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Promoting the Bagpipe Revival since 1986

The Bagpipe Society

In the Bag

Paul Saunders, more commonly known as wynndebagge, is a veteran of

the costumed performance scene. Having first picked up pipes in the 90s, this year he’s celebrating 25 years in the business. He came from a theatrical background – his Great Aunt Florence was a Shakespearian leading lady at the Old Vic who married John Laurie, (Private Frazer in Dad’s Army). His maternal grandmother taught him pace-egging and mummers’ songs at the kitchen sink and made their own entertainment gathered round the piano. His mother met his father when he was performing in a Wilson, Kepple & Betty tribute act in the local village hall. Consequently, Paul sees himself more as an entertainer than simply a musician and there has always been an aspect of humour and audience participation in his shows. A multi- instrumentalist, including hurdy-gurdy, hammer dulcimer, gittern, concertina and banjo in his armoury, he programmed the Music Stage at English Heritage’s Festival of History and has been the Creative Director of the Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre for over twenty years. He runs an independent record company, builds and collects automatons and in his free time occasionally joins his family exercising Joe the Cocker on the fells and dales on the Yorks/Cumbria border where he has a home, workshop and studio.

What bagpipes do you play?

Twenty five years ago I started with a mouth-blown set of Jon Swayne’s student pipes in G. I am still playing the same set and have added an octave G drone and tenor D drone over the years. I also have a set of Julian Goodacre’s Low D Durer pipes and a gaita in C. Previously I have owned a set of Bechonnet pipes. My first ever pipes was a lovely set of Dave Burleigh Northumbrians, followed by Ray Sloan’s Northumbrian/Smallpipes combination. All lovely pipes and a tribute to the makers.

What led you to take up piping?

Apparently around the age of five I was on a family holiday in Bournemouth where a Highland pipe band was playing on the esplanade every day and that was it – I was hooked. That was in the Sixties. Then there was David Munrow and the folk revival in the Seventies followed by Blowzabellla in the Eighties. Playing the pipes was the only way I could place the music I wanted to. As to the pipes I play now, that was the result of a chance conversation in a pub.

Which pipers do you most admire?

I don’t think you can play the pipes I play without being heavily influenced by Jon Swayne, who through both his playing and making has opened the door for so many of us. Thinking of the gentle mastery of Liam O’Flynn, the flair of Paddy Keenan, the innovation of Davey Spillane and Hamish Moore.

**Name three, non-piping-related musical influences:
**Bert Jansch, Nigel Eaton and and JS Bach.

What three albums are top of your playlist right now?

La Guitarra del Lleons: Xavier Diaz-Latorre & Pedro Estevan – the guitar music of Albeniz Sanz, Sor, Murcia and Guerra played on historical guitar models from the Musee de la Musica de Barcelona.

Songs From The Road: Leonard Cohen. A masterful blend of Leonard’s words, wit and wisdom with world-class musicians.

Dowland’s Tears: Nigel North – sublime music performed by a sublime player.

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

Probably the cello – so I could aspire to play Elgar’s Cello Concerto.

Name your favourite music festival.

The one I’m at at the time.

What three words describe your piping style?

Simple, straightforward and joyful

Bellows or mouth-blown?

Either. I try to match it to the historic period I’m working in at the time

Cats or dogs?

Dogs for companionship, cats for unnerving workmen in the house. Dog: “I don’t know what you’re doing but it’s fantastic! Cat: “That’s never going to work - your torque settings are all over the place”

Do you prefer playing, dancing or both?

I think playing for others to dance to is the best but I like to think I can turn my hands – and feet - to both.

Cane or plastic reeds?

I think it depends on the instrument and the levels of humidity. Plastic is a bit easier on the eyeballs! I think plastic reeds has made our lives a lot easier but not quite the plangent edge that a cane reed has.

What’s your greatest musical achievement?

I have had many great moments over the years, including MCing and performing at Dave Pegg’s 60th Birthday Bash in my home town of Birmingham, recording with members of Fairport Convention and supporting rock guitar legend Richie Blackmore on his UK tour, as well as working alongside many other great musicians who aren’t household names but overall my greatest achievement must be longevity. Twenty-five years on and I’m still out there making a living rocking and rolling.

What’s your most embarrassing bagpiping moment?

Leading an impromptu ‘Show and Tell’ session for a large all-male group of overseas visitors, who turned out to be none other than the Ghurka Pipe Band on their UK tour. They exacted humorous revenge later by tuning up at the start of my next show.

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

“So how much would something like that cost?”

What advice would you give a novice?

Immerse yourself in the music you want to play. Play everything as slow as you need to play it right. Speed will come. Playing too fast will lead to mistakes and practicing too fast will just make you very good at your mistakes. Practice the parts you can’t play not the bits you can – it wastes precious practice time. It’s more rewarding to play simple pieces well than struggle with tunes beyond your capability. Be serious about your music but don’t take yourself too seriously. Be kind to yourself. Try not to make it look like hard work – it makes your audience nervous.

Read ‘Zen and the Art of Archery’. Playing music is a journey not a destination

I love bagpipes because…

They have taken me on an unanticipated journey of experiences – musical, social and geographical. It is an instrument which has fascinating social history that is woven into ours and other countries’ traditions and everyday lives. And there is that gorgeous moment when the drones slip into tune with themselves and chanter. A simple instrument with a rich variety of sounds capable of immeasurable beauty that can touch all the emotions.