Bagpiping in England, Ireland, and Scotland

Reprinted from Sleeping Hedgehog which you really should visit.

Spring has arrived here along the North Atlantic coast with warm temperatures and misty mornings. I had my first cup of Turkish coffee very early this morning while listening to the sound of bagpipes playing off in the fog while the geese flew overhead on their way north making their usual honking sounds.

I got thinking about pipes so went looking in the Archives to see if we looked at the history of piping in English and Celtic musical traditions. I found some excellent works for you to consider reading but I will note that many of these works assume that you can read music!

But first off you should read Charles de Lint’s The Little Country, as it has one of the finest and warmest depictions of a small pipes player you’re likely to find anywhere in the character of Janey Little. It also links directly to Border piping as this small piper considers Billy Pigg, a Border pipes player, to be her inspiration.

There’s even a very nice biography, Billy Pigg: The Border Minstrel, which includes tunes Pigg composed, published by the Northumbrian Piping Society.

The English piping tradition in large part owes its revival in the Eighties to Blowzabella, as their drone-based music was both traditional and modern sounding at the same time. We reviewed their latest CD, Dance, here. Their latest tune book, Blowzabella: New Tunes for Dancing, naturally has their tunes in it, but also has a superb look at the band and its members down the years.

Tunes of the Munster Pipers: Irish Traditional Music from the James Goodman Manuscripts will give you, provided you read music, a superb look at those tunes you’ve no doubt heard myriad times played by The Neverending Session here in our Pub.

Traditional Gaelic Bagpiping 1745–1945, on the other hand, is more readable and you give an excellent look at Scottish bagpiping history, but I will warn the Scottish pipers reading this that the author debunks the entire assumed history of Scottish piping which has been handed down by proponents of this piping tradition through the centuries!

A footnote: the image is a fifteenth-century carving on the Manchester Cathedral. Like Green Men, bagpipers on cathedrals and smaller churches became common starting in the Fourteenth Century in England.

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