• Where are you from and how did you get into piping?
I’m from Columbus, Ohio, USA. I was five years old in a park when I first heard a piper. I sat and listened to him for what seamed like forever. When my mother found me I told her I wanted to play the bagpipes. A year later, as she wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a phase she took me to the local Irish Club and started me on group lessons.
• How had the pandemic affected your piping personally
The negative impact was the loss of positive musical reinforcement. I play with The Great Lakes Pipe Band, a Grade 2 band in Cleveland, Ohio. Attending practice and having that perfect tone and holding my playing to high standards are great tools. The loss of band camaraderie and fellow competitors was disappointing. A positive aspect was the ability to enter online contests and receiving feedback from some of the best pipers in the world.
• What’s your most memorable performance you’ve taken part in, either band or solo?
In 1987 I was a boy when I went with my band to compete at the Worlds and it was mind blowing. Firstly, just to be in the home of piping. Secondly, I had never seen so many bands in one place. The games were held at Bellahouston Park and there was so much going on I was just in awe.
• What’s the most memorable performance you’ve heard – band or solo?
The 1987 Worlds again. The 78th Frasers won the contest and became the first overseas band to do so. It was raining the entire day. When the Fraser’s came to the line the sky opened and the sun came out. I was standing just outside the circle with Larry Willis of the Clan MacFarlane Pipe Band as there were no stands or arena at that time. Looking back on that I miss it. It was piping for pipers.
• What’s your favourite destination, either for a holiday or a piping trip?
The beach. For piping and recreation. I took 27 years off of competitive piping to pursue a very successful drinking career. (Or failed career, depending on how you look at it!). My wife, Katrisha, encouraged me back into challenging myself and resuming my competitive career. When possible I choose contest/games that are in a location that we would enjoy. Quick weekend trips with her mean more to me than the actual contest. Here in the United States there are some nice contests on the east coast that allow us to spend time in New York City, Philadelphia, Charleston and the beaches along the Atlantic Coast. They are not always the biggest contests but for me piping has to be fun. If I couldn’t share it with my wife I don’t think I would still be competing.
• Who has been the biggest influence on your piping?
Gordon Duncan. In the early 1980s we had the Tannahill Weavers here in Columbus. After the show a group of us – and the band – retired to my family home for a bit of a session. My father was none to happy about this. I met Gordon then and just thought he was the coolest man ever. He showed me how piping is more than just pipe bands and the pure enjoyment of playing. Before that it was mostly recordings. Ken Eller was my idol and I still look up to him to this day. I found a recording of the medley that Dysart & Dundonald played at the 1980 Worlds. This was the first pipe band cassette I ever bought.
Another huge influence was from a cassette called Reel to Real that I bought at a games from someone who was selling them out of a duffel bag. It was pure kitchen piping by Bruce Gandy, Michael Grey, Scott MacAulay and Colin MacLellan (Michael Grey – you still need to re-release that cassette). That plus the first 78th Fraser Highlanders’ cassette (referred to as Faces but not titled). An awesome recording.
• Was piping something you wanted to do from an early age?
Yes. Once I heard the pipes at age five I knew I had to play. I would start my journey a year later.
• Do you recall the first competition you ever competed in?
Yes. It was at the Ohio Scottish Games in Oberlin, Ohio. It was the Grade 5 practice chanter competition. I don’t recall the judge. I placed third. I would attend the Ohio Scottish Arts School following the contest and start my formal competitive instruction from Ken Eller and Sandy Keith. A very formative experience.
• Favourite piobaireachd?
I was late to the world of piobaireachd. Here in Ohio at this time we didn’t have any piobaireachd instructors. It is still the weakest aspect of my piping but I am trying. I have to feel the music to be able to put in the emotion or soul. Knowing the history behind a piece helps with that. A Flame of Wrath for Patrick Caogach is that tune. I spent a year in prison and was filled with such anger and hatred. I have let go of all that now but I am still able to tap into those raw emotions.
• Any humorous piping anecdote you can relate to the readers (keep it clean, keep it clean …)?
I grew up with a woman who married Eric Clapton. Years back, her grandfather died and at the mass my good friend Kerry Boyle and Eric Clapton played Over the Rainbow. At the end of the service I played Amazing Grace. I had a chance to meet and speak with Mr. Clapton and, wow, what a great person he is. Impressive, humble, down to earth and still able to be a rock legend. Completely joking! I can’t stress that enough. I said to him, “Well, I guess technically you opened for me!”
• Thanks Michael!