Arriving at Polesworth, and whilst
setting up camp in the field behind the Abbey – looking forward to an evening chilling out over some cider, a barbeque, and a few tunes with the girls – I was collared by none other than Julian Goodacre. Apparently my pres- ence was required in the hall as he had some- thing planned about an assembly dedicated to producing a standard chanter. No rest for the wicked.
To be honest, I had no idea what he
was on about, but as it turned out Julian
hosted an entertaining session in which he
hooked up a bagpipe to a standard lamp (!)
via a reed chamber containing the biggest
double reed you’re ever likely to want to see
in action. This produced a D so low I expect
it was only really audible to the larger cetace-
ans… and then invited the assembly to decide
how work should proceed to turn the beast
into a working chanter. Sean Jones was the first to step up and drilled a hole about half way – a Bb apparently – closely followed by Dom Allan who managed the D above. Somehow I got wangled in to get the C between the two, and that was it for the ‘standard chanter’ for the evening.
Funny thing with the Blowout – there’s always plenty going on, but you can only be in one place at a time, so you might well see or take part in a full weekend of activi- ties, workshops and concerts while missing out on as much again. And so that was more or less the last that I saw of Julian’s standard chanter apart from brief and sometimes distant sightings…
Saturday dawned a sunny day and so it was soon time for the first workshop of the day. I was in the church for a playing session on medieval music led by Tony Purnell, a self confessed inexperienced bagpiper, but someone with more than a little experience of early music. First tune up was ‘Quand je voi’, a troubadour song by Colin Muset, which, arranged for G and D pipes, went pretty well. We then had a go at something a little harder - ‘Sempr’acha Santa Maria’, cantiga 137. Well we struggled with this one, but eventually got the hang of it’s odd rhythms by the end. It’s one of those tunes that once you’ve got it, it’s a lovely piece, but just following the dots it was a bit of a pig! Now it’s in my head I’ll be keep- ing it for future use.
After Tony’s workshop I went to Clive Matthews’ one on ‘Apes, Jugglers and the Scourge of Actors’. You may know Clive from his many recent contributions to Chanter. He gave a splendid talk on the subject of bagpipers in the ‘masks’ performed in Tudor times. This could have been really dry fare, but Clive managed to make it lively and hu- morous. A thoroughly entertaining lecture which should be appearing in expanded form in Chanter in the not too distant future.
In the afternoon it was back to the church for another playing session with Tony Purnell – this time on renaissance music; an Allemande from Gervaise, and a canon by Melchior Franck ‘Da Pacem Domine’. This was a fairly straightforward 6 bar phrase arranged for D and G pipes but with the different parts coming in at odd times. The ar- rangement we settled on had us all playing the G part through a couple of times, then the D part held a note so we could come in 1⁄2 a bar later than the G players. After a couple of times through like this we further split so that half the G’s re entered a bar and a half after the other G’s, while half the D’s re entered a bar and a half after the D part, or 2 bars after the original G part. I have
to say without Tony’s excellent con-
ducting this could never have
worked but as it was it was lovely,
and looking in on the workshop, Ian
Clabburn asked us to perform it at
the start of the evening concert.
Whilst hanging round wait- ing for the AGM - and thanks Andy for the constant reminders; I actu- ally remembered to go to it this year! – and on the lookout for photo opportunities I was collared by Paul Martin one of the guest pipers at the Blowout this year, who had spotted my pipes sticking out of my bag and wanted to know more about them. It seems he’s a bit of a fan of single reed pipes so was interested in my pibgorn / gaida hybrid pipes that I play mostly these days. There’s a photo hereabouts of him having a go. There should be a law against people being able to just pick up a strange set of pipes and being able to play them better than you can yourself…
The evening concert was soon upon us and as usual well attended both by Blowout goers and local people as well. This year Ian had changed the format somewhat so that it was basically just the guest pipers. The show started with Tony Purnell’s workshop group performing ‘Da Pacem Domine’ which went pretty well, although I confess to going a little wrong in the last few bars – hopefully no- body noticed!
Next up was Paul Martin on bellows blown border pipes. Paul’s a fine player both of tradi- tional border tunes (with variations) and also his own compositions, and his performance was true to form. Excellent stuff.
He was followed by Rémi Decker, a young
piper from Belgium with a growing reputation.
Rémi is from the French part of the country and is
a notable performer on French bagpipes as well as
the Belgian shepherds bagpipe (the Muchosa with it’s untempered scale and which died out in the early 20th century) the pastoral pipes and low whistle. He started his set on the French pipes, singing a song of his own composition as he played before moving on to dance tunes. Between them he proved himself a fine storyteller as well. He finished this first set with a couple of tunes on the low whistle – a couple of his own composition; one describing the perambulations of a tipsy priest on a bicycle (much to Father Phillip’s amusement), the other a Breton style gavotte…
After the interval Paul returned for another 3 sets of tunes, this time having switched to another set of pipes, still border pipes but this time mouthblown and with a single bass drone. A very mellow set of pipes and quite old by the looks of them.
Then Rémi was up again. More tunes on the
French pipes but an excel- lent piece as well on the Muchosa – a bit of a walk on the wild side this one and owing more to Jimi Hendrix than piping tradition! More whistle as well plus a set on the Swedish pipes. The concert finished with Rémi call- ing on Paul and Ian Clab- burn to perform a bourree that had been composed earlier in Rémi’s workshop earlier in the day.
The evening concluded with the usual bal in the community hall to new French band ‘Mister Klof’ who are Julien Cartonnet on cornemuse du Centre, Sylvain Quéré on guitar – both ex Rufut de Chene from last year’s Blowout - Tiennet Simonnin on accordéon chromatique and Sylvain Vuidart on flute. As I’m sure you can imag- ine they were excellent both to just listen to and to dance to as well. After their first set, Rémi took over for a while before they returned, but by then we’d had enough and it was time for bed.
Sunday dawned sunny at
first but quickly turning to rain, though not before I managed to get most of our camping gear to the car. I was off site until after lunchtime visiting relatives but got back in the afternoon for part of Rémi’s workshop where he explained more about the revival of the Muchosa. Controversial at times he told us how the instrument had been copied from a survivor but then there had been difficulty in reeding it – no one knew what it should sound like. The result is an instrument with it’s own unique scale – a long way from ei- ther equal temperament or just intonation. And yet it sounds great…
The Blowout ended as usual with the Sunday afternoon concert, which once more featured our two guest pipers (Paul Martin doing a nice set this time on Northumbrian smallpipes) but with the unexpected addition of one Mano Panfor- reteiro, a Galician piper who was attending the festival. Highlight of his set was when he was joined by Vanessa Ryall’s daughter Dolly and they performed, well, a jazz song I guess you’d call it – Mano playing gaita and Dolly singing over the top of it. Excellent stuff.
Many thanks to Ian Clabburn for once again organising an excellent Blow- out. Robert Bramley for ticketing, Vanessa Ryall and the catering staff for keeping everyone fed, and all the workshop people for their contributions.