A Piper’s Appointment with FatE

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It was the stories and folklore associated with our instrument that first got me interested in playing the bagpipes. I’d come across this chap called Richard York playing various instruments at a Tudor day at Shibden Hall and had become entranced by the tales he told between the tunes as much as the music itself. The performance planted a seed in my mind and within a couple of years I was piping myself and Richard became a very good and supportive friend.

We shared a love of storytelling as much as piping and so eventually ended up doing a set of bagpiper stories as a performance at the Blowout. As we finished Ruth Bramley told us about a storytelling and music festival where she is an MC each year. This was Festival at the Edge, known as FatE. This the UK’s largest storytelling festival and has just enjoyed its 26th year. For the first 25 of those it took place atop Wenlock Edge from whence it got the name. It has just changed venue, still in Shropshire, but now at the edge of a lake instead.

As readers may know, myself and other volunteers from the Bagpipe Society have been taking the society’s sets of pipes around folk festivals for several years to showcase the instrument and run beginner’s workshops. We’ve been trying to get the opportunity to run similar workshops at FatE for a good while and I was delighted to be asked along this year.

On the Friday evening I gave a performance of my storytelling set “The Piper’s Tale” in one of the marquees. This was a collection of folk tales involving pipers with tunes and a bit of history woven in. It’s a set I perform often, but was extra special in front of an audience who seek out stories and I think started to get some of the crowd considering having a try of the instrument themselves.

But as it grew dark, I was summoned out to the lake to take part in the opening ceremony, a lantern lit parade with dancing giants. The organisers of this parade were the Boat Band, who wanted a piper to contrast with their brass instruments and, they said, add a bit of a mysterious feel! I was whisked off to one end of the lake and set in a small boat to be rowed across the lake, with a lady holding a flaming torch to light our way. We caused quite a stir when the music of the pipes drifted across the lake to the crowd before they saw us emerge. I piped for the giant Lady of the Lake to process towards the gathering, then after a few circles we disappeared back into the rushes. It was quite a magical experience to see it all from the boat, with the reflections of the lanterns in the lake, and lovely to hear people still talking about the bagpiper the next morning.

There were other places to catch bagpipes over the weekend, Vicki Swan was playing her Swedish pipes as part of the several concerts in the music tent and it was great to finally get to hear Jonny Dyer playing bagpipes too. On the Saturday and Sunday, I ran workshops giving people chance to ‘Meet the Bagpipes’ which was a brief explanation and then the opportunity to have a try of the instruments for themselves. We used the society’s mouthblown G pipes for this, we have three sets by Jon Swayne and three by Sean Jones. It was a treat to meet Sean Jones on the Saturday there, I had no idea he was going to be around and very helpful that he was, as he assisted with the dozens of people we had trying the instruments. On the Sunday, Richard York helped me with the workshop and we feel pretty sure we’ve got a few people hooked and some now ordering instruments.

FatE is a lovely, friendly festival – well worth getting along to. I’m delighted that we were able to take the workshops to an event were they found such support and, from comments we’ve heard since, I’m sure we’ll be back with more bagpipe tales and tunes.

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