Gordon Mooney has played the pipes since he was gobsmacked by the Highland bagpipes as a wee lad of seven, and discovered the world of grips, birls, torluaths, tachums, crunluaths and the piper's quest for T H E P E R F E C T R E E D. He has devoted many years to exploring, performing and recording the instruments and music of the Scottish Borders and has published several tune collections and tutors, including a musicological celebration of the Scottish Wedding.
He has been playing ‘The Devil’s Instrument’ for over 40 years but hasn’t entered into any pacts, as yet! He attributes his skill on the Highland, Lowland, Border and Northumbrian Bagpipes and the whistle solely to many years of dedication and practice.
Gordon has been recognised as the foremost master of the Bellows blown bagpipes of Scotland and in the 1980’s led the revival in interest both in the bellows bagpipes and their music with his publications and recordings, particularly the influential and much praised album ‘O’er the Border.’ He has performed in many prestigious events and venues in Europe and North America and has taught and lectured to students of the bagpipe and Scottish music.
Gordon is widely recognised as an important figure at the forefront of The Cauld Wind (bellows blown) bagpipe revival. On 'O'er The Border', his first album (released in 1989), he plays Border Bagpipes, Scottish Smallpipes and Northumbrian Smallpipes, solo and in combination with other instruments.
Gordon's knowledge of piping spans many centuries of music and lore and encompasses many styles. He is an erudite scholar of the music and an outstanding player. His books include, A Tutor for Cauld Wind Bagpipes, A Choice Collection of Tunes for the Lowland and Border Bagpipes, O’er the Border, and A Scottish Wedding.
Awards include Billboard Award 1993, and election as Fellow of Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. He has dual EEC and Canadian Citizenship.
The revival of interest in the music of the Scottish Borders of the last few decades is due, in no small part, to the pioneering work of Gordon Mooney. Gordon was one of the founding members of the Lowland and Border Pipers' Society , which works hard to promote the playing of "Cauld Wind Pipes."
Gordon’s collections of Border music,‘O’ER THE BORDER’ and ‘CHOICEST TUNES,’ described as "seminal works which deserve a place in any bellows piper's library," have been republished this year by the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society as GORDON MOONEY'S COLLECTIONS OF MUSIC FOR LOWLAND AND BORDER BAGPIPES. This 72-page combined collection, includes settings of 95 tunes and detailed historical notes.
published in Number 4, June 1992 JOURNAL OF THE NORTH AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF LOWLAND AND BORDER PIPERS
Nowadays, the name of Gordon Mooney is synonymous with Lowland and Border piping, for he has been instrumental in the revival of the traditional repertoire and art form peculiar to the Lowland and Border bagpipes.
He is a founder and former Chairman of the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society, he has released three recordings with Lowland pipes and Scottish smallpipes, he has written a tutor for the Lowland pipes, and he has collected and arranged a notable body of traditional Lowland music for the pipes, some of it known to have been performed on pipes, some of it deserving to be played on the pipes.
Born in Edinburgh in 1951, by 1958 he was already studying Highland bagpipes under Pipe Major Hance Gates of the Edinburgh Police Pipe Band. His interest in the bellows pipes of Scotland would appear to have been sparked by his exposure to a session of Northumbrian pipers playing at the Newcastleton Folk Festival in 1976, not an unpleasant way to fall into the small-piping world.
He had already played a bit of Highland pipes, and shortly after that festival he acquired a set of Northumbrian pipes. He joined the Muirhead Pipe Band in the late 1970s and met fellow band members Rab Wallace and Jimmy Anderson who were (and are) Scottish bellows pipe players in folk music bands. The difficulty in procuring a set of Lowland pipes caused Gordon to study a bit of wood working so that he could build a set from plans he had found (in Cock’s and Bryan’s book on Northumbrian pipes, as I recall).
When Gordon is not performing, he is making Scottish small pipes and Northumbrian bagpipes and handsome blackwood whistles inlaid with silver Celtic rings, as in the photo below.
African Blackwood Scottish Smallpipes, and fine leather bags and bellows, handcrafted by Gordon Mooney
As he began playing these more and more, it became apparent that many of the old traditional Northumbrian tunes he had learned on his Northumbrian pipes couId be played on the Lowland pipe chanter, occasionally requiring an additional note above which Gordon achieved by adding a “high-B” key to his chanter.
He undertook an intense interest in this aspect of his piping – that is, in researching old Lowland tunes which could be played the Lowland pipe. By the early 1980’s, he had built up a significant number of tunes, which Ied him in 1982 to publish Volume I of A Collection of the Choicest Scots Tunes for the Lowland and Border Bagpipe.
Volume II followed in 1983, and now, both collections have been consolidated into one volume. It was during this period that the Lowland and Border Pipers’ Society was founded. By 1985 Gordon had written a tutor (with yet more tunes in it) for the Lowland bagpipes in what was a bold step for the otherwise shy and reserved man from (then) Linlithgow. Two cassettes also emerged from the Saydisc label, “The Border Reiver,” with strictly Border pipes and Scottish smallpipes, and “? in the Tail”, with arranged Scottish and Northumbrian music played by ‘B and the Drones’.
Thus in just a few years, Gordon had pulled together the elements necessary for the revival of an historically defunct instrument – he had made an instrument, collected the music, wrote a tutor, and recorded his interpretation of the music.
During this period of the mid·1980’s, North American pipers began seeking out Gordon, desperate for copies of his books and tapes and curious about “the man with the tunes.”.He did much to promote Lowland piping within the North American piping community by attending the 1990 and 1991 Northumbrian Pipers’ Convention in Vermont, where he spoke on the history of Lowland pipes and demonstrated various aspects of his Lowland pipe style and technique.
He is pictured on the facing page playing at North Hero in 1990 (Sketch by W. Richmond Johnston).
In 1989 he released an album, “0’er the Border”, along with his wife, Barbara, Nigel Richard, Jo Miller, Dougie Pincock, Alan Reid, Brian Miller, and Charlie Soane. The album is an effective and evocative interpretation of Lowland Scottish music, built around the music of the Border region of Scotland. More recently, in Jedburgh, he co-organized an exhibit of Lowland bagpipes and a Collogue of Lowland pipers, and this year he began a Traditional Music mail order company specializing in piping music and literature. We look forward to more of Gordon’s music and words and his return to North Hero. —Brian McCandless