A Winter Wedding Warmer

This weekend I was lucky enough to get to play at a wedding and as much fun and awesome as that is, it was absolutely freezing on the day. As a piper there is nothing worse for me than playing in the freezing cold (ok, maybe dressing in number 1’s equals in hatred points). The wedding was split into two parts – the service at a church in one area and then a short motorway drive to the reception area. I had been asked to pipe the guests out of the church once the service was over and then quick as I could head over to the reception location to pipe the guests in. All relaxed and nice and easy.

It was a military type wedding as there were a lot of people in uniform carrying swords. While waiting outside the church to play, they all came outside while the couple signed the register to prepare for a grand exit – looking really smart and attracting a rather large crowd outside on the pavement. I managed a quick shot of them preparing to hold swords high and welcome the newly wed couple out.

I know every piper out there has their own way of keeping comfortable while playing outside in the cold. I’ve seen people using gloves with fingers cut off, heat packs, scarfs, surgical gloves….even their own butt cheeks under the kilt….. you name it. My own secret to keeping the hands warms is the simple : Hot Water Bottle! So far I’ve found nothing as hot and able to permanently eject heat as much as these bad boys do. My method is to fill the bottle as much as I can with boiling hot water (not always recommended by the health and safety helmets) and then close it up wit no air. I find that gives me maximum heat for about two hours. I’ve been using hot water bottles to heat my hands up for a good few years now since I started piping in the band where in the winter, we practice inside a drill shed that is probably colder inside than out. It’s seriously freezing cold when we’re in there. The other pipers reckon I’m not hard enough, but will gladly request a good hand warming when noone else is looking đŸ™‚

I’ve used hot water bottles while parading too, even on the march. You can come up with all sorts of genius methods of attaching a hot water bottle to your uniform. Normally wearing a kilt and a tunic and sporran can hide the likes of it well. Also worth noting is that I use a bottle that has a thick cover on it. This all helps to keep as much of the warmth inside, especially if you are going to be putting it down and picking it up all the time.

You could get one that looks like this….. but yeah…. I wouldn’t.


The easy thing about the hot water bottle too is that you can keep your hands inside it, right up against the rubber inbetween sets where it seriously warms the hands up with some super heat. I find with heat packs and fuel heat packs, that as soon as you clasp them, their heat is gone and they need to be left a while to reheat. The bottle just keeps the heat pouring out constantly. You then play a set, pick up the bottle and recharge – it’s great! Mine usually goes down against a tree, or on my pipe box or just on the grass. I’ve been known to keep it inbetween my knees but we won’t go there.

Anyhow, try it if you haven’t already – especially if you do a lot of outdoor playing in the cold. Remember, it all ‘boils’ down to keeping those fingers warm and supple to play well! Happy piping!



The Best on the World Wide Web

With the continued growth and use of the internet, we are seeing more and more piping related websites and resources appearing each month and so I thought it would be a great chance to try and pick out five of my favourites that I use on a regular basis. If you are reading this, then it is assumed you have a computer or smartphone. Er, or iPad …or any tablet come to think of it. You could also be at an internet cafe…… arghhh – the point is, the internet is freely available in a lot of ways.

“I need to see if anyone has replied to my reed question on Bob Dunsire” 

And with that, here are my own top five piping sites (and a bit more):


#1.1 – Bob Dunsire Forums

I originally landed at Bob Dunsire quite a few years back when googling various piping related questions. The site has more than just forums but the forums are where I find I’m drawn to the most and where I get the most use out of. They are broken into various categories relating to piping and drumming but have such a wide community that it’s a great place to share your experiences and post those questions we all have during our piping life. It’s easy to register and one of the things I like about it is that it is managed very strictly to keep topics on track and in the right place. Definitely worth visiting and registering.

#1.2 – Pipe Hacker  *Joint first choice for me đŸ™‚

For those on Twitter who follow fellow pipers, it’s likely you may have heard of this website if you haven’t already visitied it. Pipe Hacker for me is a very unique piping resource on the web in the way that it claims ‘better living through piping’ which is so true! It’s hard to explain exactly what the site is about in short but basically, it’s got a vast resource of articles related to ‘pipe hacking’ which I can only describe as making the most out of your piping using various DIY methods. There are some fantastic articles and instructions like more recently, building a pressure reader to measure how steady your blowing is (which I am now making for out band to use!) and another that sticks out a while back was related to reeds and the science of shaving etc. Additional to that, there are Podcasts, cartoons, links to tools and all sorts. This site is a MUST for all pipers.

#2 – Bagpipe Journey

This site is absolutely incredible as a resource for any piping ‘How to’. If you’ve ever wondered how to position your fingers correctly, how to pipe in the rain or how to travel with your bagpipes on a plane, then this is the site you go to. The site is well maintained and easy to browse. It’s a pretty straight forward to use site. One of my favourite articles written is the ‘How to become a rotten piper’ – obviously trying to point what not to do by writing it as if it’s something you’d want to do. Excellent.

#3 – Pipes|Drums

This is a great site I regularly tend to hear about a lot of piper/piping related news stories, whether it be pipe band related competition news or stories about pipers achievements. It’s a great site to get a wide variety of piping news, sometimes not necessarily things you’ll find elsewhere. The one gripe I have is that some of the articles and other features on the site are protected behind a subscription you need to buy, but this should put people off visiting it (and subscribing if you like!). A very professional looking site and very well maintained. There are all sorts of things like interviews and polls to take part in too.

#4 – The Pipers Persuasion

A uniquely brilliant site in that it has interviews with some of the worlds most influential pipers out there. I am guilty of not spending enough time on this site but I have set aside some time to catch up with the very well put together videos. Some you’ll find on there : Bob Worrall, Roddy MacLeod, Richard Parkes and John Wilson amongst many others. The site is extremely easy to navigate and has kept pretty much to the point of the interviews. I’d recommend visiting this site to hear from the experiences of the piping greats and listen to their stories – something you could easily do if you have a job at a computer during the day. Highly recommended!

#5 – YouTube

A more obvious choice, but one that many pipers I know still don’t use the time to visit. With the growing number of people owning recording equipment and the recording equipment becomming easier to afford there is more than a life time of listening available on YouTube. You’ll find anything from the World Championships, to the beginner piper dropping his pipes all over the place during a wedding (one of my favourites!). Within YouTube, people have their own ‘channels’ where they can upload tunes to. Some of the significant ones I’d like to mention are : piperbob and svenskpiper. They have some pretty awesome collections of videos. It’s also a great resource to learn from. Many times I enjoy listening to the different variations and methods of playing a tune I am learning. YouTube allows me explore new ideas. Get listening!

There are so many tools out there too, so I’m going to quickly name a few I use to help improve my piping day to day :

#Skype – fantastic tool for getting lessons. Trust me, it works. Obviously the best results are on chanter but it’s amazing what tutors can pick up. If you have a computer and you want to improve your technique, get a cheap webcam and get an instructor.

#The National Piping Center– a great site for promoting better piping. A lot of the teachers at the piping center offer Skype lessons and so following on from my previous section you can get in touch and book a few hours with them. On this site you can access their online shop to purchase anything from bagpipes to CD’s to books. They also have a lot of information about piping qualifications. For me, the NPC is the heart of the piping world up north.

#Bagpipe Lessons – This is a truly great resource for piping music and tuition, especially if you want to work at your own pace and in your own time. There are packaged up bundles you can purchase which include a recorded audio lesson plus a recording of the tune on the pipes and all the music obviously. I included this as I actually managed to learn my first ever Piobaireachd using the site. The lesson was perfectly intuitive enough to understand (even for me). Browse the library of music too as there are some fantastic tunes that are not often elsewhere to find.

#FMMPB – I wanted to mention their website because it’s a fine example of a well made pipe band website where it’s easy on the eyes and easy to navigate. A lot of pipe band sites out there are designed by people within the band and although that works for the right skilled people, it doesn’t always work. Far gone are the days of using Front Page and other WYSIWYG type front ends to sites. With the new content management systems and cheap site building companies online, it’s a great time to spruce up your sites.

“No you can’t browse just one last Pipe Hacker article, you need to go to band practice!”

To finish up with, I think along with all these fantastic resources that are out there, it would be awesome to see more people blogging about their piping life. There are already some great blogs out there if you use google but I’d certainly like to see more general pipers out there using the internet to share experiences. Setting up a blog is really easy these days with the content management applications that exist (WordPress, Joomla etc). If any of the readers want any help, I’d be glad to assist in any way possible, so do get in touch via my ‘About Me’ page.