Hamish Hepburn and Eabhal prepare for album launch and tour

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Hamish Hepburn is a young piper playing with Eabhal who were the 2018 winners of Battle of the Folk Bands at Edinburgh Tradfest. The band offer a blend of Gaelic song and Scottish traditional music on Highland pipes, fiddle, accordion, flute, whistle and guitar. As reported on bagpipe.news on March 30, Eabhal will launch their second CD, Aisling, at The National Piping Centre as part of the Scotland on Tour concert series. Tickets for the concert is available now here from the Scotland on Tour website.

We caught up with Hamish to ask him some questions about his piping and the band.

Q. Tell us briefly about your piping history. Who were your tutors, did you compete in the solos, have you played in pipe bands or have you always been on the path of a traditional musician, rather than a competing piper?

I learnt to play the pipes while at school under Lewis Barclay. During this time played in The City of Inverness Pipe Band and the Highland Schools Youth Pipe Band, although competing was never something I was interested in, or knew much about. Piping was always a hobby and something I did for fun, and it still is to this day.

After school, I took a year out and moved to South Uist to study traditional music at the University of the Highlands and Islands. There I was taught by Iain MacDonald for two years and it was under him that I first started to compete. I also started learning the flute which had an influence on my piping, through the tunes that I play and the style of my playing.

As for pipe bands, I did my first season with Johnston Pipe Band in before moving to the Glasgow Skye for two years.

I would say my path to becoming a traditional musician was quite natural and very unplanned. That style of music is what I enjoy the most and having competed in pipe bands and solo’s has definitely helped my piping.

Q. How did your band, Eabhal, first meet?

The band came together while on Uist, and it happened very naturally. We all enjoyed playing tunes and creating music together and it all stemmed from there. We started playing at the local arts centre, Taigh Chearsabhagh in North Uist, and then a few other gigs on the side. After a year or two, we all ended up in Glasgow and since then we’ve pushed ourselves to gig more, record and progress as a band as much as possible.

Q. What is the most prestigious gig you/the band have ever played, and which has been the most memorable, and why?

Thats a tricky one to answer. We’ve played at so many different types of gigs, from corporate gigs to festivals, and all are great for their own reasons. Our most recent gig at Celtic Connections 2022 comes to mind. It was our first headline gig at the festival and we were performing music from our most recent album which we had just recorded. The whole atmosphere was buzzing and thankfully the new music was well received, and to add to that all out pals come out to support us which made the night extra special.

Q. What is your contribution to the tunes and songs the band choose to play? Do you try to get piping tunes included where you can? Do you compose tunes?

There is definitely an equal amount of input from each member, and everybody has something different to offer. I enjoy playing older tunes from collections that are lesser known to people, and I take a lot of influence form the Gaelic and west coast repertoire. Over the past year I’ve been writing a lot more music which I’m hoping to do something with in the future. Several of my tunes have been recorded by the band, on both our first and second album, however I’d like to do some form of recording of my own tunes at some point in the future. Most of the time an idea will come to me out of the blue, and from there I’ll record it or scribble it down somewhere for later. I rarely sit down and deliberately write tunes.

Q. What’s your all-time favourite pipe tune, or set of tunes. Do have a favourite tune or set that you enjoy playing at the moment?

Oh, that’s a difficult one. It’s hard to pick just one when there are so many good tunes out there! I’ve been learning a few new tunes recently which has been a bit of a challenge. A 2/4 march called Murdo Macleod by Peter R. Macleod which is a cracker, and a selection of old reels from the Donald MacDonald Collection.

However, If I had to pick one all time favourite it would have to be Sìne Bhan. My granny used to sing this song when I was younger and still remains one of my favourites to this day. She was also from Islay so it has a nice family connection.

Q. What make of pipes do you play and how do you have them set up for playing on stage?
(Sheepskin/synthetic/cane/plastic/moisture control, chanter type etc.)

I currently play a set of 1930 Sinclair’s, African blackwood with ivory mounts. When playing in Bb I use a Shepherd Bb chanter and reed, and I also have a McCallum Bb as a backup. I’ve recently purchased a Blackwood Niall chanter, paired with a set of Ezeedrone reeds for when I want to play at a higher pitch. I use a synthetic Bannatyne bag with a simple tube and cork for the moisture.

Q. Can you tell us about any important influences on your piping and development as a musician?

I would say that my time on Uist has had the most profound impact on my piping and musical development. There was a brilliant community of people there and everybody was always playing together and encouraging each other to progress and push themselves. It really was a brilliant time. Having Iain as a tutor was also a huge inspiration and I learnt so much from him, plus, it was also on Uist that I started to learn the wooden flute, which has a large part to play in my music today. Another huge inspiration of mine is Steven Blake, whom I have been fortunate to have worked with and been taught by over the past few years. I’ve learnt a lot about the mental aspects of music and performing which I feel is very important.

Q. What do you do when you are not playing music?

Day to day I work as a rope access technician, so most of the time I’m away with work and unfortunately don’t get as much time to play as I’d like. When not playing or working I enjoy walking, climbing and spending time in the outdoors, and growing up in the Cairngorms as a youngster I was very lucky to have that on my door step. I also enjoy photography and taking photos when I’m out and about. I also recently started printing my own photos and selling them online.

Q. How enjoyable was the recording process for your new CD, and what is the next step for getting it out there?

•Eabhal Photo by Elly Lucas

The process for recording Aisling was very different compared to our first album. First of all there was Covid, so arranging rehearsals and booking the studio was always a bit 50/50 until the last minute. We struggled at the start to meet up and write music together due to restrictions, so instead we tried home recordings, sending notes and music to each other to work on so that when we did finally meet up we had a range of ideas we could work with.

We wanted to make this record sound as “live” as possible, so finding a space and an engineer who could do that was important. We were lucky enough to work with some fantastic people on the project. Ross Saunders who recorded and engineered it at Gloworm Studio’s and Calum MacCrimmon who produced the album. Having the two of them in the studio was great and they really allowed us to focus on our playing and the music. We have also recently come under new management with the Bothy Society, and our manager Jen Anderson has been doing a huge amount of work behind the scenes to make it go as smoothly as possible for us and get it over the finish line. The overall journey of the album, from the beginning of the writing process to having the album in printed will be around a year and a half (the album is actually being printed as I write this!).

The album is called Aisling which is the Gaelic for dream, and we will be releasing it on May 20 followed by a UK tour throughout the summer.

•You can find out more about Eabhal on their website here.