The Bagpipe Society

Biographies for Blowout 2024 Performers

Cassandre Balbar & Phil Alexander

Cassandre Balbar & Phil Alexander represent another side of British music, one that incorporates the multiple identities of British folk musicians today. Through original compositions and a selection of folk tunes, Phil and Cassandre explore their diverse backgrounds with Jewish, French and British roots, incorporating sounds from the various places that adopted them: Edinburgh, Paris, Lincolnshire, and Belgium. Together, and through vibrant music, they weave a complex but realistic British musical story.

Cassandre Balbar

Cassandre Balbar is an international recorder player, trained in Early Music before moving over to the folk and traditional music world, where she learned to play a range of different bagpipes. She grew up between France and the UK and now lives in Belgium, where is an associate professor in cultural musicology. She spent a year studying the Metropolitan Museum’s bagpipe collection in 2022-23 as a senior fellow.

Phil Alexander

Phil Alexander is an extraordinary accordion player with a sensitive musical touch. A trained piano player who took on the accordion, he has played with top British folk artists and bands including Eliza Carthy, Salsa Celtica, and is a member of Moishe’s Bagel. Phil has Jewish roots which led him to explore the world of Klezmer, and write a PhD on Klezmer music in Berlin. Phil currently holds a Leverhulme fellowship at Edinburgh University.

Fabrice Besson

Fabrice Besson began by studying the piano at the age of 5. Steeped in the culture and traditional music of central France, he began to learn bagpipes at the age of 11. The first teachings were given to him by his father but for rapid progress, he studied with Serge Durin, a master in the subject, for five years.

During these years Fabrice joined various societies that had an innovative influence on the traditional milieu: «La Chavannée» having initiated the movement of musical creation in central France, and «Crédanse» having initiated a choreographic renewal on the dance of central France. With these experiences, he took part at the age of 18 in a composition competition organised by the Ministry of Culture. This contest earned him to be sponsored by Didier LOCKWOOD and to record a record under his direction.

He built an open and generous music within different groups: the Compagnie BESSON, duo BESSON-JOLIVET (old/progressive bagpipes), Bâtons de Quartiers (bal centre France), Duo CRAVEN BESSON (Organ/Bagpipes traditional and learned music).

A tireless promoter of the Centre’s bagpipes and culture, Fabrice has always developed contacts and encounters between instruments and cultures. He now teaches and shares his art in the Lyon region both in old and contemporary music.

Current musical collaborations:

  • Julian SUTTON (Concert/Bal musiques traditionnelles Centre-France, Northumberland) projet and CD called DEUX TERRES,

  • Thierry NOUAT (Concert/Bal XVIII century music),

  • Serge DURIN (Concert/Bal musiques traditionnelles Centre-France)

  • SOURCES Trio : music around the XIXth century musics mixing Opera singer Cello and Bagpipe. (Mathilde NICOLAUS singer; Leonore GROLLEMUND Cello)

  • SOURCES Quintet : music tribute to “Fontarabier” bagpipe master of the native town of Fabrice during the 2nd half of 19th century. (Mathilde NICOLAUS Singer, Leonore GROLLEMUND Cello; Vincent BONIFACE Bagpipe Melodeon and Clarinet; Sebastien TRON Hurdy Gurdy)

He also performs arrangements for the bagpipe band of the school where he teaches.

Iain Gelston

Iain Gelston is an award winning player of the Border or Half Long Pipes, having won all of the open competitions throughout Northumberland and Scotland, as well as playing Northumbrian smallpipes and bouzouki. He plays both solo and as part of the Tyneside based folk trio The Grand Assembly. Steeped in the traditional music of the North East of England and the Borders, Iain takes his inspiration from the long standing connection between Northern English, Scottish and Irish music, in particular the older forms and styles of the 18th century. Iain’s own compositions combine the essence of this 18th century music with a 21st century outlook and can be found in his two tunebooks, available from his website at

Steve Tyler

Steve Tyler is well known as a hurdy gurdy player, renowned for his rhythmic and inventive playing, and is equally at home with early music, traditional melodies or modern compositions. He has performed with such diverse artists as English folk singer Jackie Oates, German industrial/electronic musician F.M.Einheit and South African puppeteer John Roberts, and has played for theatrical productions, historical and traditional dances, and mixed media performances. He has often performed medieval music whilst his own multitrack music mixes hurdy gurdies with dulcimer, reed organ and diverse instruments, inspired by patterns in nature, mathematics and the imagination.

He teaches individual pupils or groups.

Julian Sutton

Julian Sutton hails from the North East of England and has been playing diatonic accordion in traditional music and dance groups since the age of nine. He is best known for having worked with Northumbrian piper and composer Kathryn Tickell, with whom he has recorded several albums and toured extensively throughout the UK, Europe, North America and beyond.

Julian has a strong reputation as a skilled accompanist of traditional song, having performed and recorded with amongst others Kate Rusby, Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart, and Northumbrian song group The Unthanks. Other musical collaborations have included recording and performing with Sting, for the projects ‘If On a Winter’s Night’; (2009), and ‘The Last Ship” (2013). Julian is currently working in a group with singer and ex-Bellowhead cellist Rachael McShane, with whom he recorded the album, ‘When All Is Still’ (2018).

Julian has so far recorded one solo album, Melodeon Crimes (2005). His playing, although rooted in Northumbrian music, has also been influenced by Irish, French and Scandanavian traditional music as well as by comtemporary music and jazz.

Julian has a strong interest and afinity with the traditional dance music of Central France going back over 30 years from when he lived in Clermont- Ferrand for a time as a student. He has recorded 2 albums of original, Central France-inspired compositions as part of The Wendigo (with Steven Tyler and Ann-Marie Summers of early music duo Misericordia).

David Faulkner

David Faulkner has been playing pipes for over 30 years. He has played with groups such as Zephyrus and the Eel Grinders.

He plays solo, in duets and bands. David runs piping courses and teaches pipes regularly. He runs three weekly mixed instrument community folk orchestras and conducts a monthly mandolin orchestra!

Terry Mann

Terry Mann studied Early Woodwind Musical Instrument Technology at the London College of Furniture in the 1980s, but pursued careers as a musician and as an award-winning contemporary classical composer. He returned to making, and has had a workshop for the last seven years, during which he has established himself as a maker of quality mediaeval and renaissance woodwinds. His current focus is on tabor pipes based on the 16th Century Mary Rose finds, and recorders based on the 15th Century Elbląg find.

Terry’s future plans include renaissance consort recorders, a Virdung late mediaeval recorder quartet, and learning to make reed instruments (rauschpfeife, curtal, shawm and crumhorn) with master craftsman Eric Moulder, supported by a scholarship from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust. He also formed the New Cambridge Waits to perform music of the medieval and renaissance periods.

Aisling Holmes

Aisling Holmes has been playing pipes since her teens, starting with Leicestershire smallpipes in D, then adding border/Flemish pipes in a variety of keys. She is particularly interested in English music, playing in harmony, and writing her own tunes. Over the last few years she has been involved in setting up the Sheffield Bagpipers, an informal group who get together to play a wide variety of music on pipes every month. During 2021 Aisling started a project to write a bagpipe tune every month and record it in at least two parts.

Robert Hickman

I’m Robert Hickman, the creator of Pure Ocarinas. The ocarina became my passion in 2011 inspired by the unique sound of the instrument, and it took over my life.

I’ve since spent a great deal of time studying these instruments, with regard to making them sound good, playing them, and teaching. Research that culminated in the book ‘Serious Ocarina Player’.

I’m interested in promoting the ocarina as a serious musical instrument, and also know the basics of playing several other instruments including the Swayne bagpipes and flute.

More information can be found at my website:

Ross Calderwood

Ross Calderwood has been playing Highland Bagpipes since the age of eight. He started playing smallpipes in 1994. Ross’ interest in bagpipes goes far beyond the superficial. He has a good in depth knowledge of the history and diversity of bagpipes. His smallpipe, borderpipe and reelpipe designs are based on the large archive of historical bagpipes that are kept in various museums in Scotland and England.