The Bagpipe Society

In the Bag

Julian Goodacre turned 70 this year and turned his first set of bagpipes in 1983. Since then he has gone on to research and develop a wide range of distinctive pipes for which he has received international recognition. He is a founder member of The Bagpipe Society where he is well known for his enthusiasm, generosity and offbeat sense of humour. He was on the committee of the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society for 14 years and their President for 3 years. In 1986 he and his brother John formed the Goodacre Brothers, an English bagpipe trio, together with their conscripted brother Pete, who has since been replaced with a genuine Goodacre; John-Francis. Julian often works in close collaboration with other pipers to develop new pipes. He is a prolific tunesmith and lives with his wife Pat in Peebles Scotland where he continues to make bagpipes.

What bagpipes do you play?

Currently I make 10 different types of bagpipes and play them all, apart from the Great Highland Bagpipes. I don’t have enough of what it takes to play my copies of 18th century GHBs, so I rely on Barnaby Brown and Callum Armstrong to play them for me. (I’m not sure what it takes to play the GHB, but whatever it is I haven’t got it).

What led you to take up piping?

My brother John had read Roderick Cannon’s articles about the history of piping in England and was keen to get his hands on a set of English bagpipes. While I was backpacking in Africa and the Far East I taught myself to make penny whistles and after I returned to England in spring 1981, I went to see a band called Blowzabella. That gig changed my whole life and fired me up with enthusiasm to make pipes for John and myself and I’ve never stopped since then.

Which pipers do you most admire?

Callum Armstrong, Rufus Harley, Jerry O’Sullivan, Anton Varela.

Captain Beefheart, Stephen Sondheim, Duke Ellington.

What three albums are top of your playlist right now?

I have thousands of CDs at my workshop and I enjoy listening to starkly contrasting styles of music. Last week, while making a batch of Cornish chanters, I worked through a boxed set of Radio Caroline hits of the 60s followed by Mahler’s Symphony No 2 and then Beaucoup Fish by Underworld, among others.

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

Undoubtedly, I would be a stunning virtuoso on the Bassett Horn. I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard one being played but I’ve seen several of them in museum collections. It’s an obscure instrument with a scrumptious name.

Name your favourite music festivals.

Le Son Continu (29 times) and the Blowout, (only ever missed one).

What three words describe your piping style?

Untutored, undisciplined, under-rehearsed (but frequently overdressed).

Bellows or mouth-blown?

I can blow either way. But mouthblown seems far more natural to me. “A beast blowing into the skin of another beast”. Cats or dogs?

Frogs. Frogs are the perfect pet for somebody who doesn’t really like pets. We have at least 23 in our small pond (but only in the mating season).

Do you prefer playing, dancing or both?

When I am playing for dancing, I love playing. When I am dancing, I love dancing. On certain occasions I have tried to do both simultaneously, but I don’t love these occasions.

Cane or plastic reeds?

Does anybody still use cane reeds?

What’s your greatest musical achievement?

There have been several high points in the last 39 years. Playing on Norma Waterson’s CD Bright Shiny Morning. Recording my waltz Ma Chere Célestine with Helena Torpy for my last CD. Welcoming the launeddas maestro Luigi Lai into our home for breakfast and playing for each other. But I like to think my most lasting achievement comes from my enthusiasm in helping others to make music and encouraging them to make musical instruments.

What’s your most embarrassing bagpiping moment?

It happened in a dream and was actually quite a pleasant sensation. However, I am far too embarrassed ever to write about it. Maybe you could ply me with enough beer at the next Blowout to overcome my bashfulness and loosen my tongue?

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

I get infuriated by any presenter on radio or TV who wants to do a feature about bagpipes and asks if they could have ‘a shot at playing one’ to get a cheap laugh. I know they would never consider doing that to someone who plays any other instrument. Bah! I can feel my anger rising as I write this. I will not play any part in ridiculing The Mother Instrument. I am serious.

What advice would you give a novice?

Playing lousy or poorly set up pipes can be discouraging and has put many beginners off for life. When you start playing it’s important to know that your pipes are properly set up, so ask other pipers to play them for you, to check that they are in good playing condition. Don’t be afraid to play in front of other pipers and ask for feedback; it’s worth accepting the indignity of being told how you could do better if this will lead you to become a better piper. And above all enjoy your piping and don’t get caught up in being competitive. Playing means playing; having fun!

I love bagpipes because…

They offer me so many outlets for my creativity. Making. Researching, envisaging, designing, creating different types of bagpipes. Playing. making tunes, playing for dancing, fun, concerts, groups, travel. Connection. Offering my instruments and music to others and being part of an international network of contacts and friendships. Legacy. I have made over 870 pipes and over 400 tunes. I have taught others to play and I’ve encouraged people who want to make musical instruments. I hope that the effect of some of this will continue long after I’m gone.