On the pipes and what makes a Scot
Posted on 10 April 2009 | 11:04am
Ok, ok, I give
in (to my Twitter followers and Facebook friends) and will explain recent
bagpipe tweets. Along the way I will muse (blog and vlog) on identity.
I’ve been up in Scotland making a film for Scottish Television about bagpipes.
It is part of a series STV are doing later in the year as part of their
coverage of Homecoming.
Not heard of Homecoming? You would if you were up here. It’s an idea hatched
under the former Labour administration, now taken up enthusiastically by the
SNP, to promote Scotland and all it has to offer.
It is partly about tourism. It is partly about reaching out to the huge Scots
diaspora. It is also a celebration of Scotland past, present and future.
The series will look, through the eyes of different presenters, at some of
the things that make Scotland special.
Because I play them, I was asked to do bagpipes. So first stop was the
National Piping Centre in Glasgow (tweet one) where director Roddy McLeod
showed me round the museum and took me through the history of the pipes, then
played a wonderful jig. I also played on the practice chanter with a group of talented teenagers, one from
America, the rest Scots, who were on an intensive spring course. Their
enthusiasm for the pipes was wonderful to behold. How different the world would
be if every teenager could get properly into a musical and-or sporting
I took the opportunity to meet up with my brother Donald who has lived in
Scotland all his adult life (hence a different accent to mine) and who, unlike
me, has faithfully kept up his piping. We were taught together, first by our
Dad, then by Tony Wilson, a former Scots Guardsman who led the pipers on Paul
McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre.
Whether teaching, competing or working as Glasgow University’s official piper,
Donald plays most days and is a much better player than I am. So he helped me
to brush up in advance of my next step – off to Argyll to play (tweet two) with
the Lochaber Pipe Band.
I was kitted out with kilt, sporran, glengarry, the full works. Pictures
to follow I fear.
After an hour or so tuning up, we marched down to the waterside and stood
playing in the shadow of Ben Nevis. There is no more beautiful scenery anywhere
in the world, and few finer sounds than a pipe band going at it full blast. I
So, to national identity. Before leaving London I recorded a short vlog, also
posted today, saying I felt British first, then Scottish, English a poor third,
then European. In the modern world, with ease of travel, different waves of
immigration, more marriages between people of different races, nationality is
more complex than ever. The mix is part of Britain’s greatness.
I was born and raised, and have lived most of my life, in England. My blood is
Scottish going way back, with my father born in the Hebridean island of Tiree
and my mother from Ayrshire. Learning the bagpipes was my choice. When it comes
to sport, I support Scotland ahead of England every time.
As I was filming, Fiona was driving up with the family as we are going to
spend Easter up here.
She said she was listening to the car radio and heard an interview with Peter
Capaldi (aka fictitious psychotic spin doctor Malcolm Tucker) who when asked if
it was based on me, said I was ‘not Scottish.’
But I am. Just not in the same way as
he is. There are lots of ways to be Something-ish. My mother has lived in
England most of her life but has never lost Ayrshire accent and sometimes asks me if there will be a Scottish
passport in the event of independence and whether we would all qualify for one.
Who knows? I hope we never find out.
Stronger together and all that. It’s what makes for a good pipe band. And a
good country. Like the UK.
If it does happen, and Scotland breaks away, I hope Alex Salmond will let me
play a lament at the handover ceremony.
After all, he couldn’t. And he’s a ‘real’ Scot.