Started Friday August 28 by playing at the funeral of the former landlord of the Bramford Cock, Bill Stoddart, a much loved and respected member of the community; Bramford Church was packed and I walked the route from the pub to the church playing The Gael, at the family’s request…. Played him out of the church at the end of the service with Flower of Scotland. On the Sunday Jim Jarvie and I played in Bramford again at a charity football game to raise funds (£1,300 in the end) for the Somersham Cancer Ward at Ipswich Hospital, where Bill had been a patient at the end. Sad story; he had only recently retired – I met him when I played at his son’s wedding in Bury St Edmunds in April.
And then on Friday afternoon I played again; at a secular funeral service by the banks of the River Deben in Melton – a farewell to a younger man who had lived locally and whose family organised a wonderful celebration for him in a private clearing in the woods. Poems, readings, tracks by The Clash and Bruce Springsteen and group singing of Abide with Me led by the pipes…. Very moving and special. I ran into someone I hadn’t seen for a long while, who lives in a beautiful barge on the river just by where we were. Great how this piping lark gets me to interesting places and fascinating people.
One of the very nicest local wedding venues, Hungarian Hall – just off the A12 near Ufford and Pettistree – was seriously hot yesterday afternoon; temperatures hovering around 30c but one of the delights of the place is the shade to be found under the many trees! I piped off and on for two hours between the end of the ceremony and the start of the meal…. Lovely people, a lovely place and my pipes mostly behaved well enough in the heat. They may have been surprised to hear the ground and first variation singling of The Groat, complete with decent sounding D throws; then again there’s a pretty good chance it sounded just like some more pipe music at the other end of the field. Bit more tape on the High G to flatten it off a tad; ditto the High A. Hopefully sounding ok. What was that about musicians spending 10% of their time thinking about practising, 20% practising, and 70% enduring crippling self-doubt?
Still causing trouble. The Groat is awash with them, sadly, so there’s nowhere to hide. The Maestro says I am playing a sort of hybrid, half way between the grippy throw and the light one. Oh great. That sounds a bit like the worst of both worlds to me. So there’s no solution but practice. B (or whatever); Low G; D grace note to C; D – sounds easy but if you’ve spent umpteen years doing not quite that, easy it isn’t. It seems to work better starting with a D, so that’s one taken care of. Watch this space. But the tune is starting to take shape, happily…. No one knows why it’s called the Groat and it’s a bit livelier in pace than a lot of old tunes. It needs a little extra something to make it sing. We’ll see….
Some week. What can you say about piping at funerals? You do your best to play the tunes you’ve been asked for, because they mean something and you don’t want them to sound rubbish. Funerals follow a pattern for pipers; you lead the cortege to the chapel/church; play as the coffin is carried in; play again at the end of the service, and then a tune at the graveside (if there is one). In that sense they are all much the same, which is nice. Unlike weddings, you can’t show off your wealth much or make a statement – you are there to say goodbye to someone and the piper can (sometimes) help. This week I played at Seven Hills Crematorium in Nacton, West Suffolk Crematorium in Risby, and
the Old Cemetery in Ipswich – a wonderful classic of municipal burial sites from the Victorian era, with a miniature church and a fantastic array of elaborate headstones. The celebrant gave a sigh of relief after I’d played and said “oh thank goodness, you’re much better than Kevin from Clacton”. Then the funeral director (who’d been at Nacton as well, as it so happens) said quite independently “I always worry in case they’ve booked Kevin from Clacton”. Actually I’ve changed the name to protect the innocent but it was very similar. Apparently he played Danny Boy inside a chapel; I pointed out that not only is that tune impossible to play on the pipes (we don’t have enough notes), but it’s always better to stay outside. As long as I stay ahead of Kevin from Clacton, and avoid Danny Boy as much as possible, I’ll be reasonably happy.
Then on Saturday off to a lovely, lively wedding at the startling Sibton Park near Yoxford where I shared musical duties with a hugely entertaining violinist by the name of Dmitri, who had a fetching hat and green shoes (matching, as it happened, his violin). Great day and for a little while it didn’t rain….. The cattle in the field below the house seemed to like the piping, too – unlike most animals they didn’t flee but decided I was worth investigating as a phalanx. Happily there was a moat which kept them at a friendly distance. It was Sibton Park’s first complete wedding, but I bet there are many more. What a place……
Saturday’s wedding (July 18) at this church – the parish church of East Mersea – was amazing, The groom arrived by helicopter; the bride in a restored Morris Minor and the bridesmaids in the back of a pick-up – no idea had been abandoned in the planning as too left-field. I played as guests arrived (Scotland the Brave and Flower of Scotland were banned), for the bride’s arrival (Highland Cathedral), for the after church mill-around (Highland Wedding et al)
…. and then, after the happy couple had headed off by chopper for the reception (a mile away), I led the rest of the party across the fields to the party. To be honest it was a shade further than anticipated (a 20-minute stroll was actually much closer to a 40 minute walk), and the combine harvester kicking up monster clouds of rapeseed dust was not in the plan, but it was great fun. Starting with Lord Lovat’s Lament (by request) I played pretty much every tune I know that you can walk to. Twice. Got there, though, with only a couple of breaks for a breather. Pipes held up OK, though by the end the tuning was way out. It was a hot but wonderful day….
Today I played at a funeral for a senior member of a big Woodbridge family; in the town’s Old Cemetery, a place full of fascinating stories. I was standing next to a memorial for six Woodbridge residents killed in a 1915 Zeppelin raid on the town; a few feet away was a headstone to a young man who died in 1921 and whose mark on the town was made by being a self-appointed traffic manager at the main crossroads, “avoiding many mishaps” and doing a major service to the town’s new motorised vehicles. I just played a couple of tunes after the interment; it was a lovely day and it seemed to go as the family had chosen. My bass drone failed to kick in, returning to the mundane – that’ll teach me not to play often enough. My pipes need exercise every two days, at least…. My lesson with the Maestro last week uncovered the fact that for 40 years I’ve been playing the throw on D slightly wrong; “neither grippy nor not grippy”. Back to that particular drawing board. Funny how hard it is to unlearn things….. Still, if you’re trying to play a tune like The Groat, which is awash with D throws, you might as well figure out how to play them right.
Three funerals next week, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, then a wedding on Saturday. That’ll keep my pipes flowing. Better practice that throw.
… over the weekend of June 20/1. First a friendly and entertaining diamond wedding party at the Swan in Westerfield and then on the Sunday afternoon a very well attended memorial service at St Andrew’s Church in Melton. Between them they heard quite a lot of my total repertoire…. Enjoyed both events very much, different though they were.
I surprised myself by coming second in the amateur piobaireachd in Colchester on June 14. I played Lament for Hugh, not particularly well, but the piping adjudicator said he enjoyed it, which I took heart from. There’s a little medal which came with the second place. I’m still working on the tune…. Time was I would have said I was uninterested in competition playing but it is a vital part of the tradition and one of the ways piobaireachd stays alive as a form. So, if you can’t ignore it, join it.