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Some of Me Pipes, some of Me Woods, Some of Me Tunes

In this article, which is from the liner notes of Julians latest CD, Julian reflects on his relationship with the pipes he makes and considers where the inspiration comes for his tunes.

There is something very special about playing one of my own tunes on a mouth blown set of pipes designed and made by myself from the wood of a tree I have known all my life. Each breath I take into my lungs is nourishing me and sustaining my life for the next few seconds. Blowing breath into the bag reanimates the tree, and creates music. This is one of my ways of celebrating my time on this earth and enhancing our world.

I started playing the whistle in 1976, when I was 26. My first tune arrived in the seedy Golden Hotel in Cairo in June 1979. I called it Golden Katrin and was ever so proud of it. It was another 14 years before I captured another one and by now I have about 150 identifiable tunes.

Who composed those English traditional tunes that resonate in the heart and that we still love to hear? Tunes like Shepherds Hey, The Rogues March, Enrico, Black Jack. Someone must have been the first to play each of them, and though their names may have been lost to the centuries, their inspiration has lodged in people’s hearts and is still cherished today.

What is inspiration? Dictionary definitions can appear very apt to the piper. ‘A special immediate action or influence of the spirit of God’, ‘A breathing in of some idea into the mind’, ’ The action of blowing on or into’.

It is all too easy for me to take my inspiration for granted; it can appear as a more mundane affair than ’experiencing the influence of God’. For me a tune will arrive, like the proverbial Number 7 bus, out of the blue. Sometimes three can arrive in a day; sometimes none for months. Often a tune or a phrase is delivered into my head in the morning, borne from where I know not. If only the first half arrives then my task is to search for a second half and to capture the entire tune. I do not have control over the type of tune; along comes a waltz, a slow air or a jig. And it often arrives with a distinct national flavour; usually English, French or Scottish. I never consciously try to tap into any specific tradition. Perhaps it taps into me. It often seems as though the tune has always been there and it can even seem presumptuous to call it mine. ‘A breathing in of some idea into the mind’ seems an apt description of the process.

I do not read or write music, so ‘capturing’ the tune involves playing it on my whistle and recording it on cassette. My next task is to work with it; to turn it into a thumping good tune. I have leaned to ignore my own internal mind talk, which, if left

An apple tree from my grandfather’s garden from which I have made 49 bottles of apple wine and my own set of G English Great Pipes. (We will be drinking the wine at our wedding this June) unchallenged, could sometimes sabotage my confidence in a tune. My mind tried to tell me it was too minimal, too simple; too derivative. But now I always try to do the best I can with a new tune. It is fragile and needs all the appreciation and encouragement from me that it can get. Judgements as to its overall merits can come later. If I am not confident in it then I am not likely to play it to anyone. Then no one will ever hear it. I always honour a tune by giving it a worthy title, which animates it and gives it a particular flavour. And a tune makes a great present.

Making pipes and tunes provides a satisfying balance for some of my creativity. In my role as a pipe maker I constantly have to let go of what I create. I have made over 620 pipes in the past 25 years and most of them are now owned by others. As each pipe is finished I feel a pang as I say goodbye to it….. off it goes on its journey out into the world, hopefully to enrich the lives of others. The joy of a new tune, however, is that I can give it away and still have it to play with whenever I want to. It is magic!

I have already published eight of my tunes and recorded four on my first CD Pipemaker Calls Yer Tunes. Now, supported by my friends, I launch seventeen more of them out into the world. I live in the hope that some of my pipes and some of my tunes may linger on and be cherished after I die. In the meantime I try to do the best I can with what I have during my limited time on this earth.