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The Bagpipe Society

In Search of the Missing Diple

What follows is a story that spans over 7 years. It is a tale which illustrates one person’s love of one small chanter and the perseverance and determination to be reunited with it.

For me, the story begins back in August 2019 when I was contacted by Daniele Bicego. Daniele is Italian, a member of the Society and you will know him from his research and writing on the müsa. He asked me, as Chanter editor, if I knew of any BagSoc members who had ever had a negative experience in dealings with anyone from Serbia. Daniele explained that he had recently become interested in Eastern European instruments especially those emanating from the former Yugoslavian region. He mentioned the name of a well-known player and maker, who, for the purposes of the story, I will call Dave Smith. (This is obviously a pseudonym but the reasons for my doing this will become clear.) Daniele went on to explain that he was having trouble getting back an instrument, a diple, that he had sent to Dave for repair over a year previously and gave me a quick overview of the events to date. After hearing Daniele’s story, I was keen to help in any way I could. I did a quick search for Dave on the internet and found that, as well as being something of a celebrity piper in his homeland, he also had quite a large following on Facebook, including a number of ‘friends’, myself included, who were also BagSoc members. After offering to help, Daniele said he would have another go at resolving it himself.

I thought about the story on and off over the next few months and wondered what the outcome had been. I was contacted by Daniele again in January this year asking if I knew of someone in England who might be able to finally bring the story to a successful conclusion. What follows is the story.

Back in 2013, Daniele spotted a diple for sale in an auction by Gardiner & Houlgate
(although it was catalogued as being from Bosnia, he later found out it was a type found in Serbia). Being a collector, he thought that it would be an interesting item to own and consequently bid on the lot and was successful in winning it. It wasn’t necessarily an expensive instrument and it was just the chanter but it was a good example of its type and Daniele was really pleased to have it in his collection.

After about five years, Daniele finally thought he ought to get the instrument into playing condition by adding the missing parts. Although a bagpipe maker, Daniele knew very little about the finer details of this type of bagpipe, especially the reeds, so, having done some research about Serbian diple makers, he sought out one of the few people who he thought could help him, Dave Smith. Dave suggested that Daniele send the chanter to him in Serbia and he would then make a new bag, blowpipe and reeds and get the instrument into good playing condition. In September 2018, after some delays and various promptings from Daniele, Dave said the work was done and so Daniele transferred the sum of €180.00 to cover all costs, including return postage…there was then complete silence from Dave. Daniele tried various ways of contacting him …. no reply, he even asked some Serbian friends to try phoning him ….. no luck. Daniele began to wonder what had happened to the diple and would he ever see it again.

Now Daniele is a determined character and, whilst it was of little monetary value, he had a huge emotional attachment to the diple. In July, 2019, feeling aggrieved by the situation and with no response from Dave, he promptly got on a plane to Serbia, hired a car and drove to Dave’s address and knocked on the door. Dave explained he could not immediately give him the diple as the instrument was in his workshop in a neighbouring town. Various reasons were given why it was not convenient to visit the workshop and, after many hours of discussing and negotiating with Dave, Daniele actually ended up spending the night in his house. The next morning, somewhat wrung out by the previous day’s events, Dave suggested that Daniele leave the house so that he could cool off a bit. Daniele went off for a drive but after an hour he received a phone call from Dave’s wife to explain that someone had broken into the workshop that night and had stolen the diple!!! What a surprise! What a coincidence that this should have happened the very night that Daniele was visiting!

After hearing that, Daniele went back to see Dave and after listening to some even more ridiculous excuses as to what had happened to his chanter, he went to the local police station to report the account of what had happened. It appeared that Dave was well known locally to the police and, following their advice, he made a formal complaint. After that Daniele returned home to Italy. He then received numerous calls from Dave as the police had paid him made a visit and, anxious to evade prosecution he offered to make another instrument as compensation for the ‘stolen’ one. Daniele hesitated as he was not happy with this proposal but then Dave’s wife sent him several text messages containing impassioned pleas requesting him to drop the case with the police, citing the ruin it would bring to the family. Daniele again rejected the offer of a replacement instrument simply because it was his original diple he wanted. After even more desperate pleas from both Dave and his wife, coupled with the fact that by now he had given up on getting his original chanter back, Daniele agreed finally to Dave’s proposal of a replacement chanter.

Daniele had a Serbian friend, who was based in Italy, who offered to go and collect the instrument from Dave. This happened at the beginning of December 2019 and at the same time Daniele formally dropped the charges against Dave and signed a police statement saying he agreed to the compensatory offer from Dave.

It wasn’t until January 2020 that Daniele was able to meet up with his Serbian friend in Venice when the replacement diple was handed over. However, when Daniele looked at it, it was clear that the instrument had not been made by Dave but was by another maker, one based in Croatia. Coincidentally, Daniele had just returned from Zagreb where he had met and bought a diple from this maker only two days previously. Dave had, unsuccessfully, attempted to alter the other maker’s mark to make it look like his own name. This reinforced what Daniele had suspected for some time – that Dave was more of a repairer of bagpipes rather than a maker.

Angry, disappointed and not knowing where to turn next, Daniele had yet another attempt at trying to find his instrument on the internet. His efforts were rewarded when he came across a picture on Facebook of a diple which looked like an exact match for his own! It belonged to a musician and collector in England. That is when Daniele phoned me to see if I could help him finally locate his missing diple.

Mike Billington has an active website and Facebook page where he posts pictures of his large instrument collection and, fortunately for Daniele, he makes his postings ‘public’. Mike is a big fan of Eastern European music and instruments and he was the proud owner of a diple bought directly, believe it or not, from Dave Smith!

Daniele by this time had also posted me lots of supporting information – the original auction lot site, the receipt from the auctioneers and proof of posting to Daniele, copies of phone messages from Dave’s wife, the Serbian police report and statement as well as a photo of the replacement diple with the ‘forged’ signature. Comparing the photo of the diple on the auction site and the one on Mike’s Facebook page, it was clearly the same instrument.

For me, it was then a ‘simple’ matter of me contacting Mike and raising with him the fact that he had inadvertently bought a stolen instrument. Mike took the shock news very well and was extremely understanding of the situation. He immediately contacted Daniele and between them they agreed that Mike would return the diple and Daniele would, in compensation, provide him with the one made by the Croatian. An excellent result! Daniele was over the moon and Mike was very pleased to help and finally the rightful owner was to be reunited with his beloved chanter.

That, however, was not the end of the story. It transpired that Mike had originally bought a diple from Dave several years previously and it arrived with an extremely large bag. After some time, Mike decided that he needed something a little more manageable, so he sent it back to Dave to have a new, smaller bag fitted. The instrument was not returned in the expected timescale and it then took Mike over a year, having sent lots of emails and messages to Dave, for it to be eventually returned. When finally arrived in November 2018, Mike was shocked and surprised to discover that it was a different instrument from the one he had sent to Dave! However, he was not too worried about it as it was a nice-looking chanter and the bag, thankfully, was a good size. Mike put a photo of it on Facebook – completely innocent of the fact that this replacement instrument actually belonged to Daniele. The rest of the story you know other than the one final twist.

Having sorted it all out with Daniele, Mike decided to call Dave to tell him about what had happened in the hope that he would respond honestly and apologise for what he had done. However, Dave explained that, somehow, he must have made a mistake and that he must have sent Daniele’s instrument to Mike in error. He declared was very embarrassed by the turn of events but told Mike not to worry and he would make the situation right. He then offered to compensate Mike for the loss of his diple by making him another one, just the same as the one he had had to return to Daniele. However, just to be sure that he got it right, Dave asked Mike to return the diple to him so he had an example to copy! Needless to say, Mike did not do this.

Reunited! Daniele now has the diple he bought in 2013, complete with working reed and bag, Mike has a diple and both are happy.

As a footnote, Daniele, in his efforts to locate his chanter, carried out a huge amount of research into his diple and its possible origins and went on several trips to both Serbia and Croatia. He discovered that the actual maker of his instrument was Todor Komazec from Zegaru in Croatia and that he had died in 2003. Following his death, a friend or relative posted a website about him and some recordings of his music were published on YouTube.

I felt I had to share this story as I was so impressed both with Daniele’s determination to find his missing instrument and Mike’s willingness to play his part in the repatriation. We all buy instruments in good faith, sometimes from people we have never met but only known from a website, social media or reputation. Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases, our research pays off and results in a successful purchase. It is therefore very sad when, despite every effort, the outcome is not positive. I have deliberately not given Dave’s real name but if you are ever thinking of buying an instrument from Serbia and would like to double check Dave’s true identity, then please contact me.