16 questions with Finlay Johnston


Bagpipe.news caught up with Finlay Johnston shortly after his second Glenfiddich win last weekend.

1. You travel quite a bit. Is there anything you can’t leave home without?
My pipes, my phone and headphones and maybe some paracetamol for the hangovers.

2. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Bird saliva on an egg tart in Hong Kong. Kin Man Siu had Niall Stewart and myself over for a workshop with the BB. Niall only found out what it was after he’d started eating it … his reaction was priceless!

3. Do you have a set practice routine you could share with readers?
My routine is fairly standard, and probably similar to most other competitive players. I mess about with different tunes for a while until my pipes are settled then try to work though the material I’m playing at the upcoming events. I usually play for 45 minutes.

4. What’s your favourite international food?
Food is my weakness … I like all food! I had tacos in Vancouver recently that were particularly good. And Peking Duck in Hong Kong.

5. What’s your most memorable performance, either band or solo?
The performance I enjoyed most was playing alongside my mum, Gordon and Kyle Rowan, Alastair Campbell and John Campbell at the Tiree Song Book concert for Celtic Connections. It was the first time my mum and me had ever played pipes together at an event and also was also quite special as Gordon Rowan was playing – the three of us were taught by my grandfather [Alasdair Sinclair]. 

The Tiree Pipe Band on the ferry to Tobermory/Oban c.1975. L-R: Lachie MacFadyen, Kenovay; Neil MacPhail, Kirkapol; Alasdair Sinclair, Greenhill; Hector Campbell, Cornaigbeg; Pipe Major Robert Beck, Ruaig (wearing sash); Hugh MacLean, Barrapol; Willie MacLean, Balinoe; and Anne Sinclair (back to camera). Photo: An Iodhlann.

6. Who has been the biggest influence on your piping?
I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by piping in my family with my mum, dad, grandfather all being involved in piping, so their influence has been strong for me. But the person I have been learning from for the last 25 years is Ronnie McShannon. He has definitely been my biggest influence.

7. How do you relax and do you you have other interests or hobbies?
I enjoy a bit of mountain biking. I managed to get away on a biking holiday earlier this year to Whistler in Canada. Other than that I have a busy social life and love listening to music.

8. How do you settle your nerves before a big contest or an important recital?
I just try to focus on my music/pipes and not worry too much about anything else. 

9. Is there anything you can’t leave home without?
My ‘phone.

10. When you travel is there something you particularly miss when away
Friends and family

11. What’s your favourite destination, either for a holiday or on a piping trip?
Whistler BC or Tiree. Can’t decide!

12. Do you have a go at the local language when abroad?
Nein! Definitely something I’d like to improve on!

Finlay at the 2015 Glenfiddich. Photo: Derek Maxwell.

13. You’ve worked in piping for most of your adult life but was there a time when you didn’t?
Yes, I worked as a Quantity Surveyor (QS). One of my fondest work memories was working as a QS on the Airdrie to Bathgate Railway project for two years. I never laughed so regularly at work!

14. Was piping something you wanted to do from an early age?
Yes, I was always picking up the chanter and trying to play before I’d been taught. Or drum sticks.

15. What pipers did you aspire to be like from a young age?
Other than Ronnie and my mum, I have listened to many performances over the years and admired what people are doing. I’m always keen to learn. All of the ‘greats’ in competitive piping, previous and current, that everybody knows. There’s too many names to start listing.

16. What was the very first competition you competed in?
My first competition was at Tobermory Highland Games in the chanter competition. My grandfather took me over during a summer I spent with him in Tiree.

Thanks for your time, Finlay.