Dan Nevans: I’ll just get my coat


I’ll just get my coat


Playing with your jacket on without losing your mind

By Dan Nevans

When you’re a teenager you are obsessed with fitting in. Being cool. Acceptance is the drug you need. Now in my 30s, I have realised that I am a roaster, I have always been a roaster and will likely be a roaster until the day my deceased face is contorted into a quizzical look, my body coated in Lucite®and I am shot into orbit holding a map to haunt and terrify astronauts until the Earth herself pulls me into that fiery, final embrace and my mortal remains burn up in the atmosphere.

I’ll not be caring, as my spirit will be living it up in Valhalla. 

Now that I’m content with my place in the strata of life I no longer give a monkey’s about what anyone thinks about me. It’s freeing, really. Why am I telling you this? Because of this dreaded question, “What do you want to do that for?” No series of words has ever sucked the wind from my sails in the way this one does. 

Here’s the rub: I’ve started practicing with my jacket on. 

All together now … What do you want to do that for?”.

The fact is that playing with your jacket on is not commonly done anymore. Outside of the big contests, much like Phil Collins’ third solo album, there’s “no jacket required”. Pipe bands don’t bother with them now unless the weather is awful and, as a veteran of some of the worst weather you could experience in a pipe band arena, I’d like to say that under those conditions nothing short of being inside a luxurious stately house with the heating on full bung and Ferrero Rocher scattered about the place could make the situation any more comfortable. The old Argyll jacket does look smart though. No question there. It’s certainly a more professional look with than without. 

A few weeks ago I popped a question about it on my Facebook page. I asked, “Pipers of the world! What remedy have you found to your bag slipping when you play with a jacket on? I’d like to say at this point that this was a genuine question, I had not intended to write about it at the time and only the response I received gave me pause to think this was indeed worth writing about. Great pipers began commenting, in all I had responses from a World Championship-winning Pipe Major, Gold Medal and Former Winners’ MSR champions, A Grade and B Grade prize winners, Grade 1 pipe band veterans … a real cross section of the top end of competitive piping. In short, those required a jacket to be worn. 

Here are the bits of advice I received:

  • Button you Argyle to your waistcoat, it stops it moving around.
  • Stick a pair of kilt socks in the waist of your kilt to create a shelf.
  • Stick a pair of sports socks in your jacket pocket to create a shelf.
  • Practice with your jacket on. 
  • Stitch a beer towel to your bag cover.
  • Grip patches on the jacket/ bag cover.
  • Get a smaller bag.
  • Get a custom made bag.
  • Remove the bag cover. 
  • Cut a big hole in the side of your jacket and possibly your shirt so the bag is right up against you. 

The set up I am currently playing is a synthetic pipe bag, an adjustable blowstick and a velvet bag cover with a grip patch on the inside. My pipes are a vintage set – David Thow, ebony and ivory from c1919, very light and quite thin in design. I had been experimenting with the jacket and waistcoat I had, employing the ‘button to waistcoat’ advice and frankly I was about ready to take up the accordion. The bag cover had a grip patch that had been excellent against any other material but with the jacket and waistcoat on I may as well have tried to play after dipping the jacket in olive oil. It seemed that by the time I was in the later variations of any piobaireachd I had to stand perfectly still and contort my body to maintain pressure and dexterity. 

And that was just playing in the spare room! Never mind the pressure of competing, compounding the situation. 

Dan Nevans tuning up at last year's Atholl Gathering.
Dan Nevans tuning up at the 2019 Atholl Gathering.

The fact is, the jacket rule is not going to change any time soon. The problem, as is so often the case, was me. I decided to hang up the smart blue jacket and waistcoat and dug out my well-worn charcoal Blair Atholl jacket and try that. I bought this jacket in 2014 for £10 from Glasgow’s finest second hand/retro boutique, Mr Ben’s. The human cartoon that owns the place had spotted me scanning the kilt-wear section up the back next to the military fatigues and appeared with this jacket saying, “This is the closest to a fit you’ll find in here”. The lady was correct. The huskier gent can often find it difficult to buy off the rack. A quick trip to a tailor on Great Western Road and now my sleeves don’t cover my hands like mittens. 

The reason I’m telling you this is because of what I have done to the poor thing. 

On the inside of the left sleeve I have attached a strip of Dycem®, the sticky, grippy material. I have done the same on the outside left of the jacket’s front. Inside the jacket I have stitched in another patch of non-slip material in a diamond beginning under my left arm and stretching across my chest. I tend to draw the pipes across the centre of my body so this setup suits me well. As you can imagine, this jacket is no longer looking as smart without a set of pipes stuck to it. 

I now play with my jacket on everyday. The grip patches have made a significant difference but I still have had to make some adjustments. I find that when playing with that thick layer between my arm and the bag I’ve had to adjust slightly my arm pressure as I found it easy to slack off as the distances I was covering were changing ever so slightly. The bag still slips a bit but it’s gone maybe 3cm over 14 minutes rather than 6in. More than acceptable. 

I believe that anything I do in a competition must be prepared in the house. If the parameters of the competition require a jacket or set tunes or specific orders of pieces then I must acquiesce. In general, we, the competitors, have no power over what the event asks of us. For us it is only our duty to turn up and perform for our own enjoyment and personal fulfilment. Competition is just another opportunity for growth after all. 

* Dan Nevans is a full-time Piping Teacher at The National Piping Centre. He is a music graduate from the BA Applied Music at the University of Strathclyde. As well as being a familiar face around Scotland’s solo piping circuit, Dan plays with Glasgow Police, having played previously with Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia and Vale of Atholl.