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The Bagpipe Society

In the bag

As told to Andy Letcher

Vicki studied at the Royal College of Music on the double bass and took up the pipes just after leaving music college. For her master’s degree she chose to ignore any good advice and ploughed her own path by teaching the smallpipes using podcasting, developing a teaching pedagogy she now also applies to the nyckelharpa. You’ll now find Vicki inhabiting the troll ridden forests playing her Swedish bagpipes, bagging tunes for new books. Vicki holds the Zorn Bronze Award for the traditional playing of Swedish bagpipes and runs workshops and teaches the nyckelharpa around the UK.

What bagpipes do you play?

After several failed attempts at the Highland Pipes I eventually found the Scottish smallpipes and loved them. It took a little longer to find the right kind of border pipe and after several years persevering with Scottish style border pipes I instantly took to English Border pipes (Jon Swayne of course) and then final a few years ago I got my Swedish Säckpipa and totally fell in love with them instantly.

What led you to take up piping?

My Dad was a Highland Piper so it was inevitable that I’d take up the pipes in the end. Unfortunately he died a year after I started playing the SSPs. I think he’d be proud of my bagpipe journey and my collection different breeds of pipes.

Which pipers do you most admire?

Martin Bennett was an incredible influence on me I loved the way that he treated the pipes and the grooves and rhythms in his albums. It’s such a shame that he left us so early. Olle Gällmo has been incredible in the säckpipa world and his website is a fantastic resource, it was invaluable to me and to many other pipers. To complete the trio of the different sorts of pipes that I play my third piper has to be Jon Swayne. We all know why!

I love all music, but I particularly love baroque music. I played a lot of Corelli on the double bass and I think there is a lot of influence on my compositions from him. I am very influenced by Swedish music and it was one band in particular that helped me take up the nyckelharpa – Väsen. They are truly superb. Hedingarna also were a big influence – but they have a piper, so I can’t really have them in the list. A third influence was hard to find as most of the bands I listen to that aren’t classical have pipes in them – so I guess it’ll have to be the music that I listened to the most whilst growing up in the 70s – Abba.

What three albums are top of your playlist right now?

I’m working very much on my säckpipa playing at the moment, so my playlist right now is very much dominated by this:

  1. Pipmakarns Polska, by Alban Faust and Jonas Åkerlund

  2. Rikedom Och Gåvor by Svanevit

  3. Both the albums by Blå Bergens Borduner

If you had your life again, what instrument would you play?

If I had my life again I’d like to end up exactly where I am now, but at a much earlier age. I’d make a beeline for the nyckelharpa and then the säckpipa in my teenage years and not wait!

Name your favourite music festival.

There are too many great festivals out there to choose one. They’re all very different and are all great. But there is one festival that was totally amazing – The National in Canberra, Australia. It was huuuuge!

What three words describe your piping style?

A blend mmuch like myself: Swedish, English, Scottish.

Bellows or mouth-blown?

Both (as of February this year) but mostly bellows.

Cats or dogs?


Do you prefer playing, dancing or both?

Playing (but also playing for dancing)

Cane or plastic reeds?


What’s your greatest musical achievement?

Managing to make a living out of playing music. But filling Halsway Manor full of nyckelharpas has to come up there as pretty cool.

What’s your most embarrassing bagpiping moment?

Asking Jon Swayne who made his pipes.

What’s the most annoying question you get asked about the bagpipes?

“Those aren’t bagpipes are they?” (Reply – they’ve got a bag, they’ve got pipes, ergo they’re bagpipes – oh you mean Great Highland Pipes. No, they’re not those)

What advice would you give a novice?

There are no short cuts – practice everyday. Be thorough and be patient.

I love bagpipes because…

There is something ancient about the sound of the melody against the drone, something that stirs the blood. Having been taught by my Dad and been lulled to sleep by the dulcet tones of the Highland Pipes, there was never going to be any hope for me.