About my pipe-making
I started getting interested in instrument making when I was travelling in Africa and the Far East in 1979- I taught myself to make penny whistles with Araldite and old tins, when I was staying in cheap hotels or camp-sites. On my return, I was inspired by the interest of my eldest brother John had in the English bagpipes that had survived only in pictures and carvings. I soon developed a passion for discovering more about these pipes; I began experimenting with making bagpipes and surprisingly quickly taught myself how to make them.
For the past thirty years making bagpipes has been a passion and a vocation. It involves much of my activity, lifestyle and social life. I do everything; office work, sourcing all the materials, collecting them, making tools, making the bagpipes, displaying them, repairs to old bagpipes, researching history, writing letters and articles, lecturing, performing, answering emails and the phone, sweeping the floor, packing my pipes, walking to the Post Office, repairs to my workshop and much, much more. Making bagpipes by hand is not a business; it is a way of life.
I pay a lot of attention to the appearance, detail and finish of my pipes. The designs are very distinctive, formed using hand held tools; I pride myself on the beautiful, flowing 'lines', graceful shapes and individuality that result. They make my pipes very characteristic - they are immediately recognisable as pipes made by me.
All my wood is air-seasoned for at least three years. Once made, all the wooden parts of my pipes are soaked in linseed oil in a vacuum and pressure impregnation system that I have developed. This gets the oil very deep into the wood, adding stability and resilience and giving it a lovely mellow sheen which darkens over the years.
I have developed my own plastic reed design for my smallpipes, and I use plastic reeds wherever possible. They have a great tone as well as being stable and trouble-free, and are greatly appreciated by beginner and professional alike.
The process of producing music from a tree is an enchanting one. The trees which I use are British hardwoods, often trees which I have known and some of which I grew up with in the Leicestershire village where I was born. Most of this wood has been cut up and processed by me For me this is a personal relationship with my materials, and it means that I can often supply photos and descriptions of the actual tree that the pipe is made from. I love transforming a tree into an instrument that can make people dance. I have recently made bagpipes from an apple tree that I also made 49 bottles of apple wine with. At the launch of my latest CD we drank the wine and danced to music played on the same tree.