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The Bagpipe Society

Massif Village Orchestra (MVO)

When I was asked to write something about the MVO, I thought I’d struggle to improve on what Paddy Shaw said in Chanter in 1999, describing his experience on his first night camping at Beverley Folk Festival in 1998:

“For the next 40 minutes, this group of musicians, anonymous in the dark, played bourrées, schottishes, waltzes from across both sets of MVO tunes. As far as I was concerned, the MVO was thus already a success - there were many objectives still to complete, but these were partly ‘additions’ - the kind of objectives you need to get funding. This however, was proof of the original vision of the ensemble - a common session repertoire. Other moments were to follow…”

After the Bal - Chanter Spring 1999

To go back a bit further, the MVO started in 1996, at one of the monthly Pied a Terre events in Norwich when Paddy suggested a big band of bagpipes and hurdy gurdies to play at Folkbeat in 1997 (a workshop based festival held in Norwich in January). The idea was kicked around a bit by Paddy and Frances Watt, I also became involved at some point that year. The concept was extended

to include melodeon players and other concert instruments to add more colour to the musical line-up. Paddy came up with a set and wrote the harmony lines. We (Paddy, Kate Ross, Nick Carpenter, Frances Watt and me) tried them out and that was it really - apart from the hard work of printing, mailing it out but firstly finding some players. Using the annual Folkbeat mailing and with the help of the Bagpipe Society, we told the world about it and people signed up.

The response to our mail was very enthusiastic. Almost immediately we had nearly a hundred players signed up. Not everyone was able to attend the event, but everyone took the music and tried it out.

Here’s a timeline for the MVO and, as far as I recall:

  • 1996 Spring - Initial idea.
  • 1996 Autumn - Cecil Sharp house rehearsal.
  • 1997 January, MVO workshops and performance at Folkbeat, Norwich.
  • 1997 Arts Council funding application submitted and approved.
  • 1998 January second MVO workshops and performance at Folkbeat.
  • 1998 Thoresby Park - bagpipe workshop with Eric Elsener and a dance workshop.
  • 1998 Summer Beverley Folk Festival, melodeon and hurdy gurdy workshops with Frédéric Paris, Maxou Heintzen and Marc Peroneille.
  • 1998 31 October The Dome, Kelham Hall, Nottinghamshire with La Chavannée.
  • 1999 and 2000 Sidmouth & Towersey performances.

If you check out Paddy’s piece from 1999 (on the Bagpipe Society website, all the old issues of Chanter are on-line in pdf format), you’ll find we also organised a tour for La Chavannée and separately for the Patrick Bouffard Trio.

What was it all about? The original project - that we got the funding for -

was intended to help form a common repertoire for us amateur players and to help improve the skills of the players (with a few other aims thrown in like increasing the number of gigs and raising the profile of the instruments and music). To these ends we had workshops and got people together and had a big gig at Kelham Hall featuring not only La Chavannée and a 60ish strong MVO but also a number of other ensembles that had been formed as a result of the project.

And everyone had a great time!

A number of the participants had been self-taught or had attended the odd workshop and session. For some the experience of playing with others was

completely new - for most of us the idea of playing with 10 or 20 other bagpipes or hurdy gurdies was pretty daunting. We all learnt new disciplines and skills.

Why are you starting it all again? We thought it was a really good idea!

It won’t be the same without Paddy Shaw, but perhaps we can generate some more enthusiasm and make some more great music. Some copies of the MVO sets are still around and still being used. We hope that many of the original players will return but we really want to see some new faces to help spread and continue the music.

Our aims are much the same as the original project and we’re looking at getting funding once again, and at playing some festivals along the way. Come and join in this year at The Blowout for a taste of the MVO. If you’re interested and have some comments or suggestions, please email us at