Joined at the armpit

Lucille in the skye.Many great pipers’ instruments are almost as well known as the pipers themselves. Often a vintage set of Henderson or Lawrie drones, they most often acquire their pipe at an early age, sometimes as a family heirloom, but normally purchased for quite a bit of money. Occasionally, you hear about the pristine set of MacDougalls found in a junk shop or at a garage sale.

But, like Yo Yo Ma’s Stradivarius cello, B.B. King’s Gibson ES-355 or Paul McCartney’s Hofner “violin” bass, these pipes become synonymous with the musician himself. A pipes|drums poll not too long ago confirmed that, like King’s naming his guitar “Lucille,” many pipers name their own axe. That someone would pay $13,000 for John Wilson’s pipes is evidence of the power that famous instruments can have on people.

I don’t think that I would be attached to my pipes if I didn’t pay for them. There are a lot of pipes given away as prizes these days, and that’s nice marketing, but I’d bet that very, very few of these instruments actually end up being played by the winner. They’re generally sold into the market, where they can become someone else’s prized possession.

Some pipers agree to endorse instruments made by prominent makers, but I generally think that they aren’t getting much more from the instrument than the sound it makes. I even know one fairly prominent piper who has never actually paid for a set of pipes – ever. I guess he saved some money at some point, but there’s something to be said for feeling an intangible connection with an instrument, for losing a part of one’s self if the bagpipe itself is ever lost.

The elusive ancillary benefits of having that instrument synonymous with your own name cannot be minimized.

Quite contrary


Legless piper on a well balanced instrument.
The Queen Mary piping, drumming and band competitions finish with one of the most entertaining contests in all of piping. It’s an event held in the extraordinarily beautiful original art-deco Observation Bar at the prow of the ship. Packed with serious partiers letting loose on the final night of the weekend’s events, the competition is an anything goes thing that brings a huge dose of fun, good playing and not a small amount of complete idiocy to the February festival.

The contest has been going on for many years, and was happening well before similar things around the world that it inspired. Last night ranged from the sublime to the absurd, and the absurd won out. While Will Nichols, Micah Babinski, Steve Megarity and others combined technical brilliance with pure comedy and creativity, the piper (sorry, I don’t know his name) who copped the $350 prize, trophy and the coveted chef’s hat, played left-hand pipes while riding a unicycle. Yes, a unicycle.

The guy’s piping ability was nowhere near that of any of the other competitors, but the (mostly non-playing) judges were clearly wowed by his balancing act.

The pipers in the crowd weren’t exactly pleased with the result, but it was all in fun, and there was some serious schadenfreude going down when the one-wheeled player in his encore after accepting the award, twice went arse-over-teakettle on his unicycle, somehow managing not to smash his drones.

It didn’t matter. The Queen Mary is pure California piping: laid back, fun, creative and kind of (in a really good way) weird. Definitely a great place to break up the cold weeks of a long piping winter.

Note: it turns out that the Unipiper didn’t actually win. The judges didn’t realize until days later that they miscalculated their points. First prize went to Marshall German; second to Steve Megarity; and third to Will Nichols. The good piping gods prevailed.

The force is with us

I’m currently in sunny Los Angeles away from the three-metres-and-growing pile of snow surrounding my house from the record-setting deluges on Toronto this February.

Alongside the piping, drumming and band events at the festival at the Queen Mary in Long Beach is a special exhibition of the actual Hollywood sets from the Star Trek TV series. There are not a few Trekkies wandering around the place.

What a bunch of total bizarroids – so obsessed with their hobby that they would actually dress up in the costumes of their heroes. They seem to enjoy getting a bit inebriated, as well. They actually like to hang out with each other, talk Trek and do a bit of partying.

I love this convergence of over-zealous hobbyists. I wrote awhile back about “Mr. Sulu” being chieftain of the day at the Bearsden Highland Games. There’s definitely something to these meetings or cultures.

Coincidence? Highly illogical, Captain Kirkwall.