Introduction to Pipers Tales &

other odds and ends

by Gordon Mooney

Over several years in the 1980’s I collected from old books in the Edinburgh Central Library, any account, snippet, poem or tale about pipers. If you click on the photos in the main page those pieces are set out under places and subjects. Enjoy. The following is an account of my journey with and fascination for bagpipes.

*****

I can still hear the pipes in my memory from that bright sunlit day in 1958 in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh when I was a gobsmacked child of 7. The colour of the massed bands of a Miners Gala , the kilts, drums and that unforgettable awesome sound of the Highland Bagpipes. That sound that never yet fails to make the hairs on the back of my head stand up, and sends a thrill of excitement and passion through my veins. And so it was all those years ago that I was turned on to the pipes and begged my mother and father, over and over again to let me learn this wild and eccentric instrument.

Hand-knitted bagppes at Inverness Highland Games.jpg

It took some time to find a teacher near to my home, but eventually my mother, tired of continual pleading and the shrill untutored blowing of a plastic banana flute*, found a teacher, who was none other than a former Pipe Major of the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band. His name was Hance Gates and he was a retired policeman who lived in a nice bungalow in the ‘bought houses’ of Corstorphine, a pleasant residential suburb of the City. To obtain lessons on piping I would have to walk the miles (or so it seemed) from our Council Estate on the other side of the hill. My dad took me to the first lesson and we were told that I needed to get two items - a practice chanter and a copy of Logan’s Tutor for the Bagpipes. ( * In the 1950’s Fyffes the banana importer gave away yellow plastic banana shaped whistles if you saved a dozen stickers off bunches of bananas.)

And so I set out on the road, a road that would lead me to many places both in present time and in the long past, and where I would experience an on-going Love / Hate relationship with the Bagpipes that would continue to inspire and amuse me, while also at times causing untold frustration and despair.

Every Saturday afternoon for several years I walked that road, with my chanter and tutor in a little carrying bag with the reed in the top half sealed with a cork keeping it safe. Each week I learned some more about the arcane bagpiping world of Grips, Birls, Torluaths, Tachums, Doublings, GDE’s, D throws, Gracenotes, High A doublings, Crunluaths, and about blowing, breathing and ‘The Reed’.

As I grew, the road seemed to get shorter until after two years learning the chanter and some easy tunes, I was told that I was now ready for the ‘Bagpipes’. However, to obtain a set of pipes was not an easy task for a family on a small income, so it was suggested that I join the Boys Brigade in a nearby area of Edinburgh. By joining the BB’s I would get a uniform and a place in their pipe band and a Set of Bagpipes.

Well I recall being issued with a large black wooden box, the size of a child’s coffin and inside, a mass- it seemed- of black shiny wooden tubes, woollen tartan and a strange sweet, treacle, musty smell…which later I would come to recognize as the distinctive smell of ‘Seasoning’ — a mixture decanted from a tartan tin after being heated in boiling water and poured into the sheepskin bag of the bagpipe, to seal and soften it. Invariably the seasoning would seep through the bag or dislodge in solidified globs to foul reeds, and to leave armpit and clothes smelling forever of damp dog. The unthinkable is what lived within the bag and multiplied and mutated — fed by the nutritious meal of ‘seasoning’, warm moist air and spit. In the darkness, unknown and strange life forms lived akin to the creatures of the dark deep oceans. Or a wee relative of Nessie?

APPRENTICESHIP

Luckily I wasn’t presented with the dictatorial style when I started learning piping. My first teacher wasn’t dictatorial. He was a very gentle man, and ex-pipe major of the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band. He was retired and in his late 60’s when I went for lessons. He imparted in me a love for the artistry and the paradoxical gentleness in piping. He was a grandfather figure to me – I didn’t have any grandfathers as both had been killed in the 1st World War. To me he was a benevolent patriarch. I went every week for 7 years to him for lessons. Seven years learning!

Seven years of lessons and all the rest thereafter. Seventy years would not be enough. Many people would be surprised that you would spend seven years learning the basics of piping but there is so much to it. You need to learn from someone else, with someone, Just as sex improves dramatically with someone else, so it is with learning the pipes. Books, tapes etc are not enough because there is a whole lot of physicality involved; aural and visual techniques to master and then there is motivation and inspiration which can only come from example.

The learning process needs many, many hours of practice to master the gracings and build strength into the fingers and body; to build up breathing. Remember that with a bagpipe there is no tongueing as in a flute or whistle, so gracenotes take the place of the articulation – this is the subtlety of piping. This leads to pibroch where there are handfuls and buckets full of gracenotes. Pibroch is another world – a Gaelic, Celtic world with a distinct aesthetic.

Then all this music has to be memorised because a marching piper cannot look at music. The pipes require a mastery of memory, a mastery of the physical and the mind ..a ‘zen’ state and seven years isn’t long enough…maybe a lifetime, just maybe. Then there is always something new to learn, or something old to re-find such as the Cape Breton piping which escaped militarism. There should always be scope for innovation and I feel generally that competition can encourage stuckness. I have moved far away from competition dictates to find instruments. Eg scottish smallpipes, keyed chanters, ‘illegal fingerings’ and so on to break the ‘rules’ and produce new pieces for pipes and in concert with pipes and other instruments. To take the music and the instrument a stage further, increasing the breadth of player to composer to arranger.

COMPETITION

For a piper to master the art he has to have a deep relationship with the instrument. It means complete absorption and dedication. For me cups and medals have held no appeal. I’d rather play beside a loch on a beautiful day to some crazy dancers.

Yes, I have been obsessed by collecting tunes and stories and spent hundreds of hours in libraries digging out tales and tunes. I have played for hours and hours on end, for enjoyment and the indescribable ‘buzz’ when mind, body and instrument are in accord.

ATTITUDES TOWARDS PIPERS

Pipers are one of life’s sub classes, outcasts, a minority, hounded out of decent society. Among the classical music world they as despised. I have been at after concert parties where I am asked ‘And what do you play?’ When I reply ‘Bagpipes’, the reaction is either for the questioner to jump back 10 metres and make the sign of the cross, or they may say ‘Oh’, dear, don’t you play any serious instruments?’I always wonder why they don’t think bagpipes are serious. How serious do they have to get? Remember that once they were regarded as a weapon of war.

It is a reminder that when bagpipes are mentioned no-one has a neutral response. I think a persons’ reaction is dependent on where you first hear the pipes. A bad piper in a small room? Or a great piper in the distance across a Highland Loch? Just like a first sexual experience it can mark you for life.

It seems that certain types of musicians have since early times been seen as a threat or to be despised. From the laws of Macbeth who was slain in 1056 the following comes;

‘Fulis, menstalis, bardis, and all other sic idle people, but if they be specially licenced by the King, shall be compelled to seek some craft to win their living. If they refuse, that shall be drawn like horses in the plough and harrows.’

During the reign of David the Second certain musicians were exempted from such persecution ‘ in consideration of the important services which had been rendered during the wars by those who performed on the lyre or harp, they were specially exempted from visitation of the law.’

In the reign of James the second an act of parliament said ‘ The Lords think speedful that in all justice airs the Kings justice go take inquisition of sornars, bards, masterful beggars, of fenzied fools and other banish them from the country or send them to the kings prison.’

So there were one branch of the order of pipers who were outlaws, some who were alarm clocks and some who were patronised by nobility and royalty. Pipers have always hung out with pipers until they got hung!

Polar Bears and Bagpipes

An expedition in early 1900’s … that period when everyone it seemed wanted to be an Arctic explorer. A Scottish expedition left Dundee, and onboard several of the expedition members were pipers. Photos survive of them in Arctic furs playing on the frozen deck of the ship. There are also three glass slides which survive showing their fascination with testing out the effect of bagpipes on the wildlife, particularly polar bears. One slide shows a polar bear creeping up on an unsuspecting piper and the caption reads ‘I shall have both meat and music’. This is a play on the medieval tale of Reynard the Fox who says ‘I shall have both meat and music as I eat the bagpipes’. The bag being made of tasty leather, and as he eats the air squeezes out and plays sounds from the instrument.

The other picture from the Arctic is of a reluctant baby polar bear being dragged over the ice to hear the bagpipes. A very reluctant audience. Can you imagine the effect of bagpipes on polar bears?

When I was in the USA at a piping school, I met a veterinarian who lived and worked in Barrow on the north coast of Alaska – the real Arctic where only some Inuit, and bears live. The bears would come into town and like urban foxes, rummage in the trash or garbage cans. This often caused a big problem for the humans and the vet, who was called upon to shoot the bears. He didn’t like this job, so he tried other ways of scaring the bears away from the houses. After many experiments he discovered that if he played loud bagpipe music to them they would run away in terror. The most dangerous and most fearless animal in the world was scared by bagpipes!

The vet had come to the piping school to learn more about the pipes, as he thought the real thing might be even more effective.

I haven’t heard of Antarctic explores taking bagpipes with them but then again there are no polar bears to scare! Something puzzles me though, wouldn’t the reeds freeze in such extreme cold, say 30 degrees below freezing? Would the moisture in the breath freeze in the blowpipe or in the bag? Logically, if the bag is very cold the water vapour would form into snow inside the bag. It would snow in the bag, a miniature blizzard, a little micro-climate. A snow-field would form in the bottom of the bag. When you blow your tongue would get frozen to the blowpipe. In the extreme cold fingers stick to metal or wood…layers of skin would come off. The reeds wouldn’t necessarily freeze but the fingers would stick to the chanter.

In really hot dry climates where there is no moisture, it is so dry that the reed’s can’t vibrate or they go sharper until only dogs can hear them. The cure is to put ice in the bag – crushed ice- so that the melting ice vapourises and humidifies the reeds.

The Micro-climate of the Bagpipe Bag

In the nice warm sub-tropical environment of the bag, all sorts of little creatures live among the little trees and lagoons. The creatures would have to be deaf - genetic mutations over generations would ensure that they could not hear.

Perhaps it was in a bag where ‘life began’, in the dark moist subterranean world inside the bagpipe; where vents give out strange gases – beer gas, whisky gas, curry gas, fish and chips gas – this surely must have created various forms of life within the bagpipe bag!

All sorts of water traps have been devised to stop the water and spittle from condensing on the reeds and clogging them up. One version is a short tube set in a cork then placed in the blowpipe stock. This collects some excess water and spit and this can be poured out at the end of the performance, preferably not on the floor of the hall, where other players may slip. Another version of water trap is a plastic tube which extends from the blowpipe stock to the back of the bag and this enables the warm water vapour to condense in the tube and likewise can be emptied out after a performance. Water traps will presumably cause a temperate climatic zone within the bag…a savannah, semi-desert?

Talking about gas..a friend of mine went to Tunisia for a holiday and saw a Tunisian bagpipe for sale in a street market. He bought it and brought it home. Finding that it didn’t work very well he hung it up on the wall in the living room. Some weeks later he was sitting watching TV with his wife when there was a huge explosion and they and the whole room was sprayed with indescribable green stinking gunge. The bagpipe which had been made as a souvenir for tourists had exploded. The skin of the bag had not been properly cured – so the untreated skin had sat rotting and fermenting, producing methane gas within the sealed bag, until it reached a critical pressure then exploded covering everything in the rotting fetid mess inside the bag. The quick and dirty world of tourist trash?

Of course this brings us to the interesting question of what to use for a bagpipe bag. In Europe the various names for a bagpipe give the game away – in Spain the bagpipe is called Gaita, in the Balkans – Gaida or Gadgya all meaning ‘Goat’. Some of these bagpipes even have a goat head carved on the chanter stock. All these instruments use or used a goat skin – stripped off the goat and turned inside out, probably cured by liming or leaving in a dung heap – horse urine was also favoured - then the chanter stock is tied into the place where the goats head was, the blowpipe and drone into the front legs and a big knot is tied where the arse would be. I never heard of goatskins being used for Highland bagpipes. Until the 1970’s the only skins used were sheep or occasionally cow hide. Sheepskin was favoured because it is thick and semi-absorbent. The best skin is from the Icelandic sheep because the skin is less porous; the of Iceland makes the pores tighter. Whatever skin is used some form of seasoning must be applied. If the bag is not treated to seal and soften the skin, it dries stiff as cardboard.

SEASONING – a Highland recipe

This brings us to ‘seasoning’ – If the bag is not treated to seal and soften the skin, it dries and becomes rigid and unplayable. In the past various concoctions were used to soften the bag--, sugar, honey, molasses. But the problem with these was that were great at attracting various insects, including bees, wasps and the dreaded Highland midge. The sugars also were first-rate at encouraging the fermenting inner world of the bag, the growth of those bag creatures and strange fungal plants. I believe that it was the famous bagpipe makers - Henderson who innovated the ‘Airtight’ seasoning. They must have mixed vast amounts in their vats… I think it is a concoction of beeswax, lanolin and perhaps aspirin or similar to prevent fungal growth.and maybe some other secret ingredients? The idea is that it helps absorb moisture and seal the bag.

Piping related ailments

Yes, fungal growth is a problem. Cases of ‘Piper’s Lung’ have been known, perhaps contracted from the bag fungus spores or virus. Maybe there is an ailment called Plaid Lung or Tartan Lung, but there are a whole lot of piping related ailments such as;

Piper’s Pinkie – where the little finger curls upwards and disables the hand. In the past this was a crippling affliction for a piper. Now-a-days a tendon is cut by the surgeon and the condition is cured. Also known as Viking Hand or Celtic Hand.

Piper’s Throat – if you watch how a Highland piper’s throat swells alarmingly when he blows you can easily understand that sometimes the larynx can become dislocated, this means that the larynx jumps out of position and is very, very painful condition requiring hospital treatment.

Piper’s Hunch – one shoulder gets higher than the other and the bum sticks out.

Piper’s Paunch – related to Piper’s Hunch but usually caused by excessive drinking.

Piper’s Drool – this is caused when the piper is not in practice; the lips lose muscular control and dribbling and drooling commences. Or it also occurs when a piper is drunk or standing on a sloping surface

Piper’s Drouth – this is caused by lack of drinking.

Bags (continued)

In the 1970’s, experiments using different materials for bagpipe bags began. First cow hide, then elk, then kangaroo. This led to various strange performances with pipes. Goretex is the latest high tech material which breathes. William Gore in Livingston, Scotland developed this synthetic material which is made into bags with patent neoprene seals. The bag is maintenance free and, sadly, no cute little microorganisms live inside the new hygienic goretex bag.

However top players still use natural materials as they give more support and a natural flexible ‘feel’. They also provide a drum like resonator which improves volume and tone. Goretex is like a plastic bag when deflated – limp and insubstantial. Of course Scottish bellows pipes are different because they are dry, and use leather bags with a seasoning of oil and beeswax to keep the bag supple and air tight…hence they are called Cauld Wind Pipes - not having the hot moisture sodden breath from the lungs to clog everything up.

The biology of the Bagpipe

If you leave the reed for a few days it will grow ‘fur’ as the enzymes on the saliva try to digest the starch in the reed. Yum, yum – enzymes eat the reed – The biology of the bagpipes.

By taking the reed out of the bag it doesn’t get subjected to digestion. A cap keeps the reed moist. The world inside the bag – a micro-environment filled with little hobbit creatures. Reeds have predators- predating on the reeds and the seasoning and the bag.

‘We shall have both meat and music – said the enzymes and bacteria as they ate the bagpipes!’

Could I go snorkelling with a bagpipe?

The ecology of the Bagpipes

Issues such as tropical rain forest conservation are often raised because of the use of blackwood and ivory. There have been moves to make bagpipes completely out of plastic but this is just as bad environmentally. Wood is a renewable resource, plastics are not.

Now we have the almost completely synthetic bagpipe in plastic. Goretex bag, plastic drones, reeds, valves the only part that (so far) isn’t synthetic is the chanter reed. There has recently appeared the 3D printed bagpipe, complete with screw together parts sealed with O rings and a chanter with an extended range.

So an ancient instrument benefits from modern technology and materials. The instrument is now sophisticated, reliable and easy to use – a big change over the last 30 years when all parts of a pipe were natural materials. It’s iconic of our times?

[Difference in sound between plastic and wood? What are the piper’s opinions? ]

The Calisthenics of Bagpiping

The Highland pipes are a very physical instrument; blowing and squeezing; even the super fit can be turned to jelly trying to play if they don’t have the training and technique. The pipes use all sorts of muscles; arms, diaphragm, legs, face and neck muscles, fingers etc. Health clubs should offer bagpipes as a means of getting into shape. [I.e., instead of a treadmill or weight machines, you’d be put on a marching machine which made you…… ] I recall that the Scottish Sports Council had a campaign which included among the usual sports, Highland dancing and piping as conducive to good health. For blowing continuously and marching at the same time through all sorts of terrain, you have to be in good shape. Pipers are best to start young and develop good technique, and good lung and diaphragm control. Over the years harder and harder reeds are introduced to get better tone and volume, this is especially true in first grade bands…the harder the reed the harder the man! Hardness is important, ask any woman.

MACHO PIPING

So, let us return to eccentricity. The first category of eccentricity is the Highland Piping fraternity, although I don’t think they would see themselves as eccentric. Looked at objectively they are typically very competitive, obsessive, bullish, pig-headed, aggressive, obsessed with minute detail of playing and performance and incredibly rigid in their opinions. Sadly they also throw the baby out with the bath water as the notes come off their chanters like machine gun bullets – the lyricism of music is lost in this strutting machismo. Many of the people in the Highland piping world seem to thrive on the dominant male abusing them. They get off on this style of leadership and power, take it as a model, and look at any alternative approach as weakness. There is rampant sexism where women are often criticised for not being aggressive and therefore not good leaders and therefore not good competitive pipers. Winning matters above all, in this world of pipe band competitions and solo piping competitions. There is an unwillingness to see any other way of being and of course this simplistic view is absurd and untenable in relation to the huge emotional subject of music. But there are those that don’t see piping as music, rather a competitive sport., and of course there is a bigger story about people who enjoy and do not question this regimented rule ridden system. It was not always this way. There was a time before competitions but there was also a period after the Great War where it was thought that traditional arts would die without organised competitions.

Sadly in these well intentioned endeavours preservation became more important than conservation. Conservation is a much bigger, more complex means of integrating past and present. Preservation takes a much narrower view.

Luckily I wasn’t presented with the dictatorial style when I started learning piping. My first teacher wasn’t dictatorial. He was a very gentle man, and ex-pipe major of the Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band. He was retired and in his late 60’s when I went for lessons. He imparted in me a love for the artistry and the paradoxical gentleness in piping. He was a grandfather figure to me – I didn’t have any grandfathers as both had been killed in the 1st World War. To me he was a benevolent patriarch. I went every week for 7 years to him for lessons. Seven years learning! Seven years of lessons and all the rest thereafter. Seventy years would not be enough. Many people would be surprised that you would spend seven years learning the basics of piping but there is so much to it. You need to learn from someone else, with someone, Just as sex improves dramatically with someone else, so it is with learning the pipes. Books, tapes etc are not enough because there is a whole lot of physicality involved; aural and visual techniques to master and then there is motivation and inspiration which can only come from example.

The learning process needs many, many hours of practice to master the gracings and build strength into the fingers and body; to build up breathing. Remember that with a bagpipe there is no tongueing as in a flute or whistle, so gracenotes take the place of the articulation – this is the subtlety of piping. This leads to pibroch where there are handfuls and buckets full of gracenotes. Pibroch is another world – a Gaelic, Celtic world with a distinct aesthetic.

Then all this music has to be memorised because a marching piper cannot look at music. The pipes require a mastery of memory, a mastery of the physical and the mind ..a ‘zen’ state and seven years isn’t long enough…maybe a lifetime, just maybe. Then there is always something new to learn, or something old to re-find such as the Cape Breton piping which escaped militarism. [explain… ] There should always be scope for innovation and I feel generally that competition actually encourages stuckness. I have moved far away from competition dictates to find instruments. Eg scottish smallpipes, keyed chanters, ‘illegal fingerings’ and so on to break the ‘rules’ and produce ragas for pipes and concert with pipes and other instruments. To take the music and the instrument a stage further, increasing the breadth of player to composer to arranger.

COMPETITION

For a piper to master the art he has to have a deep relationship with the instrument. It means complete absorption and dedication. For me cups and medals have held no appeal. I’d rather play beside a loch on a beautiful day to some crazy dancers.

Yes, I have been obsessed by collecting tunes and stories and spent hundreds of hours in libraries digging out tales and tunes. I have played for hours and hours on end, for enjoyment and the indescribable ‘buzz’ when mind, body and instrument are in accord.

ODD PIPERS

Americans must be up there as far as crazy pipers are concerned, but there are several crazy Scots and English too boot.

A good example is the submarine piper, Jock Agnew, who claims to have played bagpipes at the deepest depth in the ocean while in the British Navy nuclear submarine. He brought his bagpipes on board to practice. Imagine the awful sound and reverberation in such a confined space – he must have been really popular, especially as he was a self taught beginner at the time. He tells of much amusement using the submarine’s ship to surface transmissions and the terrible distortion heard by the surface ship of his piping recitals. There is of course Mr Alan Jones the compulsive bagpipe collector. Over the years he has accumulated a huge collection of instruments and moth-balled them. There are several theories why he does this….to collect as many unplayable bagpipes as possible? To take as many bagpipes out of circulation as possible as a service to mankind? Or to prevent pipers getting the use of the instruments….or it could just be compulsive obsessive behaviour or a strange illness???

Sean Folsom is another odd master of the bagpipe who has made a living out of his bagpipe show. He is a good player on a huge range of instruments not only bagpipes. Like a magician with rabbits Sean pulls bagpipes out of old battered cases and wears the hats appropriate to the bagpipe he plays.

Probably the worst piper and most eccentric person I have encountered was Cedric Clark. He was a strange, intense wee man who turned up on my doorstep one day and rambled on and on about the lost tribes of Alba and their flight from Egypt to Ireland. Cedric produced a very nice set of Border pipes in G, (made by William Hamilton) an unusual instrument on which Cedric proceeded to murder Amazing Grace…Why do people keep on trying to play an instrument when they are plainly no use at it? Maybe they play because they want to get the ‘Scottishness’ feeling? They are not playing for music’s sake but for their politics, identity or sexuality. Or is it because many believe that the pipes are not a musical instrument therefore anything goes. There is a theory that the pipes are the missing link between music and noise. There are so many inept players that one suspects the teachers were unscrupulous or desperate and just kept taking the money from useless pupils and put in ear-plugs.

Julian Goodacre is an aimiable oddity of the bagpipe world. He was an agricultural engineer from Leicestershire who ran away to Galloway, met an American and got married at the Buddhist Temple in Eskdalemuir. I first met him in Edinburgh when a tall wild looking man approached me and thrust a strange bagpipe at me…it looked as if it had been made by pixies…with lots of flares and bell ends. Julian has made a career out of making bagpipes ..he once told me that he dreams about bagpipes, and eats, drinks and talks them all the time.

Other eccentrics I have met include Americans with their hair dyed tartan and with huge Lion rampant tattoos on their legs. Then there is Adrian Scholfield a much tattooed, tartan miniskirted, fish net stockinged, hugely pierced, mohican haircutted with make-up piper – a very amusing person, but the question must be asked …why have you done this to yourself? Apart from his fashion choices, Adrian is a really great player on the Northumbrian pipes.

Prejudice towards Pipers

Pipers are one of life’s sub classes, outcasts, a minority and often hounded out of decent society. Among the classical music world they as generally despised. I have been at after-concert parties where I am asked ‘And what do you play?’ When I reply ‘Bagpipes’, the reaction is either for the questioner to jump back 10 metres and make the sign of the cross, or they may say ‘Oh’, dear, don’t you play any serious instruments?’ I always wonder why they don’t think bagpipes are serious. How serious do they have to get? Remember that once they were regarded as a weapon of war. Pipers played into a hail of machine gun bullets in World War One. That is serious.

Scots glossary for dancing, piping and drumming

SCOTS GLOSSARY FOR DANCING, PIPING AND DRUMMING

Bab – (n) the smartest and sprightliest lad or lass in a company
Bab – (v) to bob; to dance; to pop in and out; to curtsey, to move quickly (n) a dance; a quick motion; a curtsey; a bow.
Bab-at-the Bowster (or Babbity Bowster (n) an old Scottish Dance winding up festive gatherings; a childrens’singing game played with a cushion or handkerchief.
Back-lill (n) the back hole on the bagpipe chanter
Birl – (n) to twirl around. (v) a brisk dance
Blaud (v) to blow in gusts
Blaw (v) to play the bagpipes. (n) a tune on any wind instrument
Blute (n) a sudden burst of sound
Bowster (n) a bolster or cushion
Bum , Bumman (v) to buzz
Burden (n) a drone

Chanter (n) the melody pipe of the bagpipe
Charivari – a cacophonous mock serenade , rough music, a cat’s concert
Chaunter (n) a singer (of ballads)
Counter Burden (n) a tenor drone

Dirl (n) a tremulous stroke, a vibrating sound; (v) to vibrate noisily
Dird (v) to beat, thump etc.
Dirdum (n) the beat.
Douff (n) a dull heavy blow.
Droner (n) a player on the bagpipe.
Drone (n) The low plaintive sound made by a hungry cow; (v) to play the bagpipe; (n) the accompaniment of a bagpipe
Drumster (n) a drummer

High Jinks – boisterous play or jollity – an old Scottish tavern game in which persons played various parts under penalty or forfeit`.

Kilt (v) to tuck up, lift a skirt
Kirn (n) the harvest home
Kirn –dancing (n) dancing at a kirn supper
Kintra-dance (n) a country dance

Lill (n) a finger hole in a wind instrument
Lilt (n) a cheerful tune, a mournful tune

Pifer (n) a fifer, a player on a flute
Piper (n) a singer vocalist, a half dried haddock; the daddy long-legs or crane fly; a musician on a wind instrument; Piper-faced – pale delicate looking
Piper-fu’ – very drunk
Piper’s bid or Piper’s Invite– the last to be asked to a convivial meeting or party
Piper’s news – old or stale news
Pipe-skill – skill in playing the bagpipes
Pipin’-fou – very drunk
Port (n) a lively tune on the bagpipes, a glee
Pype (n) the bagpipe
Pyper (n) a bagpiper

Quhissel (n) whistle or pipe
Quhisler (n) a player on the pipe

Ringadoon, Ringadown-daisy (n) a lively dance on the grass at a wedding
Ringe (v) to beat a drum
Ruffin’ the drum – playing the drum

Spring, sprig (n) - a tune
Swash (n) – a drum
Swecher, Sueschour (n) a drummer
Swasher, Suescher
Skirl (v) to sound the bagpipes
Shiverin’ the back lill – pinching –the art of sounding the highest note on the bagpipe.
Shive (v) to push or shove

Taberin – a beating on the drum
Tabron – a drum
Tabroner – a drummer
Tabour – to drub or drum
Tirl - to vibrate or quiver, to make a trilling sound
Tirly-wirly –a flourish
Toober (v) to beat a drum
Took, Touk or Tuck – to beat the drum
Tonker – to play on the drum
Tootle – to play a wind instrument
Toon’s piper(n) the public piper employed for civic purposes.




It is a reminder that when bagpipes are mentioned no-one has a neutral response. I think a persons’ reaction is dependent on where you first hear the pipes. A bad piper in a small room? Or a great piper in the distance across a Highland Loch? Just like a first sexual experience it can mark you for life.

It seems that certain types of musicians have since early times been seen as a threat or to be despised. From the laws of Macbeth who was slain in 1056 the following comes;

‘Fulis, menstalis, bardis, and all other sic idle people, but if they be specially licenced by the King, shall be compelled to seek some craft to win their living. If they refuse, that shall be drawn like horses in the plough and harrows.’

During the reign of David the Second certain musicians were exempted from such persecution ‘ in consideration of the important services which had been rendered during the wars by those who performed on the lyre or harp, they were specially exempted from visitation of the law.’

In the reign of James the second an act of parliament said ‘ The Lords think speedful that in all justice airs the Kings justice go take inquisition of sornars, bards, masterful beggars, of fenzied fools and other banish them from the country or send them to the kings prison.’

So there were one branch of the order of pipers who were outlaws, some who were alarm clocks and some who were patronised by nobility and royalty. Pipers have always hung out with pipers — until they got hung!