AGM 2011


Dear John,

Sometimes I feel

like bagpipes are following me everywhere. My wife brought home an old book entitled Costume of Household Servants by Phillis Cunnington and I just opened it up at random to find a discussion of ‘bagpipe sleeves’ in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. I’d never heard of this before so thought I’d send it to you in case it interests others. Cunnington says “The sleeves were very wide, hanging low down, expanding to a funnel shape below. Others were like hanging pockets and known as bagpipe sleeves.”

She offers a quote from the Historia Vitae et Regni Ricardi II, ascribed

to a monk of Evesham, 1390-1399, translated from the Latin of Thos. Hearne’s edition of 1729. “In the beginning of the king’s reign [Richard II] there grew up no little extravagance in Clothes and especially in gowns with deep and wide sleeves called in the vernacular Pokys, like bag pipes in form, so much so that they were used equally by servants and their masters. Which

[sleeves] indeed could rightly be called receptacles of devils, since what was furtively taken could be swiftly stowed in them. Others moreover were so wide and ample that they hung down to the feet, or at least to the knees, full of cuts [ornamental slashes] and bedevilment. Moreover when attendants had to serve their lords at table with soup, sauces or anything liquid, they at once got immersed in the fluid, tasting it before their masters.”

The book includes a picture, though I think the sleeve only bears a passing resemblance to a bagpipe. I wonder have any Bagsoc members tried hiding things in their bagpipes? Hopefully no -one has accidentally dunked their instrument in soup!

Best wishes, Tom Hughes

Hello John,

Having just joined the BagSoc and received the two previous Chanter issues from this year

I would like to make one or two comments on the letters / articles therein:

With great interest I read Clive’s article on the instruments in the Bosch painting; not least

because I am acquainted with Andy Lamb … we both studied at the London Met. Uni. , or London College of Furniture as it used to be; and also due to the fact that I have made gothic harps and lutes, similar to those depicted by Bosch, for the last 20 odd years.

The article in Chanter is the first I have heard of this project carried out at the Bate Collection but I fail to understand why a person or persons with the correct background knowledge would come to such strange conclusions / sweeping generalisations …. that is, assuming that the quotes from the Guardian are correct. As a maker of stringed instruments I am only focusing on the comments made about these, I have little knowledge of wind instrument making ….. To say that ‘“the harp won’t make an octave” makes no sense and is a pointless statement. The picture shows a typical harp of the period strung with enough strings to cover two or two and a half octaves, diatonically. It’s proportions look fine to me. Accidental notes required for suitable music are only usually Bb and C# .

If their (the Bates’ researchers) lute and hurdy gurdy copies didn’t work then may I suggest that this is not necessarily down to copying the depictions, but a lack of understanding of how to actually build those instruments, and make them work, regardless of what the drawings / plans were !

I must admit that the soundhole of the lute is shown to be unusually low, and in one of the areas of greatest stress upon the soundboard, just in front of the bridge, and may well cause collapse if the internal bracing was insufficient, but some prior knowledge of building similar instruments soon alerts the maker to these possible effects.

I fail to see why a man of experience such as Mr. Lamb appears to have made such sweeping statements …. and if the required knowledge of building such instruments does fall outside his or his colleagues’ field then why not ask some other makers , as indeed Clive suggests at the end of his article. The whole exercise does seem rather odd.

On copying the shape of an alchemist’s alembic for the Bosch bagpipe …. yes this does seem feasible as the shapes are similar . Now again, I’m no expert on bagpipe shapes and dimensions from Bosch’s period, across Europe, but has nobody noticed that on the page facing the beginning of the Bosch article in Chanter there is an inset picture of a bagpipe from the Spanish museum which appears to be exactly the same shape, albeit with longer pipes ??

Also, regarding Andy Letchers’ notes on gurning pipers:

My own experience of dabbling with many instruments over the years is that I have always found it difficult to talk or sing whilst playing anything. Sometimes I can do it and other times I cannot, be it pipes, bouzouki, guitar, drums, whatever …. and I am always in some awe of and have respect for those people who seem to be able to do it with ease.

I have often been criticised by spectators for looking like thunder, too serious, or even morose when I play ….. most recently, coincidentally, at this year’s Blowout! It’s just concentration and I have little control over it when I play …. but any concerned observers need not worry, I am having a good time really !!

There is always another level to aim for and all we can do is strive to achieve it, gurning or not :-)

I hope the above will be of some interest to readers of Chanter, even though a good deal of it is not relating directly to bagpipes. But does have some peripheral relevance, as suggested by another letter contributor in the Spring issue concerning “widening the remit instrumentally” in an attempt to stop membership decline.

Incidentally, I have been a member of the Lute Society for a good number of years and would like to mention that it suffered a period of worrying membership decline back in the early 1990s as I remember; and from which it did manage to recover; it’s membership is now up in the high hundreds, I believe. It might be worth asking the secretary, Chris Goodwin, the secret of his success as the turn around has been under his administration. Just a thought.

Yours with best wishes, George Stevens

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