One of my favourite definitions of a gentleman is someone who knows how to play the bagpipes but doesn’t. I hope that explains why few people are aware of my fondness for piping and speaking at Burns Nights, otherwise I’ll have to believe that a strange blast of music has deafened them. By way of background, I was fortunate to start learning young from three magnificent teachers, Duncan MacCaskill, John MacFadyen, and Sandy Jones. I also had the delight of meeting long-lasting friends such as Tom Netsel and Ray Jarrod. When I was piping competitively I had the fortune of travelling to events such as Grandfather Mountain or even playing pipes that were a few hundred years old. At one point in Orlando, Florida I was practising by Lake Fairview when the owner of Barrett’s Marine asked if I’d move. While I was used to people asking me to “move away, far away”, oddly he was asking me to move in front of his yacht business to attract customers. Barrett’s and I struck a deal that if I practised in front of his shop I could sail for free – thus cementing a lifelong love of boats.
In 1972 an older enthusiast, William “Bill” MacKay, founded the Orlando Pipes & Drums. As early as 1973 we appeared on national television in Charles Kuralt’s “On The Road” CBS series. I became a pipe major far too early when Bill sadly died in an automobile accident, The Orlando Pipes & Drums went on to play at many events, having wonderful times at Disneyworld or Church Street Station. We even had commercial success, so much so that the band bought a boat. Odd that.
This year was special in a few ways. First, rather than just piping or toasting at a Burns Night, this time at the home of my dear friend George Littlejohn, who once wrote a “Burns Night Address To Z/Yen“, I also put in a (mercifully gentlemanly) appearance at the wedding of my best man, Rupert Stubbs, to the delightful Joey Mason – so two January outings rather than one. Second, not being Scottish has always been a problem. Yes, I used to have a kilt, MacAlpine if you must know (here in colour rather than black & white),
but was always being teased – about not being Scottish I mean. This year I realised that perhaps a better set of gear for a non-Scottish piper might be an Alderman’s Court Velvet.