A recent visit to Vimy Barracks at Catterick Garrison to see my regimental tailor, had me being measured up for a new piper’s tunic. The old one has done good service for the last decade or so, but is now showing it’s age. I am always keen to maintain the best and smartest turn-out possible when piping for various events - even though it can get a tad expensive from time to time. However, I am still struggling to find old style piper’s spats. The latest offerings are not a patch on the older kit and in my opinion, don’t look right. Watching a batch of new recruits being kitted out for the first time had me thinking. Perhaps few of them are aware that if Britain does not exit the EU, then, according to the Treaty of Lisbon, they will be under the authority of the new European army and no longer will the UK have armed forces or even a nuclear deterrent.
One recent wedding held near Peterborough that I attended, had a very interesting Scottish connection in that the hotel was a former English seat of the Marquis of Huntly. Orton Hall in Orton Longville is a beautiful house, the site of which has a long history going back to the Roman period in Briain. The estate was acquired in 1791 by the Lord Strathavon (the Marquis’ heir) after he married Catherine Cope (daughter of Sir Charles Cope) who was the co-heiress to the Orton Estates. It became a convenient home whilst easing the commute to Parliament in London when the Marquis sat in the House of Lords. The main part of Orton Hall was built in 1835 to the design of G. H. Smith of London. The substantial West Wing, the “Great Hall,” was added in 1861 by the tenth Marquis as a wedding present for his wife Maria. As a descendant of the Gordons and a distant cousin of the Marquis, it was of particular interest for me to see the house, and bring back a bit of Scottish culture to the old place for a ‘MacKenzie’ wedding..
SCOTS GUARDS ASSOCIATION
As a member of the Scots Guards Association Pipe Band based in Edinburgh, It falls to me to commit to a lengthy commute for practices to Redford Barracks with a 400 mile round trip from Yorkshire. It does however, allow me the opportunity to keep in touch with pals I have made through my association with the Pipes & Drums of the 1st. Battalion Scots Guards. It also affords me the continuing pleasure of piping with a very competent group of pipers and drummers who play extremely well and produce a very high quality sound. Our last practice in Edinburgh coincided with a heat in the Scots Guards Knockout Contest held at the Scots Guards club in the west end of town. The two protagonists played brilliantly and it was a delight to hear them. The famous beef pies also went down well.
Early May had me in Dundee for a special service of the Order of St. Lazarus. Neatly dovetailing with this was the local pipe band competition held in the main square in Dundee, where I was pleasantly entertained by local bands strutting their stuff! Back in Yorkshire there was further weddings for which I was piping. Having lived in the village of Carlton-juxta-Snaith within 200 yards of the Duke of Norfolk’s big house there for nigh on 28 years, I had never been asked to play for any events held there. Perverse as it may seem, now I live some ten miles north, I received a request to pipe for a wedding at Carlton Towers. Apparently a piper from the Irish Guards was supposed to be performing, but at short notice he had been deployed elsewhere and I was asked to take his place. Later that month had me down in Hull for a wedding in the main Council Offices which are exceedingly grand. The ceremony rooms are very impressive and the pipes sounded great in the vast space. I felt rather like a pied piper when I led the Bride & Groom followed by the entire company to the gardens at the rear of the offices, where the photographers got to work in the sunshine recording the happy occasion.
In order to keep the pipes in top condition, practice is essential. Trying to keep up with this alone at home, is quite a difficulty and occasionally, I will pop across to the practice session of the City of York Pipe Band who are gracious to welcome an extra non-member piper on their practice night. This helps greatly whenever I have a gig coming up and gets the pipes in good shape for the practices I attend at Redford Barracks in Edinburgh. Last weekend was one such session in Edinburgh where we had the opportunity to play outside in the sunshine with fourteen pipers in attendance. Everybody was greatly pleased at the quality of both tone and playing, working through the tunes for beating retreat at forthcoming events. It was also an occasion for new kit to be distributed, although some of the jackets and waistcoats didn’t fit too well and the Pipe Major was furious. I was among the few whose jacket fitted reasonably well, so I had nothing about which I could complain. But the Kilt! That’s another story. I suppose it will all come good eventually.
SORN CASTLE, AYRSHIRE
26th July was an interesting day in which I played on my first gig with the Scots Guards Association Pipe Band. The venue was Sorn Castle near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire and the event was a sumptuous wedding of an American couple, the father of the bride being a personal friend of Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay. We marched down the drive toward the Castle leading the couple in a horse-drawn carriage with the sunshine filtering through the trees and the gentle breeze plucking at the ribbons on our pipes. The whole event was spectacular and much enjoyed - particularly as the band, prior to the off, was treated to a wee nip generously provided by some of the local residents who live in the stable block where we tuned up. We then gave a display on the grass by the castle, much to the delight of the many guests attending.
I was attendant piper for a very large Scots/Asian wedding in Derby on 10th August at which the couple did not realise that Derby County FC had a match that day at the nearby ground. Parking and access was a nightmare. They also did not take into account the sudden heavy rain and wind, which drowned them both when they were having photos taken in a local park. Cleaning up and the photographer’s attempts to get his pictures, set the whole shebang back at least an hour. Nevertheless, all was taken in good spirits and the detailed list of timings and actions? They lay discarded in the dirt.
SCOTS GUARDS REGIMENTAL GATHERING
Fife Airport seemed to me (as a licensed pilot) rather incongruous for a short airfield strip just outside Glenrothes. However, last Sunday (8th September) such a grand name played host for the day for the reunion and gathering of the Scots Guards Regiment. Many past members of the Regiment gathered to meet up with old chums and be entertained by the Regimental Band, the Pipes & Drums and the Scots Guards Association (Scotland) Pipe Band. Yours truly being a piper in the latter, this was the first time I had played with the three units all together. The sunshine was most welcome as the day progressed and made the scarlet tunics of the band impressive to see. The Pipes & Drums of the 1st Battalion (with whom I previously played) were rather depleted in numbers turning out only five pipers. The Pipes & Drums of the Association band managed to turn out twenty pipers, but all in all everything blended well and the displays went off with true professionalism and military precision. I felt very privileged to be amongst the display - particularly when the band played “Sunset” which brought a lump to the throat of many a veteran. “Highland Cathedral” and then “Auld Lang Syne” kept up the pathos until the exit with “Highland Laddie” & “The Black Bear” to march off. A most fulfilling experience that reminded me of some of the Military Tattoos in which I had taken part in previous years.