The Bagpipe Society

Blowout 2010

Words: John Tose. Photos: John, Daniele and Micayla Tose.

Usually, George Featherston writes us an excellent, detailed account of goings on at the Blowout and as Chanter editor I can sit back with my feet up and wait for it to come in the post. Unfortunately, George phoned me a couple of weeks before the event to let me know he wouldn’t be able to attend this years bash so that put paid to that scenario… Still - an opportunity, perhaps, for an account from someone giving one of the workshops rather than someone on the receiving end. That would be me then.

Actually, this was to be my third year on the trot of doing a tunes workshop for pipes in D and G and after the previous two attempts I was quite looking forward to it. Last year’s effort had been perhaps a little too ambitious though it had been well received, so for this year I’d settled on something a little easier - the Galician ‘Marcha Procesional de San Benito’ and as Julian Goodacre had suggested to me that it might be a good idea to do something again from a previous workshop, I’d opted for the Welsh round with variations ‘Had Maip Mon’ that we did the first year but never performed in the concert.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself

here, so back to the

beginning… It was

getting quite late when

we (the family and I)

arrived in Polesworth

as we’d had to wait

until Sheila finished

work before we could

load the car up for the

trip - and although

Polesworth is a lot

easier to get to than

Milton Keynes used to

be, it’s still a four hour

drive. So we arrived

only to discover that

the driveway up to the Rectory was closed off for repair work so we had to lug our gear quite a way to the campsite which again was in the Rectory garden and the field beyond it. We elected for the field this year and very pleasant it was down by the riverside and by the morning we knew it had been a good decision as Father Phillip had forgotten to switch off the church bells for Friday night.

Over in the community hall I thought it was a bit quieter than previous years. There had been a competition - the most inappropriate tune for the bagpipes - but we missed that and by the time we got over there, there was just a bit of a session going on that petered out some time after midnight.

Saturday dawned a little miserably and was quite a wet day, though the ground was so dry you would hardly have known it had been wet at all. First thing of the day was my first workshop, which went really well I thought. We started with the ‘San Benito’ piece which I had arranged fairly simply - the G pipes had the tune for the first part while the Ds also mostly had it but dropping an octave for those parts that were too high for them. In the second part the D pipes had the tune while the G parts played it a third higher. Both parts in fact could be played as if they were the tune - I always feel this is important when making an arrangement - sometimes you see arrangements for duet playing where one pipe simply has the melody while the other seems to have a series of disconnected notes jumping up and down all over the place, which although they may well harmonise with the melody and sound okay, are no pleasure to play at all.

Mike York bores out the chanter with a helping hand from Jon Swayne.

After I played through the D part to show how it went, the Ds had a go and then the Gs. They both sounded pretty good and when Ds and Gs played together it was really good. Normally I try arrangements out on the computer to check they’ll work but with this one I hadn’t been able to as we’d changed computers and the old programme no longer worked.

So then we moved on to ‘Had Maip Mon’ - which translates as ‘Anglesey Turnip Seeds’ - not exactly a classic as tune titles go… Again, I played through the D part before the rest of the D pipes had a go, and then the Gs had their turn. We did it then as a simple round, with the Ds starting and the Gs joining us after 4 bars. This worked quite nicely so at someone’s suggestion we split the Ds and Gs into two and each group came in after each succeeding 2 bars. This also went well but the result was a bit more muddy so we decided to stick with the 4 bars and just the two groups. And that was the end of my first workshop.

Terry Mann then followed with his percussion workshop which I attended. He had us seated in a circle beating a rhythm to start with using feet and hands as we introduced ourselves and despite the simplicity of the beat it was surprisingly hard to think and talk at the same time while maintaining the rhythm - but there again I can’t talk and play an instrument either… We moved on to harder stuff then - doing syncopated clapping and eventually an Egyptian drum rhythm (dum ta-ka dum ta) before finishing with stamping and clapping working from 4 beat bars to 3 beat bars and then into 2 beat bars and back again.

That took us up to

lunchtime. Both workshops had

been in the main hall and there

had been some difficulty due to

noise from other things going

on - people going round the

stalls of various pipemakers

and of course the main

attraction of the day in the little

room at the end of the hall

where Tony Millyard had set

up his impressive looking lathe

  • the ‘Pipewatch’ event in

which several of the Bagpipe

Society’s professional pipe

makers were attempting to

jointly make a working set of

pipes from scratch over the two

days of the Blowout.

Pipemakers involved were:

Sean Jones, Julian Goodacre,

Jon Swayne, Mike York and

Dom Allan, while Tony himself made two of the stocks. There seemed to be always a good crowd gathered in front of the lathe while the pipemakers discussed matters and woodchips flew. A certain Welsh Bagsoc member was heard to say that it kind of knocks the two year waiting list on the head a bit…

After lunch, while Matt Seattle was giving his talk in the main hall I retired with a couple of other Welsh attendees for a bit of a ‘sesh’ in the side room which was quite fun and a bit of a change from all the English/French stuff wafting in through open doors. Stephen Rowley’s early music workshop followed. Stephen is ‘Chair’ of the Taborer’s Society which is dedicated to the Pipe and Tabor and he led a variety of instrumentation through such as ‘Edi Beo Thu’, ‘Miri it is’ and ‘Chirintana’. It was quite a pleasant change to be playing in ensemble with hurdy-gurdies, flutes, recorders and tabor pipes as well as a wide variety of bagpipes.

Well, that was Saturday’s workshops for me, though there were other ones I didn’t attend. Julien Cartonnet did a French pipe workshop, Jean Pierre Rasle held a piper’s surgery while Ian Clabburn did his usual beginners workshop , and there were hurdy-gurdy and pipes masterclasses from Cliff Stapleton and Dave Faulkner.

The evenings entertainment was a bal, featuring Jean Pierre Rasle accompanied by Paul Martin on guitar to start us off followed by Dave Faulkner and Steve Turner who managed to squeeze a little English country dancing into the otherwise Frenchness of the evening. There was a little resistance from the French dance brigade but those of us who did the dances thoroughly enjoyed ourselves - including the three members of the main band of the evening ‘Re-fut de Chene’ who joined our set a little bewilderedly for ‘The Willow Tree’ but who seemed to really have fun once they got the hang of it!

After a break it was then French dancing for the rest of the evening with youthful band Re-fut de Chene. They were all three truly awesome - a pleasure to listen to and to dance to. They hail from the Morvan area of Berry and appeared to have brought quite a contingent of young French people with them to the Bal.

Interestingly, their attitude to the dancing seemed much more relaxed and natural, and dare I say, much less stuffy than some of the Brit. French dance brigade…

Sunday got off to a traumatic start when well known French dancer and Blowout attendee Mike Hughes suffered a major heart attack and had to be rushed to hospital for surgery. At the moment of writing Mike would appear to be on the road to recovery. I’m sure we all wish him well and hope to see him back at next years Blowout. Thankfully there were several first-aiders present at the time who were of great assistance until the paramedics arrived.

First workshop of the day for me was with Stephen Rowley again. This was for a second attempt at the pieces that the group would be performing in the concert in the evening. It went pretty well although it became apparent that not everyone present would be playing in the concert, plus Tony Milyard and Eric Moulder who would be at the concert and had been with us at Saturday’s workshop with their shawms, couldn’t be there this morning. Difficult therefore to finalise an arrangement.

It was interesting for me to be one of the ones struggling to sight-read unfamiliar scores when of course in my own workshops I can mostly play without looking at the music. I also find it harder to play by sight-reading when I’m playing bagpipes than other instruments. Presumably because with the pipes there’s more to concentrate on than with other instruments - bag pressure, grace notes and such.

We finished by agreeing to have a further practice in the church itself after my own workshop which was also to be in the church in the afternoon just before the AGM. I can’t actually remember what I did for the rest of the morning and early afternoon. There were more workshops by Terry Mann, Jean-Pierre Rasle, Dave Faulkner, Cliff Stapleton and Dirk Campbell (on Uilleann pipes) but I managed somehow to miss them all. I did watch a bit more of the pipe turning - fascinating to see that almost everything they did was completely different to what I do in my own, rather less sophisticated workshop.

Then it was into the church with my own group which had dwindled in numbers somewhat, less assured members of my previous workshop having dropped out and some at least having started for home already. It did actually feel a little strange to be having the main concert on the Sunday evening instead of the Saturday and doubtless some people had lives to return to…

This rehearsal went really well and by the end we were not only playing in tune but everyone starting up and finishing neatly as well as coming in exactly in time with everyone else. This also applied to Stephen Rowley’s rehearsal which followed.

Next thing up was the AGM but one committee member blotted his copy-book somewhat by forgetting all about it and failing to attend (not for the first time!). He shall remain nameless… Apparently there was quite an interesting discussion as well as the usual stuff.

And so to the concert. The Goodacre Brothers started off proceedings with processing into the church before performing a couple more tune sets. Excellent stuff - and this from the new line-up of Pete Stewart, John Goodacre and his son John Francis in place of Julian who announced his retirement from the band though couldn’t resist the temptation to join in at one point to everyone’s amusement.

Next on was Stephen Rowley with his ‘Rowley’s Rowdies’. Nerves were a factor here - we definitely peaked during the afternoon rehearsal! - but that’s not really the point with these participatory contributions to the event. We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and this kind of thing gives us all a chance to take part and to do something we don’t normally have a chance to do. Long may it continue.

We were followed by 14 year old Grace Lemon playing a delightful set on

Uilleann pipes which would have been a credit to anyone irrespective of their age. In his introduction of her Ian Clabburn told us that from the age of 7 she had had the ambition to become an Irish piper after seeing someone performing on them and just seven years later here she is playing at this standard. I’m sure she’s going to attain great things in her future musical career. As well as the usual jigs and reels, all well executed and with good use of the regulators, she did a slow air in a most unusual style. Difficult to describe but not played like anything I’ve ever heard before. Great stuff.

Then it was the turn of the ‘Pipewatch’ pipemakers to show off the fruit of their labours to general amusement as all five together proceeded to play a tune on the finished bagpipe - Dominic Allan supplying elbow pressure with the bag tucked under his arm, Julian Goodacre on inflation, Mike York, upper three fingerholes, Jon Swayne, lower three and Sean Jones, thumb holes.

Re-fut de Chene finished off the first half of the concert. They were as good as they had been the night before at the Bal. Great Morvan piping from Julien Cartonnet with sensitive but equally talented guitar and accordeon work by Sylvain Quere and Jean Thiery. Again, quite a youthful ensemble making this first half of the concert a very young affair, what with John Francis Goodacre, Grace Lemon, and now these new generation musicians from France.

After a short break it

was on with the show, starting

with my own ensemble from

the workshops. Last year Ian

dubbed us the John Tose Light

Orchestra, but this years group

was a much slimmed down

version. And non the worse for

that. Again, as with Stephen

Rowley’s group, nerves were a

problem. Sight reading is hard

enough but there’s extra

pressure in the concert of

course. On the whole it went

quite well though not as well

as in the rehearsal - the

‘Marcha’ was way too slow - I

blame the conductor; who is

that guy? In ‘Had Maip Mon’

the D and G pipes got a little

out of step at one point but

managed to get back together by the end. For me, I had the bizarre experience of playing to an audience with my back to them!

Dave Faulkner (border pipes) and Steve Turner (piano accordeon) followed and did a predictably excellent set. Steve’s accompaniment was thoughtful and sensitive, never overpowering Dave’s piping - despite the fact that I was sitting much closer to Steve than Dave.

Then, last item on the bill - the Matt Seattle Band, with Terry Mann standing in for their usual percussionist. I confess to a little feeling of guilt here - when I was setting up for my last rehearsal in the church earlier, they’d come in expecting to do some rehearsing themselves and had had to go off and find somewhere else to practice, it having been a while since they’d last played together. Well, apologies, Matt - but I think you’d agree that my lot needed the practice more than yours!

Anyway, they played a blinding set. Two items really stood out for me - the first was a twelve minute suite based on the tune ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ which I thought was great, starting with a slow air based on it, then into an extended version of the song tune before finishing with a reel version of it. Great stuff. The second was ‘Damascus Drum’ named after a cafe in Hawick with a great arabic feel to it.

After the concert, which was considerably longer than we normally have, dancing commenced over in the main hall though we didn’t stay for long. Andy Letcher and Cliff Stapleton did a spot followed by Ian Clabburn on French pipes plus bass (Dom Allan) and hurdy gurdy. And that was it for us - another thoroughly enjoyable Blowout courteously provided by the considerable efforts of many people. All the workshop leaders, the performers, the ‘Pipewatch’ pipemakers, Vanessa in the kitchens doing sterling work and Robert Bramley and of course the irrepressible Ian Clabburn who is doubtless already well into organising next year’s event. Once again: well done all…