Dave VanDoorne RememberedBy:
Dave was a founder member of the Bagpipe Society who passed away in December. His contribution to the English Bagpipe Revival, especially in the early days cannot be overestimated, as can be seen in these reminiscences:
My first encounter with Dave VanDoorn was in characteristically surreal surroundings. It was the inaugural meeting of (what was then known as) the “English Bagpipe Society” in December 1985. Although I can recall few details of the meeting itself, I have a vivid memory of us going through the galleries of the Pitt-Rivers museum afterwards and gazing at the shrunken heads. Dave, along with a few other kindred spirits, always seemed to occupy the outer edges of the bagpiping movement. You never knew what he would roll up with. I remember the “Grosse Bock” at Beverley: the bass drone, which appeared to have been stolen from an Alpine shepherd, was about ten feet long and stuck out in front of the player. The drone finished with an impressive natural horn that rested on the floor. Once going, the instrument made a surprisingly pleasant sound but stopping it sounded like a train wreck — the various components would shut off, one at a time, with the giant drone finally gurgling its way to a halt a couple of seconds after everything else had fallen silent. I also remember the space hopper pipes: who else but Dave would think that a giant bouncy rubber contraption would be just the thing to attach a chanter and drones to? I don’t recall what it sounded like but it looked stunning.
Dave’s most visible contribution to the Bagpipe Society was the newsletters, which set much of the tone of the society: we aimed to be an informal group that welcomed newcomers and Dave’s newsletters captured that spirit admirably. His cartoons, which often made fun of the instrument and its players, also contributed greatly to the relaxed impression that he wanted to put across. He also put in a lot of effort behind the scenes as a member of the committee. The committee meetings, which were usually held at the house of one of the members, would occupy most of the day and we would do that three or four times per year. On one occasion Dave invited me to come the evening before the committee meeting to attend a practice of Royal Liberty Morris, for whom he was a musician. Royal Liberty were not a side for the faint hearted — I think they once set their instruments on fire during a performance — and their squire felt no need to beat about the bush. At the mid practice break, without any prefacing remarks, he just stood up and said (apropos of the side’s forthcoming attendance at the Rochester Sweeps)
“Now listen. I don’t want none of you ****ing stupid ****ers getting ****ing pissed before ****ing lunchtime: I’m ****ing fed up with it!”
It made a lasting impression on me. Like his taste in bagpipes, Dave’s taste in Morris was the opposite of bland — as anybody who has seen Royal Liberty perform will attest.
Perhaps his greatest personal influence on me happened during a very early Blowout in Milton Keynes. Dave was enthusing about French festivals and French Dance music, saying it would be the next big thing: I don’t think I even knew then that the French had bagpipes or any dance music to go with them. Although I remember wondering at the time what all the fuss was about (and thought I’d probably be better off continuing with the Northumbrian repertoire that I was familiar with) I quite liked the tunes. That chance encounter made me look a little more closely and has resulted in a lifelong interest in French dance music.
Although Dave’s contribution to the society tailed off in recent years, his efforts in setting up the society, in publishing the early newsletters and generally keeping the thing going during the first few years of the society’s existence, mean that we all owe him a large debt of gratitude. I will remember him as a real enthusiast for the bagpipes, who was interested in promoting the instrument more widely; someone who wanted to publish high quality articles and research but who wasn’t afraid to have a damn good laugh about it at the same time.
I first met Dave on an Evening Class at the London College of Furniture. We had both enrolled to make a bagpipe. Dave finished his, at home. Mine is still in constituent parts (lumps of wood mainly) in a bag in my attic. On the first evening I said that I thought that what was needed was a society to act as a support network for those starting to play bagpipes of any denomination and Dave enthusiastically told me that he also had been thinking along the same lines. We spent most of the classes honing the concept as well as a lot of time in between doing what was needed to successfully launch the Bagpipe Society. Dave was particularly clear that it should promote and encourage excellence in both playing and making and that any logo should be non-specific regarding bagpipe type and historic age in its bagpipe representation. We split jobs to make the most of our experience and talents and so it was that Dave tirelessly and professionally for many years was the Treasurer and produced and published the journal Chanter. We had many years of friendship. Had it not been for his support, encouragement and enthusiasm particularly in the early days I think it is unlikely that I would have been involved in the creation and development of something that has benefited so many musicians.
Dave set the pace in his management of the Newsletter/Chanter. I think that many of my ‘Uncle Octavius’ offerings were submitted under his stewardship. He was always very kind, once going so far as to say that a particular piece had made him laugh out loud – which was of course flattering, and inclined to encourage one to produce more. For someone so closely involved with the cutting edge of English bagpiping, his own pipes, and this is not at all intended unkindly, always seemed to me to be a bit of a disaster. I well remember a workshop led by Jean Blanchard, in which Jean was attempting to teach us a piece from his wonderful Grande Bande repertoire. For those not familiar with it, this is written in three parts for pipes in G and low C. Dave joined the group, choosing to play his gigantic Bohemian bock. Jean’s music ideally requires playing of some precision, with neat beginnings and endings. The time taken to start up the bock, no one being quite certain when the first note would issue forth, and having started, the time taken to bring it to silence, had an interesting effect on the ensemble, and Jean’s face was a picture.
Dave was an affable and humorous man, and perhaps a little eccentric (and all the better for that), who gave much to the society. He was much missed at the Blowout when his life took him along other paths.
We were very sorry to hear of the death of Dave VanDoorn, a key figure in the creation of The Bagpipe Society. We first met him in 1985 at the first Blowzabella weekend in Newbury. It was Dave who pinned up a notice asking who would be interested in forming an English Bagpipe Society; and the rest is history. We were immediately drawn to Dave as he was genial, enthusiastic and had a keen sense of fun. He was passionate about bagpipes, but never lost sight of the humorous side of this obsession. As an amateur maker he was uninhibited. He brought to Newbury his impressively hairy low G Bock bagpipe with a massive horn on the end of the drone, that he had made at night school at The London College of Furniture. Dave and his friend Bob Bryan both played in The Royal Liberty Morris Men for over 30 years. Bob talked to Julian recently about Dave’s obsession with pipe-making and his tendency to incorporate bits of furniture into bagpipes. “Chair legs would disappear in his house and later reappear as chanters.” Looking at the photo of Dave playing his Bock, the drone does look like a standard lamp! It took many people and much work to establish the Society as an authoritative influence; but right from the start the element of fun that Dave injected has also been important. His production of the early Newsletters was practically a one-man effort, lightened by his daft cartoons. We still chuckle when thinking of the Breughel piper with the old man leaning over him and asking “Can you play Amazing Grace on that thing?”
Dave’s legacy to our Society is that he kept things light, friendly and welcoming. This remains at the very heart of The Bagpipe Society today and we can all experience this at each Blowout.
John and Julian Goodacre