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Hatched, Matched and Dispatched 

Had to rename that “New Album” folder AGAIN!

So that’s us into a new decade - the 2010s were a crazy decade for me.  It’s now been 10 years since I released “Hello World” and another time I’ve renamed a folder on my computer from “New Album 20-whenever” to the next year - an annual occurrence.  It’s at “New Album 2020” now, so hopefully I’ll get some movement on it. 

But it’s 2019 I’m thinking about just now.  A crazy year which began, as usual, with some Celtic Connections gigs.  It’s scary to think that it’s now been almost 8 years since I got the first call to work on the Disney Pixar movie “Brave” (well, November 2011) and I began the year by revisiting the score.  Two of my favourite’s at the same time - Patrick Doyle at Celtic Connections!  It was as scary as it was exciting to play the soundtrack in full along to the live picture in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.  It was great to see some family in the audience whom otherwise wouldn’t go to a traditional music gig and also quite cool to see the star of the movie Kelly MacDonald with her family.  Patrick Doyle was the composer of the great score and a special event for his 65th Birthday was also part of Celtic Connections.  I’ve been thinking for a long time that his music should be part of the festival.  He was commissioned to write a new piece - “Scottish Overture” which was premiered in the City Halls.  It was for Orchestra and folk band and was a joy to play with the same team that did Brave the week before.  Pipes used were Highland Pipes, Border Pipes and modified Highland Pipes with an A chanter taped for a C Major Scale. 

Into February and I’m still thinking about animations - this time How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World by John Powell.  It was Patrick Doyle who recommended me for working on the Dragon movies.  We recorded the third, and last, in the trilogy back in October so it’s finally time to watch it.  The pipes were used slightly differently in this one, but still amazing to get to play some of the themes that have been there since the very first movie at the start of the decade.  It’s not hard to find some Celtic roots in some of my favourite movie composers and John Powell is no exception with his granny coming from the Outer Hebrides and being no stranger to a Strathspey on the Violin.  You can hear the pipes in the video below on a number of occasions including Hiccup and Astrid’s wedding. 

Throughout the early Spring things were busy with the Red Hot Chilli Pipers’ new album.  I was back to suggest some ideas and do some bits of piping which was shared between the goup’s pipers.  It was a new team full of their own great energy ideas and I was so happy to be part of it.  Another highlight was helping out at the recording of the huge pipe band we had on “Highland Cathedral” of “Next Generation Chillis” and it’s great to think that the band was part of what got them into piping.  That’s something I hoped the band would do since it began. 

The Summer was full of teaching weeks and music festivals.  Particular highlights must include the Jim Dowling Piping Festival in County Mayo where I was made to feel most welcome being a pipe playing third wheel in the trio of Ross Couper and Tom Oakes.  We had so much fun we’re doing a couple of festivals next year.  In July I was back with my old pals the Tannahill Weavers for a festival in Belgium then back to Glasgow for Piping Live where I was busy with the group therapy band that is Tryst - 10 pipers trying out new ideas on the pipes.  Our Piping Live gig was to focus on new arrangements of tunes by selected favourite composers.  It was a long blow and a lot of focus but it went well and we’re looking forward to doing the piping Concert at Celtic Connections along with Boghall and Bathgate Caledonia Pipe Band.  The week ended with Don Bradford’s part in the Park Bar - and guess who’s back with me - it’s Ross and Tom!  Don always wants an informal session, so we’ve no idea what’s happening most of the time but it seemed to work very well!  That same evening it was a change of scenery and off to the Royal Concert Hall with Tryst to join Dougie MacLean for “Dougie MacLean and Piping Friends”.  This was Dougie celebrating his links with piping.  There’s some great piping on his albums from Gordon Duncan and Graham Mulholland and it was my privilege to perform a part which Gordon Duncan came up with.  You can hear it below, but please do check out Dougie’s original version of “Stolen”.


Of course, Piping Live is the lead up to the World Championship where I got to fulfil a dream of mine and get chatty on BBC Radio Scotland about the competition!  It was to be kept light, with the more analytical stuff coming from the judges the week after.  Then it was off to my local Mull of Kintyre Music Festival and the usual weekend of great sessions and concerts followed by the inevitable downer that always happens the Monday after.  But wait, this year is different, the phone goes and it’s composer Maurizio Malagnini wishing to talk to me about using pipes in the Christmas Special of Call the Midwife - cool!  That’s perked me up.  The scores come through and work begins on making them work.  “Oh look, he’s put the theme tune on the pipe part!  Fans are going to either love or hate that!…“ is what I’m thinking. 

Having just done some session work for a programme dealing with birth - the beginning of life, I’m surprised to be asked to do a session for a programme dealing with the other end of life - in the same week!  Legendary Scottish comedy "Still Game"!!  I was asked to arrange the theme tune and work with the cast to record some pipe music for part of the story.  Usually the cast and score are very separate so I rarely get to meet anyone from the shows I work on, this was different and very much was invited in to watch rehearsals, discuss options with Ford Kiernan and Greg Hemphil and the main main, MD Tom Urie.  Still Game was on my bucket list since 2001 but since the series ended this year, I thought I had missed the boat but nope - here it is!  It’s done on border pipes due to the chromatic nature of the tune. 

October saw me off up North - not to my usual North of Plockton, but the edge of the Arctic Circle with Mary Ann Kennedy for the Arctic Celtic Festival.  Then in November the Ceremonial piping was strong with 3 days of playing for the Cycling World Championships in Glasgow prize givings followed by a Remembrance Day opening for Sarah Brightman's Royal Albert Hall performance.  I must say a big thanks for Colin Brown of Ingles Buchan and Mark from Hector Russel, Buchanan Street for the great new kilt I am now showing off with my very own custom tartan!    

Then, in November, off on a plane with some pipers to Armagh and Tryst performing at the William Kennedy Piping Festival.  Then back with my friends at the Derby Concert Orchestra to perform “An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise” - a favourite piece of mine, even though I got locked out and could get in as I heard my entry approach.  I had to bang on the door of the Cathedral with my pipes and in my kilt, much to the amusement of a very helpful man from the street and then Hen Party.  An Edinburgh club gig with electronic dance band Sketch and finally, an album launch for button box player Norman MacKay for an album I recorded this beautiful piece on a while back.  A final special thing was getting nominated in the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards as Session Musician of the Year.

And that brings us to now. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for all your support in the 2010s, I’m already fired up for 2020!  Here’s a time-lapse from Dougall HQ1 - it’s not very good! 


Tannies, Touring, Toothless, Tryst, Two Thousand and Eighteen! 

Here’s me updating again from the train, taking in the glorious views of a frozen Highland landscape - that’s cheesy I know, but it really is special today.  I’m on my way to Plockton to the Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music where I’ve been enjoying a more regular teaching place at. 

It seems just like a few weeks ago I was making excuses about the last blog being so late - but it was actually this time last year!  I guess it’s a good time to get reflective on 2018 though, so here goes! 

January’s feature was Glasgow’s annual Celtic Festival, Celtic Connections, once again and this year my main project was with the Tannahill Weavers.  A band who I spent a good chunk of the year with touring mostly UK and USA.  2018 is their 50th Anniversary year, so we wanted to make a big deal of it.  We had this concert and also released a new album - there’s so much great stuff on the album which features as many of the previous band members as possible to celebrate the anniversary.  The Celtic Connections Concert did the same.

Besides the group’s pioneering instrumental work, their other main stock-in-trade remains classic old-school chorus songs, both traditional and self-penned (by founding lead singer Roy Gullane), in the proud and honourable tradition of The Corries et al, richly buoyed by Phil Smillie and John Martin’s seasoned harmonies – and here by plenty of audience singing, too, further augmenting the quantity of love in the room. - Sue Wilson, the Scotsman

In March, I was asked to judge the Freestyle competition a the Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championships - a tough job, but an event I’m proud to have been judging at.  It’s great to see the pipes and drums working with the other musicians in their schools.  That’s something that rarely happened for me so something I’m quite passionate about making sure happens to upcoming pipers. 

As well as a busy year for the Tannies I also enjoyed a few gigs with Gaelic Singer Mary Ann Kennedy and her band.  Two of the highlights were getting to perform her recent album "An Dàn" with the band live and also her commission for the Mod in Dunoon, "Cluaidh: Ùrachadh na h-Aibhne – “Clyde: A River Recovery” - an audio visual show.  Mary Ann writes great tunes and the opening theme to this show is one of my favourites. Here's on of the more psychedelic tracks to listen to.


#TannieTime continued throughout the year with a few trips to Europe in the Summer.  I was also thrilled to have been able to perform at the very first Carradale Music Festival in April.  It was an awkward one travel-wise, as I was in France the night before but it worked out and I’m ecstatic to see the festival taking place again in 2019 - on the 19th and 20th April.

The new album from the Tannahill Weavers - Orach (meaning Golden) arrived with us mid tour in May.  It was a huge amount of work and, as you'd expect, also features very many of the bands members from over the years.  Here's one of my favourite tracks, the opener and title track - "Orach".

The Summer was made up of mostly Wedding performances at the weekends and Tuition during the weeks including the Oban, Arran and Golspie Feis, which I love.  Then I spend 6 weeks of late Summer in the USA again - by the end of that tour that’s been 75 gigs I’ve done with the band this year! That’s an impressive statistic.  Just before we headed to the US, we had time to fit in this session for BBC Alba’s coverage of Piping Live.  Here’s “Gordon Duncan’s Jigs”.

Into the Autumn and back into more of a regular teaching rhythm.  Towards the end of the Tannahill's tour I got the phone call I had been hoping for - "How to Train Your Dragon - The Hidden World".  The third in the trilogy of films scored by John Powell and the second for me to be working on.  Since watching the first one back in 2010 I've totally fallen in love with the series so was desperate to play on the new soundtrack.  As before, I assembled a team of pipers and awaited the scores to arrive so I could get to work with problem solving in them.  There's a lot of great stuff, some new and some revisited.  More to follow when the soundtrack is released in early 2019!

And then I rounded up the year with the first session of recording the Tryst album.  You can read more about that album in the posts surrounding this one, but we are crowd funding and would really like it if you pledged to get this album out there.  You can do so here!  Here's a wee gallery of our first weekend of recording


So that's me signing off for the year - I've a new set of pipes just arrived from McCallums to set up for a very special project in the new year!  And for now, a couple of pictures from Christmas Eve morning on Carradale Bay.



Was that this year?! 

I've never intended to make these posts an annual thing but that seems to be the way of it! It's a nice way to reflect back on the year though.  Having said that it's also quite scary to realise some stuff that I thought happened years ago was actually this year and vice versa!  The timeline in a musicians mind is very wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey. 

The year began with a busy Celtic Connections Festival - no least with the new band Tryst - a collection of 10 of Scotland's like minded composers/pipers/multi-instrumentalists.  We held our first show in the Royal Concert Hall's New Auditorium and it was a great success.  Each piper composed a piece of music imagining a new Ceol Mor (Big Music) for the pipes.  You can hear about the pieces in the video below and look forward to an album next year!

We got some great reviews including this one from the Herald: The composers’ themes ranged from the plight of ­refugees to Highland land-rights campaigns; the excesses of consumerism to the importance of home, while the resulting five-minute ­pieces capitalised fully and thrillingly on contemporary developments in bagpipe technique and repertoire, complemented in several cases by artfully deployed electronic beats and samples... the arrangements were as varied as the compositions themselves, while all sharing in the central, utterly compelling majesty of massed, masterfully deployed Highland pipes, at once viscerally primal and stunningly sophisticated."

Celtic Connections finished off, for me, judging the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year.  A competition I've attempted 4 times! 3 of which making it to the final, the first being a learning curve disaster!  It's a life and career changing opportunity which I'd recommend to anyone - even just the focus of a programme is a great exercise.  The winner was Charlie Stewart, on fiddle, who I've since had the pleasure of having a few tunes with at various Ceilidhs.  In February I was still in awe of young talent by taking my - now almost annual - trip to the School of Excellence in Traditional Music in Plockton.  My main job there is to help the pupils with Sibelius, they seemed interested!  Once that was done, I got a chance to listen to their group work sets and was chuffed to have received a CD in the post from them just before Christmas - it's another belter!

I've had a busy year writing and that continued with a chance to create an idea I've had in my head for a while thanks to the help of Distil.  A piece about the Weird, unexplained, apocolypitic-esque sounds in the sky that have been heard all round the World for centuries.  I intended to use pipes for it but, due to a finger injury, had to leave it in the hands of McFalls' Chamber - loved hearing them play my tune.

Speaking of the thrill of other people interpreting your tune - Chris Gray did an amazing arrangement of my tune "Lament for Small Isles Bay", was really happy to hear it on Soundcloud!  Chris is a Piper, Pianist & Whistle Player from Lockerbie, Scotland. Currently studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow and I love his interpretation of this tune which I deliberately left a lot of up to the imagination of the player.

March saw me back with the hardest working band in trad music for this first time this year - the Tannahill Weavers.  A tour of England is the regular routine at this time of year.  Then things got quite surreal and I was off to Finland with Mary Ann Kennedy for the Liet International - a songwriting competition for minority languages.  Mary Ann's song is particularly poignant, a song for Maggie MacDonald - family member, bandmate and friend.  Maggie was a force and I can't describe her without using a cliche like life and soul - but she was... she even got me on the bridge of CalMac ferry during one of our tours. Hear the song for yourself on Mary Anns recently released album - "An Dan". Here's a photos of the performance from the night.

Into May and we're off the the US with the Tannahill Weavers.  Another busy tour.  Looking at the Photos app on my phone it shows I've taken photos in every contiguous (word of the day!) State in the US.  There were very many highlights on that tour, particularly for me seeing the Seattle area.  Here's a few photos!

That takes us to a couple of recording sessions in the Summer.  The first was a long overdue recording with accordion player Norman MacKay for his new album.  I can't wait to hear it! We've been talking about doing it for about 10 years so glad to get one track in particular down, then managed a couple more while I was there.

The next week I was in London for a recording in Abbey Road.  I've had meetings there over the years but never actually recorded so that was a great experience to be working with composer Thomas Newman and conducted by JAC Redford.  It wasn't the most difficult session I've ever done, but I think they were pleased with the result.  It was for a short scene in the new movie "Victoria and Abdul" starring Judi Dench.

Closer to home for the next project with the Oban Gaelic Choir!  They are one of the oldest competition choirs in Gaeldom, and with the fantastic arrangements of Sileas Sinclair they also sound one of the freshest.  I loved being a part of the house band along with Archie McAllister and Finlay Wells.  I discovered loads of new songs from the area too!  Here's the Puirt set!

After that the Summer was a busy one - which was pretty much constant Festivals and weddings and the likes.  As it came to the end I was thrilled to be returning to the Colonsay Music Festival - Ceòl Cholasa in it's 10th Year.  Colonsay is an Island I'm very fond off, another place where I got to do some gigs as I was just starting out and a community vibe that reminds me very much of home.  I had put a band together specifically for the event and it wasn't everyone's cup of tea!  I enjoyed the weekend, and here's the finale... a "Colonsay version of an Edinburgh Classic"!

After Colonsay it's straight away to the USA for another tour - New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Ohio, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, Washington then off to Canada and back to Washington.  A fantastic tour once again.  That was followed by the European tour beginning in Germany and finishing off in Holland. Almost 2 months of straight touring, touring but good.  Next year is the band's 50th Anniversary - so there is a lot to celebrate.  The new album is near complete and the year starts with a special Concert at Celtic Connections.  The line up/set list is near confirmed, but I can assure you you don't want to miss it!

And with that, I hope you are having a great holiday and looking forward to 2018 as much as I am.  A year of anniversaries and recording for me!  Chuffed to be back working on a few things I'm very passionate about too... Can't wait.

Signing out for the year with a Christmas time-lapse from Dougall HQ1! x




A couple of clips from the new Whisky Galore movie have appeared online.  I was really happy to be part of the soundtrack playing Highland Pipes, Border Pipes and also a specially made chanter to get an unusual scale that one of the pieces was in - see if you can spot it in the film!

2017 is GO! 

So that's us at the end of the year already - feels like just a few weeks ago myself and the Tannies were having great fun at the "Just for Gordon" concert at Celtic Connections.  Of course Celtic Connections is the next thing in the new year and the new project I'm involved with, Tryst, will be putting on a concert with I think is going to be great.  More on that later, but first - here's some videos from the Gordon concert which have been released by the Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust - it's great to have them as a keepsake.

You can read a bit more about that concert in the last blog as well as see the first video they released.

And here's the big project coming up early 2017 - "Tryst" - The latest pioneering project from Calum MacCrimmon and John Mulhearn’s Big Music Society sees ten contemporary piper/composer/producers commissioned to write new music in the spirit of their instrument’s classical, often ceremonial or commemorative, Ceòl Mòr tradition. Compositions from MacCrimmon, Mulhearn, Finlay MacDonald, Rory Campbell, Ross Ainslie, Ali Hutton, Steven Blake, Lorne MacDougall, James Duncan Mackenzie and Mairearad Green will variously enlist the whole ensemble on additional pipes, instruments and voices.

We've been rehearsing hard - there's everything in there - new notes, unusual time signatures, dynamics - I don't want to spoil but I think it's going to be great!  Here is the set we did at the 2016 Scots Trad Music Awards in Dundee a few weeks ago.

In the last few months some of the sessions I did in the Summer came to fruition - including the tracks from Susan Boyle's new alum - "A Wonderful World".  I'm so chuffed to be part of another of her albums, the musicianship and love in making it are second to none.  The album was produced by Steve Anderson and Cliff Masterson - two complete legends who were totally keen to get some subtle Celtic flavours throughout the album.  Oh, and of course an entire pipe band for "Mull of Kintyre" - a tune I was excited to record growing up in the area and learning through the original band on Paul McCartney's recording!  Here's a track that's one of my favourites - "Angels" - I tried to get the Red Hot Chilli Pipers to do this on every album since Bagrock to the Masses, but they were never up for it!

And back in November, the session I did for ITV's "Thunderbirds are Go" also aired.  The music for this is written by Ben and Nick Foster - two brothers which is appropriate for this series and two total musical gentlemen.  I've loved the themes the whole way through the series and to get the score through and realise I got to do the main melody on the pipes was a huge thrill.

Another session I had the pleasure of being involved with was providing pipes for a Tamil movie by famed film composer D Imman.  Some custom pipes had to be arranged for it - you can hear them here along with Border Pipes and then onto Highland Pipes towards the end!

And finally, towards the end of the year I supplied pipes for the great Celtic Rock band Coast - they have a new album out very soon and you can hear my pipes and whistles on it.  It's called Windmills in the Sky and it's awesome!

So that's me clocking off for the new year - Hogmanay will be spent with the brilliant Ewan Robertson and Ryan Young and then New Years Day in Edinburgh with the Tannahill Weavers, Eddi Reader and James Grant.

NEWS JUST IN - and finally, I've just found out that the Red Hot Chilli Pipers track I produced in August was the years most watched video on BBC Scotland Online - that's a great way to round off the year.  See you in 2017!!