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The Bagpipe Society

Grace Notes

Can it be only 3 months ago when the last Chanter proudly announced the Society’s fantastic line-up for the Blowout? I was just a couple of weeks away from packing my bags to head off to the International Bagpipe Organisation’s conference in the States and a spring and summer full of festivals, concerts and events was mapped out in my diary. How can so much change so soon? I am, along with everyone else, saddened that our shared world of music-making has been one of the major casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. But the lack of a social calendar pales into insignificance when compared with the devastating impact of personal loss that has been felt by people and communities across the globe. I hope this edition of Chanter finds all BagSoc members in good health and this will provide you will a brief but satisfying distraction from your period of social confinement!

Whilst we have lost the IBO Conference, the NPS Piping Festival, the Blowout, Le Son Continu, the Strakonice Bagpipe Festival, amongst the many other events planned for this year, we have certainly gained a plethora of other outlets for hearing, watching and engaging with music. I am a user of Facebook and have been amazed at the variety and quality of videos, streaming and other recordings of music making that have been passing through my feed over the last few weeks. It’s almost to the point that I can’t keep up with it all. However, when I have watched a ‘live performance’ it has been a much more satisfying experience than I had expected it to be. It just goes to show what a resourceful bunch us musicians are. I add a plea to consider popping a few “coins in the hat” where there is a link, as many artists have seen their income streams disappear overnight so for them, it’s not just about entertaining a captive audience it’s also about trying to earn some money.

As for me, I’m in the workshop a little more (much to the delight of some very patient customers) and the release of many pressing jobs and deadlines means that I have actually found the time to get some serious technique practice in. So, if nothing else, I aim to emerge from lockdown being a slightly better piper!

**IBO Conference Update! **The International Bagpipe Organisation is hoping to run the 5th International Bagpipe Conference online on what would have been the Blowout weekend (6/7 June), so we all have something piping to look forward to. More details will follow on the webiste as they become available: Keep an eye out on the IBO and BagSoc Facebook pages and we will also send an email to BagSoc members with any information.

Dear Editor

Yet again the spectre of Bagpipism raises its ugly head. From the Guardian letters page Thursday 9th April:

“Alastair Campbell’s piece (How to cope with the sadness of lockdown, G2, 8 April) contained 20 useful ideas. One question re No 10: is he using the bagpipes to make music, or to enforce social distancing?”

Outraged, Baltonsborough

Dear Editor

When our children were teenagers, we were under pressure to have New Year’s Eve parties. These became multi-family events with Warhammer in one bedroom, the current pop favourites blasting out on a hi-fi in another room and live music downstairs. When the midnight hour arrived, everyone, maybe 25-30 people, would process snake-like onto the green outside our house led by me and other pipers playing Auld Lang Syne. All probably much to the annoyance of our neighbours, who never commented on it the next day!

Our teenagers have long since flown the nest and New Year’s Eve is now much quieter. But village memories persist… I had a phone call last November asking if I was free at 3pm on 8 May and as the village bagpiper, would I be willing to play a certain tune on my pipes for the VE75 Commemoration. I had to explain that mine are not GHB, but that was fine - I was a bagpiper! And as this was the first time I’d been asked to play my pipes in public for the village, I couldn’t refuse.

SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, are organising events over the weekend and the plan is for all bagpipers everywhere in the world to play the same tune at 3pm local time. The traditional tune played by pipers at the end of battle is ‘When the Battle’s O’er’ and this was the tune I should play, together with a new tune ‘VE75 Years’ written specially for the occasion by Pipe Major Roger Bayes of the City of Norwich Pipe Band.

I transposed the tunes from GHB key of A into G so I could play them on my loudest set of pipes (by Jon Swayne), and concentrated on learning the tunes, not on GHB decoration which I was not familiar with. Learning them from memory was assisted by realising the form of VE75 was similar to that of medieval estampies which I’m more familiar with.

The plan was for me to play the tunes up by the Church in the village and to lead a procession to the Church Hall, but sadly all the activities have had to be curtailed due to the current pandemic. As a revised plan I was asked if I’d still be happy to play outside my front door at the revised time of 2.55pm, to lead into various official announcements being made at 3pm. So, that’s where I will be, and what I will be playing!

Best wishes, Kate Billmore

Dear Editor

I’ll start this bagpiping story almost at the end, with Polish BPS member Michał Nawara. All power to him, in hospital with a cough and fever. For a while I was certain he must be the first person I’d encountered with the dreaded Coronavirus but the latest news is that he’s been discharged. That means, I hope, that he can now organise a courier to pick up the parcel I have waiting for him, containing my old Bohemian Bock (or is it a Dudy?). That will be the last to go of the bagpipes I recently put up for sale, having given the unsold eBay Mezoued (for historical demonstrations only, certainly not music) to my pal Ross Calderwood, maker of fine Scottish smallpipes ( They had to go. My fingers are no good any more, bent and stiff, and won’t stretch to play most of my collection. So sad to have given up my Swayne Breughels, which served me so well, so long. My wretched fingers won’t even allow me to play my trusty Swayne renaissance G-pipes properly, even with the key Jon added to help me hit the pinky note.

A short while ago, I sent a document to Ian Clabburn advertising most of my bagpipes for sale, which he duly forwarded to the membership, postponing advertising on the BPS website. They’ve all gone: Swayne Breughels, Goodacre Chaucers, Durers, Leicestershires and Altarnuns, a Gaita Gallega, the Bock, a Naxos Tsambouna (to Hungary) and the dreaded Lybian Mezoued, ‘repurposed’ by BPS members so I don’t doubt they will all continue singing.

I met some remarkable bagpipers in the process, even made e-friends and renewed acquaintances. Ian never needed to put them up on the For Sale page of the website and I didn’t have to advertise elsewhere. My precious collection has been satisfactorily distributed among BPS members, very much to my satisfaction and I hope to the satisfaction of the new owners.

I’ve kept my favourites, the two Swayne renaissance bagpipes in G – one a very early model (still marvellous) and a later one based on his half-longs – my precious Goodacre Marwoods (it was I who discovered the original in a 16th- century Devon church carving, which is number two of only three ever made and a superb instrument), and both of my Calderwood smallpipes: the Rhoddiepipes o’ Lochalsh (made from rhododendron, a fine bagpipe timber) and my little two- drone, travel set in D. The sad part is when I look at the living room wall, now bare but for a scatter of fancy hooks where my friends use to hang. Sentimentally, I miss them, but logically I don’t really miss them … not too much.

To all you who purchased my bagpipes, thank you, and may you have all pleasure possible from them.

James Merryweather

Finally, I have some sad news. You may remember that the focus of last edition’s In the Bag was Paul Saunders (aka Wyndebagge). The UK music and entertainment world were all shocked and saddened to hear of his death, from cancer, in the middle of April. Even if you did not know him or had seen any of his very engaging and sometimes quite hilarious shows, you will hopefully gathered from the interview what a great entertainer he was, in every sense of the word. His widow and son have set up a JustGiving page to raise funds to establish an initiative close to Paul’s heart – to encourage young people to play music. If you’d like to donate, then the link is