In an age when
everything is becoming cloned, and so many things seem to sound the
SAME. Songs from Scotland go on and on. Pop Songs whizz past and
vanish forever. Some might pop up again as Golden Oldies after three
years. But the familiar Scots songs seem to be embedded in the Sole
No wedding, no
housewarming or homecoming or celebration can be complete without a
burst of the simple old music of Scotland.
I have assembled in my
Pipe Bag from the cosy sentiment of "She Moved Through the Fair" to
the Majesty of "Scotland the Brave" and with something for everybody
in between. It's a record for a reminiscent smile, a jolt of
patriotic fire, It's a reminder that we all belong to Scotland. But
when you think of it, the music of Scotland belongs to everyone.
A Scotsman will never be insulted if you
offer him a small glass of whisky.
He will merely swallow the insult.
For generations, its sharp and unmistakeable sound has struck
fear into Scotland's enemies, emboldened its troops in battle and
helped define its national identity. Every year, tourists in their
tens of thousands flock to Edinburgh Castle to applaud the massed
pipe bands of Scotland's regiments.
But contrary to popular myth, the great Highland bagpipe never
led the Scots clans into battle against the English, nor did kilted
pipers carry them around the castles of Highland chieftains, playing
laments to the fallen.
In fact, says a new history by a leading authority on the
much-loved - and loathed - instrument, the Highland bagpipe was
actually invented less than 200 years ago, primarily for urban
audiences. And what's more, it was largely created using money from
wealthy Scots emigres living in London.
In a new book to be published by the National Museums of
Scotland, Hugh Cheape, a leading Gaelic historian and expert piper,
argues that the origins of the instrument have been confused by
decades of mythology and deliberate invention; even, he hints, by
Like most tartan regalia and the modern kilt, the great Highland
bagpipe and many of its traditions known worldwide were manufactured
by the Scots middle classes in the early 1800s in their romantic
quest to rediscover their past.
"The written and received history of the great Highland
bagpipe reflects in many of its parts the triumph of sentiment over
fact ... an orthodoxy has emerged from surprisingly modest origins
in the first half of the 19th century and it was elaborated by
repetition, speculation and guesswork in the second," he
Until the late 1700s there were simpler types of pipe being
played in the Highlands. But pipes arrived in Scotland relatively
late and had been played widely throughout the Islamic world, the
Mediterranean and eastern Europe for centuries before then.
Until the battle of Culloden in 1746 ended the Jacobite rebellion
by the Highland chieftains led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, clan chiefs
were great patrons of piping and pipe music; cultivating new musical
styles, sponsoring musicians who founded piping dynasties and their
own piping colleges.
But that rich musical culture was devastated by the Jacobite
defeat. In 1778 educated and wealthy expatriate Scots living in
London founded the highly influential Highland Society of London
with the core aim of "preserving the martial spirits, language,
dress, music and antiquities of the ancient Caledonians".
The society set up piping competitions and commissioned pipes as
prizes from two well-established pipe makers in Edinburgh - Hugh
Robertson and Donald MacDonald. Cheape credits them with creating
the instrument now known as the Great Highland Bagpipe in the early
Their instruments were used in annual pageants of Highland
culture at the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh, where pipers competed for
prizes from the London society. But these events also helped create
the "stage Highlander", a largely invented character who
played bagpipes designed specially for these events.
The mythology surrounding the great Highland pipes increased when
allegedly authentic pipes linked to great events in Scottish history
were given to national museums. Many, argues Cheape, are fake. One
set allegedly played at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 actually
comes from three or four pipes, including 20th century parts. He is
scathing about the pipes allegedly played at the battles of Culloden
in 1746 and at Flodden in 1513.
"The bagpipe in Scotland has suffered a malaise of
misunderstanding and misinterpretation, of misappropriation and
manipulation of a lively and vital musical culture. Its treatment
might even serve as a metaphor for Scottish history and culture
since the 18th century," he writes.
The book, Bagpipes - a National Collection of a National
Instrument, is likely to provoke a furious response from
traditionalists. But Cheape, a former curator with the National
Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and now with the University of the
Highland and Islands, has defended his criticisms by calling for a
new national collection of bagpipes and further research into the
true origins and history of piping in Scotland.
The mythology surrounding the bagpipes has overshadowed the
instrument's real history in Scotland - one that should include an
accurate appreciation of the music cultivated by the Highland
Society and early Victorians, he argues. "We have to admit that
the great Highland bagpipe that we now know was part of this
invention of tradition," he said.