25 Years of Blowout Saturdays

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This year marks the 25th Blowout. The Bagpipe Society began in order to support the re-emergence of English piping in the ‘80s. To me, the Saturday night Blowout concert reflects what is best about the state of piping in any one year. And then the bal afterwards shows how we keep up the quality and let our hair down at the same time. Last year, as I emerged from yet another incredible Saturday night concert, it struck me that these concerts demonstrate the maturity of the Bagpipe Society and its willingness to experiment. I wondered if somebody had kept a list of performers over the years. They haven’t, so I had to. Trawling through Chanters and Newsletters of the last 25 years reveals some real gems, and re-awakens a lot of personal memories.

Twenty five years ago we had our first Blowout in Great Linford, Milton Keynes. The formula of a hall for dancing and workshops, and a church for the concert, was set. The church gave a certain solemnity, an establishment, to the concert, even if the acoustics could be criticised by some reviewers. In that first year both Jon Swayne and the Goodacre Brothers performed, reflecting the importance both of pioneers and of makers in the re-emergence of English piping. Adrian Schofield was there, not that Northumbrian piping needed our support. Moebius performed, pipes not being confined to straightforward folk melodies, but willing to push the boundaries a bit.

You cannot tell a history of English piping without Blowzabella. Their original incarnation had ceased in 1990, but The Blowzabella Reunion Band in 1996 and simply Blowzabella again in 1999 appeared at the Blowout, presumably with the entire audience singing along as they played. In 1999 my own duo Zanfona (with Carolan James, who sadly died the following year) opened the concert. I realised as I stood in front of a Blowout concert audience the pressure of playing to an audience of people who knew where my fingers should have been. I guess others in the past 25 years will sympathise.

Jean-Pierre Rasle, with or without Cock & Bull, have been to many Blowouts and concerts over many years. They represent a noticeably successful pipe-based band.

The Society has always been keen to avoid insularity. From Alfonso Garcia-Oliva at the first Blowout and Raphael Thierry and Bernard Jacquemin at the second, we have generally managed to feature visitors from abroad. This has to have had a major impact on how we in England play the pipes. Personal favourites have been Yan Cozian on the boha (I remember he introduced what we know as the Michael Turner Waltz as a Gascon traditional tune), and Petko Stefanov who momentarily convinced us that Bulgarian pipe music is approachable by the English.

Petko Stefanov playing at the short lived venue at Bromham Mill

Petko Stefanov playing at the short lived venue at Bromham Mill

In addition to the professional performers, support for young players has often been a part of the concert. Melody Heath opened the concert convincingly for three years 2002-4, and Grace Lemon on Uillean pipes in 2010. I hope they are still playing. My own young sons and I won the prize for the most inappropriate tune played on bagpipes with an arrangement of the 1812 Overture. John Francis Goodacre has been a frequent attender at the concert, from the early anarchic days when he yelled and ran up the aisle in night-clothes, to performance with the Goodacre Brothers in 2010, to last year’s confident outing with the Savage Prunes.

Another encouraging feature has been the willingness to include ensembles working at the Blowout. Tony Purnell’s band, the Richard York Cantigas Band, and various incarnations of the John Tose Light Orchestra have performed enthusiastically, loudly, and (and I speak from personal experience) occasionally accurately.

Those who have written up the Blowout have done a good job in recording the history of Blowout Saturdays. George Featherston has done a great job over recent years, Chi Allen, James Merryweather and Ian Clabburn before that. In 1998 there was no write-up published, so my list of performers is compiled from publicity rather than report. In fact in the early days it is hard to separate from the written records who performed in the concert and who gave workshops or talks. It is only more recently that we have settled into the routine of the concert featuring the cream of those present for the weekend, with sometimes a band coming in purely for the bal.

Ian Clabburn has been such a central figure in Blowout history, including his MC duties on Saturday night. I recall many occasions when he has tried in vain to hand on the baton, though the report in Autumn 2000’s Chanter that he had finally and definitively retired still came as a shock. Certainly as he is still there!

The stability of venue has made a great contribution to successful Blowouts. Great Linford, our first venue, was home for twelve Blowouts. I have little recollection of St Andrews church, but plenty of memories of emerging from Saturday night concerts into the midgy sunset after amazing performances, ready for the rest of the evening. All good things come to an end, and redevelopment of the Arts Centre meant we had to move on. Bromham Mill was our next home for one year only, 2005. Then we found Polesworth Abbey and have been there since 2006. Father Philip is incredibly welcoming and supportive, silencing the abbey clock-chimes for those of us camping in his garden, and even summoning up a chainsaw when someone jammed a motor-home between gate-posts last year. The abbey has heard some memorable concerts.

I have attended some memorable Blowout Saturday nights. Many performers have been there throughout the twenty-five years; others have come and gone. Little has remained unchanged, and there has been plenty of experimentation. Other people will remember different details, but no-one can doubt that what has been presented over the past twenty five years has included some pretty wonderful stuff.

What has remained unchanged is Ian Clabburn’s annual headache of persuading the audience, pipes still ringing in their ears, out of the church at the end of the concert, so that the bal can start.

And for listaholics… Blowout Concert and Bal Lineups

  • 1993: (Great Linford) Chris Bayley, Bombance, Ian Clabburn, Alphonso Garcia-Oliva, The Goodacre Brothers, Dave Jolley, Moebius, Jean-Pierre Rasle, Judy Rockliff, Adrian Schofield, Shave the Monkey, Jon Swayne, Woad Works, Bare Bones.
  • 1994: Raphael Thierry & Bernard Jacquemin, Pauline Cato, Gordon Mooney, The Goodacre Brothers.
  • 1995: (10th anniversary). Cock & Bull Band, Jean-Pierre Rasle, Adrian Schofield, Dirk Campbell, Nigel Richard, Jon Swayne, Moebius.
  • 1996: The Eel Grinders, Steafan Hannigan,The Blowzabella Reunion Band (Jon Swayne, Nigel Eaton, Ian Luff, Andy Cutting, Dave Shepherd).
  • 1997: Pipework (the James Merryweather Big Band, incorporating York Waits, Zanfona, Misericordia among others), Julian Goodacre, Dave Shaw & Flying Toad, The Duellists, Misericordia. Flying Toad Band for bal. 
  • 1998: Nigel Richard, Gordon & Barbara Mooney, Zephyrus, Eel Grinders, Paddy Shaw, Julian Goodacre
  • 1999: Zanfona, Adrian Schofield, Jean Blanchard, Blowzabella (& bal)
  • 2000: Citizen Camembert, Eric Montbel, Matt Seattle Band. For bal, Cliff Stapleton Band (Cliff, Jon Swayne, Dave Shepherd, Becky Price).Later Anne-Marie Summers, Dave Faulkner & Steve Tyler.
  • 2001: Xim, Cliff Stapleton & Michael York, Nigel Richard & Simon McKerral, Eel Grinders. Bal: The Wendigo, Jon Swayne & Becky Price. 
  • 2002: Melody Heath, Barnaby Brown, Yan Cozian (Boha), Jon Swayne & Becky Price. Bal: Red Dog Green Dog, Cock & Bull (trio). 
  • 2003: Melody Heath, Vikki Swan & Jonny Dyer, Dave Rowlands & Max Sweatman, Zephyrus. Bal: Monsieur Pantin (incl J-P Rasle), Meridian (Chris Walshaw). 
  • 2004: (last at Great Linford) Melody Heath, Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer, Dave Faulkner & Steve Turner, The Goodacre Brothers, Steafan Timmermans, Dirk Veulemans, Gunther Bauweraerts.
  • 2005: (Bromham Mill) Ian Clabburn, Mike Eaton & Mel Burden (pipes & hurdy-gurdy), Becky Taylor (Uillean pipes), Andy Letcher & Jane Griffiths (pipe & fiddle), Petko Stefanov (Bulgarian pipes), Piva. Dulzaina for the bal.
  • 2006: (first at Polesworth) Merv & Alyson Davey (Cornish pipes), Nuada (pipes, HG, bouzouki etc), Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer, Andy Letcher, Snaketown (feat Dave Rowlands) , Michel Esbelin. Kontrabass for bal.
  • 2007: Julian Goodacre (Marwood pipes), Tim & Jess Gleaves (now Arrowsmith. Pipes & fiddle), Steve Tyler, Katy Marchant & Terry Mann (hurdy-gurdy, pipes & percussion), Ian Harrison & Gesine Banfer (pipes & shawm), Matt Seattle (feat Steve Tyler mandola), Zephyrus.  Snarche (incl Cliff Stapleton) for bal. 
  • 2008: John Tose (Marwood pipes), Monsieur Pantin (incl J-P Rasle), Andy Letcher & Becky Price (pipes & accordion), Dick Hensold & Laura MacKenzie. M. Pantin, Jon Swayne & Becky Price for bal. 
  • 2009: John Tose Light Orchestra, Cliff Stapleton & Andy Letcher, Metheglyn, Gary West (Scottish smallpipes). Les Batons du Quartier for bal. 
  • 2010: The Goodacre Brothers (incl John Francis but not Julian), Rowley’s Rowdies, Grace Lemon (Uillean pipes), Re-fut de Chene, John Tose Light Orchestra, Dave Faulkner & Steve Turner, the Matt Seattle Band. Andy Letcher & Cliff Stapleton, Ian Clabburn & Dom Allen for bal. 
  • 2011: Tony Purnell’s workshop band, Paul Martin, Remi Decker. Mister Klof for bal. 
  • 2012: Blowout Marching Band, Daughters of Elvin, “The Gentlemen from Sweden” (Erik Ask-Upmark, Olle Gallmo, Goran Hallmarken). Bal : Daughters of Elvin, Gentlemen from Sweden, Andy Letcher & friends.
  • 2013: Tom Hughes & Richard York Marching Band, Callum Armstrong (with Pete Stewart & George Pasca), Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer, Cliff Stapleton incl Jon Swayne, Anton Varela (Gaita) with Carlos Beceiro & Raquel Fontes. Heretic for bal.
  • 2014: Richard York’s Cantigas Band, Yannis Pantazis, Sophie Matthews & Chris Green, Airbag. Wod & Airbag for bal. (The Brotherhood of the Bag made mysterious appearance). 
  • 2015: John Tose Band, Balazs Istvanfi and Andras Nemeth, Trio Matta Rouch. Jon Swayne & Becky Price, Trio Matta Rouch for bal.
  • 2016: Estron, Juraj Dufek & Paul Martin, Cliff Stapleton & Julian Scott, The Savage Prunes. Molten Amba for bal.
Remi Decker, who will be making a return visit this year

Remi Decker, who will be making a return visit this year

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