------Est. 1980 Glasgow city centre's oldest bagpipe shop------
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Dear Piping Enthusiast,
We are off and running in 2016 for what I hope will be great year for you, your family and the world of Piping. We read from the hand of learned professors and doctors that playing a musical instrument keeps us young and wards off some of the nastier evils of old age - oops, I've now forgotten what I was talking about - must make it a New Year objective to play more often!! As I get slightly greyer and older, I find the history aspect of piping and the stories behind the tunes are of increasing interest to me. In the last 20 years, I have seen many changes to bagpipes which are generally positive. .An art needs new blood and in its absence, will surely die. Rarely has an instrument been subjected to such change in such short a time period - some are good and some less so. I certainly find many customers nowadays are not too sure about what types of equipment and ancillaries are best suited to them and I suppose that's where I come in, with independent and impartial advice. We look at the long term and always aim to try and set up a player with an instrument that is a joy to play - we do favour authentic, original materials but if a synthetic solution is better in a particular circumstance, that's the route we will follow. Check out some more on this subject in the Field Report below.
We are pleased to announce that Begg Bagpipes will be involved with The Spirit of Scotland Pipe Band
this year as they tackle the 5 Major Championships. In case you don't know, this is a Band which meets on an ad hoc basis and comprises of many of the top pipers and drummers from around the world. Lead by P/M R Macleod
and Leading Tip Jim Kilpatrick
, they will surely be a force to be reckoned with and will be exclusively powered by Begg sheepskin bags. Our other heavyweight customers in the shape of The Field Marshall and Shotts will be no pushovers of course and we wish them all the very best for the season.
Talking of super groups, I really enjoyed the 78th Fraser Highlanders reunion concert last Saturday at the Glasgow concert hall. The point of this was to celebrate the hugely successful Ballymena, Northern Ireland concert of 1987 and also the year, according to one distinguished commentator, that they apparently "sneaked in" to steal the Worlds from the Strathclyde Police! The 1987 concert was the template for further band concerts to copy and it is the best pipe band cd I have. I went along thinking how the band may not be able to reform and do themselves proud but I was amazed at the quality of the afternoon - a concert that again will go down in history. From comperes Wilson/Worrall to Bill Livingstone/Michael Grey and all the top players brought in to boost the ranks, it was truly fabulous. I read a few reviews and was slightly surprised at some of the negative comments. I am not sure why piping has to be self-critical in this way and in adopting a denigrating attitude - they are uncalled for and undeserved. It was a great concert and congratulations to all those involved in the organisation and delivery - well done.
Have you been to see the new Star Wars movie? It's really good and when I was leaving the cinema, I came across Yoda with his pipes in hand. I said "Hey Yoda, how are things on the Dark Side?" He said "Really bad. My pipes are in poor shape with the drones sounding as if they are from another world - I'm off to Piping Perfection for an overhaul" Nice one Yoda!
Piping Adventures and Experiences
On one of my travels, I was performing for a wedding party and this was in the days before synthetic reeds or anything of that ilk. My drone reeds had many years of experience behind them and were completely reliable, trustworthy and never let me down.......or so I thought - "pride comes before a fall." I had tried on various occasions to replace my bass cane reed but I could never quite find one that was nearly as good. This reed was my best friend - how could I ditch a reed that had stood by me time and time again? I really loved this reed and we just couldn't be parted - it was True Love (and it didn't answer back). So as you no doubt have gathered, things were about to go decidedly pear shaped. It was a very hot day (by Scottish standards) and my pipes were not behaving at all. Even the wedding limo was over heating. So I struggled to some extent as I piped the bride out of the church, but just about managed to get away with it. The next part of the gig was at the reception in Barrhead, on the outskirts of Glasgow. My plan was to tweak the bass when I got there, on the basis that I had a window of about 20 minutes before the new bride and groom would turn up. So as I carefully caressed the tongue of my beloved, gorgeous reed, it suddenly broke into two pieces - and guess what - at the precise moment of the reed tragedy, the bride's limo turned into the driveway! A wave of complete apoplexy suddenly came over me. How bad could this day become? I was frozen in complete horror as my mind raced round in circles wondering what to do next. With no other option, I suddenly took what was left of my darling reed, rammed it into the bass drone the wrong way up and to my immense relief, discovered that no air was escaping. From there, it was a few tunes with two tenor drones and no bass and amidst all the excitement of the two newlyweds, I don't think anyone noticed the difference - except of course yours truly. It wasn't my finest hour, but hey - the piper always has to be paid, so all was well in the end!
James C. Begg
Field Report 1 - from Kirkie (where I live)
One of my pupils is also my next door neighbour and he introduced me to a friend of his - both are Royal Marines and no nonsense kind of guys if you know what I mean. They had a forthcoming gig at the City Chambers in Glasgow and I helped them with setting up their pipes for this important event. Unlike my neighbour who is a
"synthetic piper", my neighbour's friend is more used to cane reeds - anything synthetic is alien to him. He was more in his comfort zone with cane but found synthetic reeds that he had just purchased to be somewhat alien to him - that was quite strange, since it is normally the other way round.
The three of us had a debate about synthetic versus traditional and this was my input to the discussion - firstly, new products have added in a great way but ultimately they cannot reproduce the traditional bagpipe sound. A prime example is Roddy Macleod. I'm sure he may use synthetic reeds at times depending on the circumstances but like many of us, he knows that with years of practice and traditional materials, we can get our bagpipes to sing and not just to sound. Secondly, I will be encouraging my pupil to move to a real bag as opposed to gortex and then will subsequently move him onto on cane reeds. However, synthetic does have its place and at the stage of just getting into piping, synthetic certainly makes life easier all round. To this end, I stock gortex bags and synthetic reeds but I'm suggesting that traditional set ups will be far more beneficial to the overall musical delivery and experience.
In a similar vein, a recent and interesting article appeared in the Glasgow Herald in January 2016. The celebrated cellist Steven Isserlis
played the Usher Hall in Edinburgh recently and his trade mark sound comes from using traditional gut strings - they give a sweeter, grainier and more subtle expression of sound. He was encouraged some 20 years earlier to move to string made from modern materials but held firm to his roots, knowing that the musical output from traditional materials was much superior. So that sums it all up for me and applies across all genres of music - you simply can't beat the real thing. It's just as well we continue to stand up for the preservation of tradition - without us even realising it, tradition can easily be slowly eroded over time by a variety of pressures in these modern, technologically demanding times.
James C. Begg
p.p.s. this is an interesting and relevant quote from Damian Dlugolecki who enjoys an international reputation as a designer and craftsman of the highest quality gut strings.
"I don't view strings as an accessory. A bowed instrument is in essence, an amplifier of strings. And the material with which the string is made determines more than any other factor, the color and timbre of the sound. The vibration of the string produces the sound and this sound is enhanced and amplified by the instrument. What I'm committed to is a quality of sound, and a belief that these instruments, having been designed for gut strings initially, sound best when they adhere to this tradition to some extent. The notion of progress here is an illusion. There is no progress without some consequent sacrifice of value. This is as true in the string art as it is in many areas of life."
And very true in the art of piping as well. J C Begg
Special Offer - Long synthetic practice chanter.
Field Report 2 - from the Linn Park, Glasgow
Having viewed a recent wedding article in Rab Wallace's excellent Piping Press
online magazine, I was reminded of my own mother and father's wedding in the Linn Park on the south side of Glasgow, circa 1949 ( I wasn't present of course!). It's a beautiful park with great walks, wildlife and a golf course. I believe their wedding was the very first one held at the grand house within the Park, and as you can see in the photo, they were accompanied by two rather grand looking pipers. We are from a working class stock of blacksmiths and engineers, and money in these days was very tight so it must have been somewhat of a luxury to have had their wedding in such lovely surroundings. It all paints a fabulous picture of romance and is in such contrast to what must have been the hardships of their normal daily lives in tough post-war times. I would have liked to have given you the names and backgrounds to the pipers shown since they really look the business but alas, I don't have this information. Can any of our readers or perhaps our readers' parents assist? I could send you a good quality jpeg to help identify the pipers.
James C. Begg
YouReport - The Flanders Red Cross Trio Piping Competition 2016
On March 12, 2016 the 4th edition of the Red Cross Trio Piping Competition will take place in Hamme - Belgium.
At this event, small groups of three pipers each compete in grades 5, 4, 3, 2 and Open grade. Over the last 3 years, the event was always able to host around 20 performances through the grades, made up of trio’s from an average of 8 different bands. So far, competing bands have come from Belgium or The Netherlands.
According to Andrew Thierney, PM of Belgium Blend PB, it’s the scariest competition out there. With just 3 pipers on the stage there is no-where to hide.
On the other hand, this competition format is an easy first step up for bands new to the competition scene. A band only needs to put forward three pipers. Competition experience can be gained even if the complete band isn’t ready yet. In each of the past three editions, we were able to welcome at least one band which did not compete before. The competition is establishing itself as a standard must-attend event. Bands are now putting the competition forward as a clear objective in their preparation. In Belgium and The Netherlands, it’s the first competition of the season - the first opportunity to have an evaluation of the band’s new competition repertoire.
For the 2016 edition we are looking at ways to increase the number of bands in Grade 3, Grade 2 and Open Grade and maybe even looking at welcoming a grade 1 delegation? Not an easy task as there are only 5 Bands in the Benelux capable of competing at Grade 3 or higher. Therefore we are aiming at attracting bands from Germany, France and the UK. The organisation has always aimed to keep the event as accessible as possible - very low entry fees for competitors and free entrance for spectators, thereby making sure that money is not an issue for anyone who wants to come and perform or enjoy the show. To be able to keep the event at the same standard, and raise the bar a bit year by year, we are looking for partners who could support the event financially, logistically or in whatever way they can. Please check out the website http://pipeband.rodekruishamme.be/triocompetition.html .
+32 479 25 44 68
Thanks Joris and good luck with this innovative event. Hopefully you may find some support from amongst our readership or from visitors to our shop where we have a poster on display.
James C. Begg
If you would like to report on any aspect of the Piping World from wherever you live, or if you would like to comment on any articles or issues, we'd be pleased to hear from you. Email to email@example.com