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The Bagpipe Society

The First Ramsgate Buzz

As we walked through Ramsgate on Saturday morning, a strange man leant out of the window of his van and said “You’re going the wrong way”. Spooky. I thought that God had a beard. And by the time we had walked the right way for 10 minutes, there he was again. “2 in the front and 1 in the back”, he commanded as we were abducted.

Well done Kai, we’d still have been walking at lunchtime.

And so we arrived at the little industrial estate where Claire and Kai have their wonderful workshop. Lots of daylight, enough room to swing a bouzouki and all those tools to drool over.

Wiping my chin, I was eventually extracted and taken round the corner to the beginners bagpipe workshop. This was to be held in a sculptors’ unit, filled with macabre wax heads, a furnace and other diversions. There were about 10 of us, and Sean Jones had provided a set of pipes for each. I hadn’t met Sean before, but he is a breezy, likeable character who put us beginners at our ease with the unfamiliar instruments.

I had previously tried to play the pipes only once, so was ready for a bit of an uphill struggle. But, although I am a complete novice, I found them a lot easier to control than I expected. These things are good. So why does he have so many sets left? And he uses wood from sustainable sources; good lad.

We started by looking at the component parts of the pipes. What to do in cases of reed wilt etc, which was very interesting. Then we were let loose to make a racket for an hour or so, with help on hand if needs be. That was just what I wanted; a chance to get stuck in…

The room had bare walls, so was not acoustically ideal. But we were able to find a corner each (lots of corners) to reflect the sound, so we could each hear what we were doing. Mostly.

I eventually got a recognisable (well, to me, anyway) tune out of them by the end

of the session. La Maclote d’Habiemont. (I’m available for bar mitzvahs and weddings, although you will understand that the repertoire is a little restricted).

A quick pub lunch over the road and then back into the workshop again. The thrust of this session was ornamentation and gracing. A little too early for that, in my case, as I’m still searching for the correct notes. But interesting nonetheless.

Then there were a number of tunes to play together. This seemed to be popular, although I made myself scarce as I wanted to continue what I had been doing in the morning. Another hour or 2 and I had been wrestled more or less to a standstill, and was suffering from finger cramps and bag squeezer’s shoulder. The latter is a serious condition and lasted until the following Tuesday.

I had a great day. I loved the instrument. I was made to feel welcome by everyone. And looking round, there were lots of other smiling faces. Big thanks to Claire, Kai and Sean. When’s the next one?

Back into town for something to eat. Appropriately, we found ourselves in a café by the harbour, whose wall decorations included Breughel’s illustration of bagpipes from The Wedding Feast. I think it was a copy. Then, as it got dark, we walked along the quayside to the Sailor’s Church and were treated to an evening of magical music from The Daughters of Elvin. I hadn’t seen them before, but was entranced.

Those of us with enough stamina then repaired to the bar, which was in one of the enormous brick arches on the quayside. A modestly proportioned session then ensued. The arch overhead meant that we could fill the place with sound, even though there was quite a crowd.

What a good day. And we have Les Batons tomorrow……….

Bill Gilkes

So…… a dilemma……. just like buses you wait for ages and then two come along at once…..bagpipe workshop or hurdy-gurdy??? Well – I’ve played the pipes for a few

years but still lots to learn…hmmmm. Hurdy-gurdy… a few months only and PLENTY to learn! So it had to be the hurdy gurdy workshops.

We started the day with a setup and maintenance session led by Claire and Kai – great to do this in the workshop with all its facilities. Many useful tips and shortcuts – all those “why didn’t I think of doing it that way it’s so simple” moments. Top tips – makes me think of Viz and such delights as “CYCLISTS: Avoid getting a sore behind by simply placing a naan bread over your saddle. This will comfort your ride and when you return home, hey presto! A warm snack.” But I digress………

Joined the bagpipers for a pub lunch and then back to the workshop for Steve Tyler’s teaching session. This covered trompette technique and the playing of a mediaeval tune in 3 parts. What was astonishing was that with some twenty hurdy-gurdys, including some played by people who’d never picked one up before (!), it sounded good by the end! Thoroughly enjoyed by everyone present and I suspect the hurdy-gurdy community will be expanding by a member or two in the coming months!

Free time before the concert…..what to do? Bumped into Sean Jones and a pizza seemed a good idea. So off to Pizza Express by Ramsgate harbour (it really is a pleasant little area round there) and a few glasses of Montepulciano and a Pizza Diavolo set us up nicely for a quick beer in the Belgian bar before the concert. Which was excellent. And packed! I hadn’t seen the Daughters of Elvin before….. superb music and people without tickets queuing outside the church hoping to get in (they all did in the end!). The church was next to the Victorian “Home for Smack Boys”…….don’t ask!!!

Paul Haynes

Ramsgate Buzz was organised by instrument makers Claire Dugué and Kai Tönjes and took place at their workshop in Ramsgate on 20th March. Contact details at

Photos: Dr. Beau Webber and KentFolk.