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Final Drone

The Final Drone - Julian Goodacre

The death of Colin Ross has made me aware that those three words The Final Drone can take on a very different meaning and act as a reminder to all of us of our mortality. I am now 69 years old and intend to keep making pipes for as long as I remain in good health and I take some satisfaction in the hope that some of my instruments and tunes may live on for a long time after I cease to walk this earth. Colin has left behind him an impressive legacy of finely made bagpipes which certainly will be continued to be played for decades and hopefully centuries. Another lasting part of his legacy came from his natural enthusiasm to help and encourage other people to learn to make smallpipes, by sharing his skills, knowledge and technical plans.

I was fortunate enough to start my pipemaking in the mid 1980’s which was a time when there was a new and growing interest in reviving a wide range of English and the lesser known Scottish pipes. Apart from in Northumberland, there had been no small pipemakers for well over a century and a half in England and there was precious little written material about the subject. There were practical skills and knowledge to be gained on the woodwind instrument making course at the London College of Furniture, but that was a long way from where I was living.

My skills have been gained largely by experimentation involving much trial and error enhanced by sharing experience and knowledge with other makers, some of whom have also taught themselves from scratch. We are all aware that the instruments that have survived from previous centuries were made by generations of makers who never had the benefits of things we currently take for granted such as electricity, gun drills, electronic tuners, etc. It is humbling to think that they make such finely turned instruments on treadle lathes. What could we have learnt from those pipe makers of yore?

I mention learning by trial and error. In my early pipemaking days the amount of error involved was often disheartening and it seems pointless that each new pipemaker should have to learn by making some of the same basic errors when teaching themselves from scratch as I did. I feel a responsibility to pass on to the next generation as much of the skills and knowledge that I have acquired. It has been a delight teaching Callum Armstrong about pipemaking and I have found out how much I learn through teaching. We have so much to teach each other! But these days Callum is a very busy performer and teacher and he lives far away, so we only work together a few times each year on various challenging new projects.

So where are the young pipemakers who hopefully will step into our shoes as the current batch of makers eventually and inevitably hang up their clogs? Earlier this year I began to exchange emails with 16-year-old Oscar Konradson from Lincolnshire who was busy making a Swedish säckpipa. I suggested that he joined The Bagpipe Society came to The Blowout and he seemed to take advantage to glean information from all the makers there. We stay in touch via email and I can only hope his pipemaking enthusiasm never diminishes. The latest issue of the magazine Piping Today has along article on 19 year old Malin Lewis, a trans person piper and pipemaker from Skye. Malin made their first set of smallpipes at the age of 14 and the photos of their pipemaking were impressive and I look forward to seeing how their career progresses. Are there any other young makers out there? I think we should be told!

Over the next few years I intend to post a series of videos on Youtube about bagpipes to explain in some detail about the various processes involved in making a pipe. My first Instructional video is Bagpipes; an Introduction, a 9- minute video, which works on the assumption that the viewer knows absolutely nothing about pipes. This year a pupil from Peebles High School made an excellent video about my use of local hardwood, called From Pip to Pipe. I have just launched an 18-minute instructional video on how to season bags and bellows. I plan to make my next technical video on bag making. Keep a lookout on my website or my Youtube channel.

And while you are cruising around YouTube have a look at Callum Armstrong playing Burrito Hurricane on the triple chanter. Making this chanter initially appeared to be me to be one of our dafter projects, but within three days of completing it we had won the duet class of the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society annual competition. (Callum was playing the triple chanter and I was accompanying him on Cornish double pipe, so technically we were a quintet.) Since then Callum has speeded up his playing and after listening to him you may feel that soon there may need to be legislation put in place to prevent others causing damage while attempting to play at such hazardous speeds, without care or consideration for members of the audience.

I hope you have already watched The Cornish Bagpipe Sextet playing Shepherds Hey! This is the culmination of our ambition to create a consort of Cornish double pipes and features me on High G pipes, John-Francis Goodacre on C Pipes with Callum doing wonderful bass things on the new and massive low G pipes. Great Stuff!

And finally, to address an entirely different topic; bagpipe topiary. About 10 years ago I bought a small boxwood plant (buxus sempervirens) in a pot. Since then I have been attempting to topiarise it to resembles a Leicestershire smallpipe in D. Boxwood grows very slowly and sadly, up until this year, it has resembled a rather forlorn and misshapen chicken (at best). Happily, this year the drone and blowpipe have grown more convincing and I am now waiting for the chanter to grow in length from high A down to D and for it to finally sprout a convincing bell. I was astonished to find that when I typed bagpipe topiary into Google it produced no results whatever. Is this what is known as a Googlewhack?

I think it is the duty of ever Bagpipe Society member to begin to redress this appalling internet omission. Now is the time to buy boxwood plants and start to topiarise them into the bagpipes of our choice so that we can flood the internet with convincing images of them to redress the current dire situation. In Liverpool they have lovingly created each individual life-size Beatle in topiary box, so what on earth is holding us back from attempting a set of English pipes?

And to end this Final Drone, here are two advance warnings. The theme of the 2020 Blowout competition will be Bagpipe Charades and the theme of the 2030 Blowout competition will be bagpipe topiary. There will be three classes. One for actual examples of topiarised bagpipes, another for bagpipe topiary songs and odes and the final one for the best human who performs dressed as a topiarised bagpipe or piper. This gives you plenty of advance notice so hurry on down to your local Garden Centre and buy yourself a box tree today! Snip snip! Chop, chop!

I hope you agree that this bears a striking resemblance to something that vaguely resembles a Leicestershire smallpipe.