Editor’s Notebook: Piper’s Dress/ Pipe Major ID Search/ Covid, Synthetic Bags and Bob Gore

I wonder if the new powers that be at the Competing Pipers’ Association can effect some improvement in the appearance of those who take part in their online competitions?

Piping is at such a stage of degradation at the moment that it is distressing to see pipers parading in ‘dress’ which is a visual contradiction of the quality of their music.

Dozens, hundreds, perhaps thousands can view these online events. If they are to be afforded any significant status then it behoves the promoters to insist this is reflected in the wearing, by participants, of traditional garb.

Goodness knows what the public must think after witnessing the latest sartorial deficiencies. I hope piping is not being influenced by the recent example of an adjudicator who presided at a competition in Glasgow dressed as if for cutting peats.

Fortunately this event was not broadcast and the insult was confined to a hundred or so in the audience and not inflicted on the world at large.

Pipe Major Search

Former RSPBA adjudicator John Wood has sent another picture (top) which will be of considerable historical interest.

John writes: ‘This one is of my father, P/M Willie Wood, Ballycoan, on the left, and P/M Tommy Geddis, Robert Armstrong Memorial, on the right. But who is the pipe major the middle? I don’t know the date; possibly late 50s or early 60s.’

Can anyone help us in this? All answers, including intelligent guesswork, gratefully received to the usual email.

‘Disgusting’ Skin Bags in Time of Covid

Reader Matthew Farrigan in the US on Covid and pipe bags: ‘Doesn’t everyone want to sound like Inveraray? I know of several Grade 5 bands in the Northeast US playing sheepskin. But with this virus, is this, or seasoned leather, the best thing going forward?

‘Seasoned leather bags are disgusting on their own, never mind with a pandeamic lurking about. I remember being on the field in 1987 in Scotland (maybe Glenrothes maybe Perth) when I saw the first synthetic bag, the one with the big clamp on the back. I was told it was a prototype. I ditched my calf skin bag as soon as I got back to the States and tried to find a supplier.

‘I didn’t buy a can of seasoning for 20 years after that. I can remember competing many, many times here in the north-east where the temperatures were 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 Celsius) or better in summer.

‘We would just throw ice in the Goretex bag before we went up to the line. I remember the sales pitch for these bags, ‘more hygienic’ –  and they were.  With the correct soap you could just throw the bag into the washing machine.

‘So where are we with all this? Is anybody talking new bladder design? How long do germs live in hide leather bags?  What ‘s your take on all this Rob? Does the local Grade 4 band sacrifice that big Field Marshal sound and go back to synthetic just to be safe? Discuss…..’

Thank you very much for that Matthew. Coincidentally the death was announced last week of the man who invented GoreTex fabric. The press here reported: ‘Bob Gore, who has died aged 83, was the inventor of GoreTex, the breathable waterproof fabric widely used in outdoor wear, medical applications and even Scottish bagpipes…

A hero for many pipers….GoreTex inventor Bob Gore who has died aged 83

‘Discovered and perfected in the laboratory of the family company – WL Gore & Associates of Newark, Delaware – GoreTex is to be found in products ranging from lightweight anoraks to industrial filters, protective military clothing, smartphones and implants for heart surgery; its porous structure allows the grafted material to integrate with human body tissue. More than 40 million GoreTex surgical grafts have been successfully deployed.

‘Robert Walton Gore was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on April 15 1937, the oldest of five children…….In 1969 he tried subjecting heated rods of PTFE to rapid stretching to see whether he could improve the efficiency of a tape product for plumbers: instead of breaking, the material proved capable of expanding by almost 1,000 per cent to form a structure that could breathe but with pores too small for water droplets to pass through.

‘He went on in the early 1970s to develop the first laminated GoreTex fabrics……The company is one of the 200 largest private businesses in the US, with 11,000 employee ‘associates’ sharing its ownership with the founding family.

‘In the 1980s, Gore’s Scottish subsidiary began using GoreTex to make the bags for bagpipes that were formerly made from animal hides; the business was sold in 2009 to become an independent company, Canmore of Whitburn in East Lothian [sic].

‘Bob Gore was inducted into the American National Inventors’ Hall of Fame in 2006. He enjoyed fishing, reading scientific material and ‘socializing where hamburgers and beer could be found’. He was a benefactor of both his universities, where the Gore name is commemorated on halls and laboratories. His personal wealth was estimated at $830 million within a wider family fortune of more than $5 billion….’

I have played a GoreTex bag since 1987 Matthew and find them excellent in every way. Very hygienic, and there is no diminution in resonance provided it is attached to a quality bagpipe and the reeds, synthetic or cane, are adjusted accordingly. I just use the long tube watertrap. After 40 minutes playing I leave the pipes to dry and I’ve never had any problem with moisture.

I can understand why bands go for sheepskin however; they get that bold sound. But they only have to compete for a maximum of seven minutes. Provided skin bags are changed regularly – expensive! – and sanitised with a little warm water and disinfectant, there should not be any bugs to worry about.

  • Please let us have your comments on pipe bags and your personal experiences. Synthetic or skin? Sheep or hide?

3 thoughts on “Editor’s Notebook: Piper’s Dress/ Pipe Major ID Search/ Covid, Synthetic Bags and Bob Gore

  1. I agree totally with your point Rab and with these comments but I think this is symptomatic that while the standard of playing (certainly at the top level) has probably never been higher it is accompanied across the Piping community by a general decline in dress standards and the understanding that dress is part of the overall performance presentation package, at least for formal events. A good example that this as an international phenomenon was the posting recently on a facebook page of a photograph of one of the 20th centuries masters, John D Burgess, resplendent in the famous full Ross tartan kilt, Jacket and fly plaid. Now, not everyone can carry off that gold standard style as John did but to be frank some of the comments from Pipers on that thread were downright disrespectful and had to be called out! It just demonstrated that attitude towards the importance of dress is a societal one.

  2. It is clear that the CPA are in a position to sponsor their own competition and not having to relie on the likes of a highland dress outfitters or other maybe interested possible sponsors. The online competition has a movational purpose to fetch the bagpipe from below the bed in those lockdown times. It would not take much more effort to whip out some decent attire from the wardrobe, bearing in mind that this was a video-ed effort and can now be viewed by pipers and hopefully enthusiastic followers.
    The playing of tunes is undoubtedly the main focus, but a reasonable effort at visual presentation is surely a consideration. The people involved in Piping, including of course the CPA want to be taken seriously and we should all take responsibility for the images presented to the public.
    On occasions, I have failed. I could spend a fortune on well fitting highland dress and can still look like a sack of tatties, but to some degree it is the way I am made.
    Digressing but interestingly, I understand people who take part in informal bowls matches on their local bowling greens have to adhere to dress etiquette and in some golf clubs the same thing applies.
    Are pipers so indifferent to this? Whether a kilt or trews or indeed smart casual clothes is deemed suitable may be up to the organisers. If sponsors are involved, they have to be respected.
    I listened to the playing as well as watched the prize winners. I might even listen again but will not watch them.

  3. Point taken on appropriate/smart dress when “on parade,” but I suppose it takes allsorts to make a world. There are times however when I despair of bandsmen who don’t even know how to wear uniform properly. Too many times do I witness at competitions, kilts that are too long, hose worn way high as if they were football stockings – and why is it no-one these days seem to know how to tie a tie properly?

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