As the years roll on the value of the video interviews conducted by former Strathclyde Police piper Allan Hamilton under the banner of ‘Pipers’ Persuasion’, increase in value. Without them a large part of our piping and pipe band history would have been lost. Here Allan remembers the early days of the project and some of the stumbles on the way…..
Pipers’ Persuasion made a great start in 2010 when we had the backup of Scott Currie who designed and built the website. Scott also provided great advice on the approach and general handling of the website and the resultant publicity through Facebook etc. to make the public aware of our existence.
We also had Paul Russell, a professional photographer and videographer, who for the first eight episodes, accompanied us to various locations and recorded the interviews. I remember mentioning something about DVDs to Paul after the interview with Ian McLellan and he was quite annoyed stating that he knew nothing about them and if he had been aware the lighting would have been a lot better. That’s Paul, always the stickler for perfection.
However it was a nice summer evening with reasonable light and I thought Ian’s interview terrific both visually and in content. Ian discussed winning the World Pipe Band Championships for the first time:
Paul was excellent in that he had all the camera tripods and complex lighting systems required for a really professional approach and there was one amusing moment in John Wilson’s house where he had left us in their sitting room to set up while he went through to the kitchen. On his return he was gobsmacked to find various arrays of lighting and cameras and wires snaking all over the floor. ‘This is like Cape Canaveral’, said John: https://youtu.be/1Jum_woLIPU?t=4
Having given me a great start, Scott and Paul had to move back to run busy lives but they were always there to advise and guide me especially with editing and posting on the website – a very complex task for a total beginner like myself.
A couple of the early interviews with Jim Kilpatrick and Robert Mathieson were carried out at the College of Piping. It was quite hilarious as Paul was worried about the Shotts band practising in the adjacent hall.
I thought that it would provide great background colour but his eyebrows shot up when I mentioned this. He wondered how the sound would turnout in the interview. It was fine, and here is Robert discussing collaboration with Jim Kilpatrick and band music:
Over the years there have been problems. I was more or less obliged to carry out the camera work myself. It was always difficult during a working day to obtain the services of a competent assistant. One or two of the interviews suffered from poor use of the camera, especially when, initially, I used a cheap one.
I soon found I had to spend some money on a good video camera. My brother Graham, also a piper, had such a camera and I later bought it from him. For a number of interviews he acted as cameraman too and that was a big help to me.
We had an incident when we were filming Bruce Hitchings on the Edinburgh Castle Esplanade about the Army School of Piping. A uniformed official, apparently working at the Castle, broke up the interview complaining that we had no permission to carry out professional filming!
He had quite an angry countenance and I remember thinking ‘jobsworth’, while Bruce quietly informed him that the Castle Warden had indeed permitted this activity. We wandered over to another position and I succeeded in losing a camera bag with bits and pieces as a result of the kerfuffle.
But really the major problem over the years has been the quality of sound recording. When I got close to the interviewee with the camera the sound was okay, but if I stood back from the subject my own loud voice would predominate!
To get over this problem I purchased a variety of microphones over the years with mixed results. To help with post production I have also acquired purpose-built computers with appropriate software to help speed up the editing process and with storage for many gigabytes of interviews.
In the last weeks I have been practising with my third computer with all of the state-of-the-art processing and graphics added and containing a 4TB and 2TB disk for storage.
Ayrshire man Pete Heywood, who has computing and traditional music background, has come on board for the last few years and been a fantastic help with rebuilding the website and with general advice about photographic presentation.
But really the main problem is acting as a one-man operation which I’m forced to do. This puts a strain on my concentration, especially when I am aware of the need to set up properly and quickly without losing the patience of the waiting interviewee.
Towards that end I tend to work with backup systems of two or more cameras and at least two methods of sound recording which will insure me against any errors.
I love all the interviews and for various reasons. At different times I’m attracted to ones with David Murray, https://youtu.be/iTPFRLgHY7Q, and, following his recent passing, there is added poignancy in my interview with Bob Shepherd MBE:
Then there was the controversial Dr William Donaldson who would destruct all the well known piobaireachd publications!: https://youtu.be/yxU4WhNNo0s?t=3
Wee secret. We recorded William in the National Piping Centre during Piping Live week and Pete, as he’s fond to do, introduced a new gimmick – a wireless mic that he’d acquired through eBay.
The next day when I returned a deputation was waiting demanding to know what the hell had happened the previous day. Willie Donaldson’s interview had been played through various loudspeakers in the Centre much to the consternation of various other performers and audiences! They had not understood where it was coming from as I had been secreted away in the library. Needless to say that item of equipment never again saw the light of day.
I’m always aware that the older I get the more the same war stories get thrust onto the hapless interviewee. I do try and contain myself nowadays and try to restrict myself to very brief questions rather than take over the interview which many of you will be aware of in my earlier recordings. During editing I am ruthless with the ‘scissors’ cutting out huge swathes of my voice making it easier on the viewer.
A decade ago I knew nothing about computing, cameras, websites, sound recording, editing suites and social media. Just approaching 77 years of age, I’m delighted still to be learning, but even more delighted by the generous support of many people viewing my work on the website. In conclusion may I again invite you to sit down in the big armchair with your favourite tipple and enjoy Pipers’ Persuasion. Check us out here: www.piperspersuasion.com
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