Finlay Cameron (18) of Roybridge, Lochaber, Scotland has maintained a consistent standard throughout his years competing as a Junior and, since 2018, in the adult sphere. He won the MacGregor Memorial at the Argyllshire Gathering in 2016 (aged 14) and gained a third place place in the Silver Medal at Oban last year. He was also Pipe Major of Dollar Academy’s Juvenile Pipe Band.
Finlay is currently enrolled on the BMus with Honours (Traditional Music) degree course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS). He returned home to Lochaber shortly before the beginning of the UK lockdown. We learned of Finlay’s foray into the world of pipe-making from a chance conversation with a mutual friend. We asked Finlay to take 10 minutes out of his time to tell us all about it:
1. How long have you been making pipes?
I started turning when I was around 14 years old, although it took till last year to complete a set that I was happy with. Getting to this stage has been a fairly long and drawn out process. I’m fortunate in that my dad is an engineer hence I had access to a good quality lathe from such a young age. I have now moved into my own workshop at home.
Much of the struggle was finding and acquiring the correct tools when I really didn’t know what I was looking for but there were plenty of existing makers who were happy to give me advice.
2. What inspired you?
It began through my interest in vintage and antique pipes. My first set was a cocuswood [Brya ebenus] Thow bagpipe that was purchased as an unknown set. I felt the urge to learn more about those pipes. Through the help of Jeannie Campbell’s books on highland bagpipe makers, and by consulting experts and online resources, a positive identification was found. The process aroused a general interest in me in old pipes.
Since then, I’ve spent much of my time acquiring and selling great old pipes, learning a lot along the way and finding some great contacts, too. Making and repairing pipes was a natural progression of this interest. I find the process of making/repairing almost as satisfying as playing the final result.
3. Was woodwork your favourite subject at school?
Well, there were excellent facilities in school but I found that my time was better spent on my studies and my practice. I left Dollar last summer and I’m now at the RCS.
4. It’s early days, of course, but is pipe-making something you intend to continue after your studies?
I hope that I can one day develop my skills as a turner but I’m keeping my options open. Right now, I’m enjoying developing my level of performance practice through my time studying at the RCS.
5. Yahya Hussein of New York city has just taken delivery of a set you made for him. What kind of sound do the drones produce?
There’s a good balance. The sound is not as bold as a great old Henderson pipe and they’re not as mellow as a David Glen. For the set in question, I made the bass bell to a conical design in line with a Henderson bore, as requested by Yahya.
I do try to subtly allude to some of the makers of past that have inspired me and, indeed, continue to inspire me. However, I hope that my pipes do have their own signature, too. For this set I had originally planned to make them in a very ‘Edinburgh’ style, with cut bead mounts and unbeaded ferrules and slim profiles.
“At his request I made them just a little more stocky and – whilst small in diameter – the mounts have a rounded bead like you might find on a Henderson or a Lawrie set.
The scribed cord guides are also a nod to Thow, the bass guide being a little wider – which is a feature of some MacDougall pipes, too. The pipe chanter is a McCallum one as I haven’t perfected my own design yet, but the bulb and large diameter sole also follow a more vintage line than is often seen today.
6. Where did you source the wood?
The blackwood came from an old stock of the late Trevor Dear’s. He had the stock for 30 years.
7. Are you now playing a set of your own make?
Well, my one number one set is a 1906 silver and ivory set made by John Center but I do play a set of my own pipes regularly. I’m hoping that next year they’ll make an appearance around the solo competition circuit.
Thanks for taking time to speak with us, Finlay. We wish you the best of luck with the pipes.
• For more information contact Finlay at firstname.lastname@example.org