chuck in the lathe and crushed itself against the tool post. Tiredness and lack of concentration can be dangerous. It is the first ruined piece of work so far… well there has been many failed experiments but this was my first broken experiment. It was a valuable lesson “take a break and rest”. Bad things happen very fast indeed!

Stocks and Newcastleton Folk Festival… it’s on !

At the end of the day I had 5 stocks completed, the drilling on the wood lathe went ok but the shaping and finalizing the stocks on the metal work lathe took the time. Also I had problems with the motor, it kept on speeding up then slowing down, I had to reduce the rpms to keep it stable, and so I was cutting slower. Anyways, it is progress and still on schedule.

Today I finalized the dates of the workshop at Newcastleton Folk Festival, so it is official, I will be giving a beginners workshop on the “Bellows blown Small-pipes”. The aim of the workshop is to introduce the student to the techniques of bellows blown piping, with ideas on bellows technique, bag pressure, holding a note, keeping the drones steady, and if there is time playing a scale… basically everything except learning melodies….that is for another workshop. With these techniques one can adapt to any of the bellows blown bagpipes (Irish, Border, Northumbrian, Scottish Small pipes, Pastoral, Dudy, Cornemuse, Mussette, etc.), as the basics are the same. If you are buying a set of bellows blown pipes with these techniques you can see if the pipes are in tune, working, playable… without the basic techniques this is impossible.

Stocks, Stocks and more Stocks

I realize I am starting late in documenting my attempts at making “small pipes” it is better to start now while I am still in the process of making, than to leave it and forget what I have done. The idea is to make at least 6 sets of small pipes to use in workshops at folk festivals. I think between 6 and 10 sets are a realistic number, 6 being the minimum to start with then increase it if I have the time. I get the chance to give my first workshop at the Newcastleton Folk Festival in July 2015.

There has been a lot of experimentation over the past year, but a few months ago when I was told I could do the workshop I had to get together the experiments (that worked) and start assembling them. I should also add that most of these experiments were done in Madrid, Spain. There I had tools and wood easily to hand, on returning to the UK I had to source all the materials again and things were harder to find here, and some things were not possible to get, so I had to begin again and experiment. Time was running out but today I thought to allocate time to each stage, for example last week and this week I dedicate my time to making stocks and by the end of the week I move onto the next stage eg. Drones. By this method I should complete at least some if not all of the small pipes in time, leaving enough time for tuning! So I began today by making stocks for each bag that did not have them, and I will work my way through the missing stocks systematically until all have them.

I have made 6 bags so far (I have made more, if I need them), I have inserted some of the chanter stocks, blow pipe stocks and drone stocks, but as I go along I notice I have to do little changes to them. For example, originally I had made the internal diameter of the blowpipe sock 16mm but I later noticed that it would have been better to make it 18mm so I have to enlarge it. Not big jobs but multiply it by 6 it can take a few hours. This is what I mean by “experiments”.

Today I made 4 bag stocks: 3 chanter stocks and 1 drone stock. The drone stock took most of the day due to slowly boring the stock then shaping the outside. I had an old bag which was precut, so I had to match the diameter of the hole in the bag, I did not have a large diameter piece of wood and when I found one it took some time to prepare it for drilling.

The 3 chanter stocks were not a problem; these can be tired into the bags when I get some better twine. This will complete what is required for the 6 sets.

This morning I placed the 6 bags on the floor and placed beside them the things I have made so far. I had made about 3 sets but something was wrong with all of them, so I will have to take the stocks out of the bags and redo them at a later date. It was a useful exercise as I could write down what is still needed to do, and what things I need to prioritize. The 3 bellows I have already are nearly complete I need to make one more here (as I have the cheeks cut already) and do the rest in Spain.

Small-Pipe Workshop Update at Newcastleton Folk Festival

The progress is slow but sure, I have 6 bellows at the moment, some have been donated (one by David, the organizer of the Newcastleton Folk Club, many thanks to him) and others I have made; so there will be at least 6 sets of pipes on the day for beginners to use.

I would also like people who already have a set of small-pipes but do not play them/cant play them, but wish to do so to come along also, it is all about getting you started, sorting out the beginners problems that we have all gone through. So if you know of someone who has given up trying to play or has a set in the box at home which have been put away in frustration ! encourage them to come to the workshop.

Players who have Northumbrian sets we will be using the big drone at first (the D/C drone) this will be compatible with the sets I am making in D. Scottish Small-pipers are generally in A or D so a harmony can be achieved… all this can be sorted out, the workshop is about bellows technique, bag pressure, keeping the instrument stable, getting all parts in harmony, and obtaining a scale in tune with the drones, and if there is time left a melody

if you wish to contact me regarding the workshop or anything to do with piping can do so at tilbsuk@yahoo.com

!

The Nayanban – The Iranian Bagpipe

The Persian bagpipe is becoming more popular, possibly thanks to the internet, this once little known instrument is gaining more interest in Europe. Generally one player popularizes an instrument…becomes a well known name and gets all the attention, concerts, fame and money!
But, it does not mean they have the final say on the instrument, music, or style… but to many it is.

Leila, visited her country and chanced upon a Nayanban musician in Isfahan, Iran. Being Iranian she could converse with the player and learn a little bit about him. This is her story really, I am just including it as i think it is a wonderful story and a chance to Ethnomusicology working both ways.

The Nayanban is a bagpipe from southern Iran, near to the Persian Gulf. The “red arrows” on the map indicate the areas where the instrument is popular: Bandar Bushehr to Abadan, along the coastal area. These are port towns and possibly this instrument was imported from across the seas or it was exported from these ports to other countries?
The area is also near to Iraq and Kuwait, big oil producing areas, and there is also a lot of oil on the Iran side of the border too. During the War between Iraq and Iran (1980-87) this area received a lot of bombing and invasion. A lot of local people (Bandari) moved north to escape the bombing and they took their culture and instruments with them. A lot of the migrants settled in an areas close to Isfahan,  especially in a town called Shahrekord (South West of Isfahan).

This nayanban player Leila met was called Behnam Rahimi, from Baghbahadoran, which is close to Shahrekord, he came to Isfahan to play on the streets to earn some money; but unlike buskers in Europe who would play on the busy streets, shopping areas, city centers, and commercial and touristic areas, Behnam plays in residential areas far from the “madding crowd”, his streets were quiet, walled enclosed, no passers-by or shop-keepers to move you on! His audience were behind their walls, inside their homes or peering from their windows.

The instrument consists of a bag, 2 chanters in a single stock, no drone. The 2 chanters have the same tuning, the player’s fingers cover both chanter at the same time and play the same notes. The music is highly rhythmic, more for dancing I imagine than for singing. Behnam, told Leila that he was later to play at a wedding where there is generally dancing; but before the wedding he was “busking”… not ‘on’ the main street of the city, but ‘behind’ the main street, in quiet roads, lanes, drive ways. People would hear his music, and like his music and come out and pay him.

you can hear him playing the Nayanban here 

Small-Pipe Workshop

I will be offering this year at Newcastleton Folk Festival a beginner’s workshop in “Learning the Small-Pipes”. The workshop will be a basic introduction into small pipe techniques. 
Too often the beginner will not take enough time to learn the basic techniques of the bag, bellows, drones and chanter, and rush towards learning melodies and then finding out later that they have to restart learning, also most damage caused to a new instruments happens in the first few days of receiving their pipes. 
The workshop will go through the basics of bag pressure, bellows technique, tuning drone and fingering styles, and reeds. The workshop is designed for people who intend to start playing the small pipes not for people who already play them.
Buying a set of small pipes can be an expensive hobby, and often there can be a long wait to get a set of pipes. It is a commitment before you can start to play, and often it can be frustrating when you get your set, and often they are put aside as there are many things to do at once before getting a good sound from them.
If you are thinking of buying a set of small pipes, or waiting for your set to be made, or just wishing to try the instrument out… this workshop is for you.
It is also for people who have already their set of small pipes, perhaps the instrument has been put aside as it was found too complicated, bring them along and the workshop can help you to get started.
I can offer a limited number of small pipes for those who attend the workshop. These will be for those interested in Northumbrian Small pipes and Scottish Small pipe players, with open and closed fingering.
There maybe is also a chance to try mouth blown examples too…
Reservations is the best way of ensuring a place on the workshop, or just turn up on the day if there are sets available, those with their own sets bring them along too.
I am trying to ensure there will be 10 sets of small pipes available on the day. I will be posting updates to confirm the number of pipes available.  

Gaitas at Christmas

The cold is affecting the gaita, it takes about 15 minutes to warm the reed up and to settle the drone reed, until then it is unstable. 

When it settles down I start with a mix of Asturian and Catalan melodies, a few from Zamora and I am now slowly introducing melodies from Galician and Northumbria. 
The melodies are well received by the general public, whether it is the new sound I do not know but they seem to like the melodies, which is encouraging. 
I am playing a Galician chanter in D, this is bought in Madrid and has a high pitched sound. The reed is constantly changing due to the damp and cold, so I have to alter it until it becomes stable, but when it is stable it has a nice contrast with the bass drone. This drone is from a Highland Bagpipe, the big bass drone, it sounds a D (440c)… , in fact I bought this Highland bagpipe in India in 1995 while I was there researching music. There is a metal tongued drone reed but it does not seem stable in the beginning, probably due to the large bore size of the Highland drone…  I need to make the bore smaller. 

I added “fleco” to the drone… a typical decoration that the Spanish bagpipes have. The drone sits across my arm (not over my shoulder) like the Border pipes; I did this because the drone was being scraped against the wall so it was not practical for playing.