In mid 1980s the late Alex Duthart made his last visit to New Zealand. Alex is regarded by many as the greatest Pipe Band drummer ever; recordings made of the bands in which he was involved prove his talent as both a player and innovator. His involvement with percussion went beyond the Pipe Band scene into dance bands and orchestras.
The drumming seminar he conducted in Wellington was a revelation to the writer. Some pipers, this includes the writer, tend to pay little heed to the sounds coming from the rear of any band; there are even some who are disdainful and condescending toward the percussion section, overlooking the fact that the band they have joined must have a Pipe and Percussion section to allow it to be called a band.
At his seminar, Alex used two different types of sticks on the same drum to demonstrate the difference in sound he was able to produce. He asked those present to choose which sound they preferred and although there were a number in both camps, everyone in the room could easily hear the difference.
Pipe Bands drummers have carried out their own experiments; the changing style of drums and drumsticks (side, tenor and bass) is evidence of this. There does not appear to be many Pipe Band percussionists in New Zealand who have pursued this with any vigour. One exception is Colin Weston of Wellington.
Colin was born in Wellington 40 years ago of English migrant parents Frank and Doreen. At the age of 8 he learned to play the piano and so started a love affair with keyboard instruments that persists to this day. In 1972 Colin Addison of McPhees persuaded young Colin to learn the drums and pointed him in the direction of Wayne Hobbs who was Drum Sergeant with the City of Wellington.
Two years under Wayne’s excellent tutelage and time spent playing with the City of Wellington No 2 Band saw Colin rapidly rise to become a drummer of high regard. 1974 saw him move to the Wellington Police Pipe Band as the leading side drummer. Those of us who were members of the band will never forget the talented teenager who delighted us with his abilities whenever a keyboard instrument was found at the many social occasions. And as if his talent had no bounds was able to write verse parodying all the band members much to our delight.
In the 1977 Colin joined the New Zealand Police as a Cadet and eventually became a Detective. Both his Police career and involvement with the Police Band continued until 1990. For the next three and a half years he spent alternate six-month periods in Vancouver, Canada and this country.
When in Canada he played with the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band and competed with them at the World Championships. Colin quickly points out that the year after he stopped playing with them, they won the Worlds; he wonders if his departure might have been all they needed!
Since 1994 Colin has had a couple of years with the City of Wellington but the last two years has seen him involved with Donald Bain and the Temuka Pipe Band. There he enjoys the enthusiasm and dedication of a small-town Pipe Band that sees them the leading Grade 2 band in the country.
In keeping with the enthusiasm in all things that Colin does he has recently started experimenting with New Zealand native timbers for making side drumsticks. He has engaged the services of a wood turner and has patterned various shapes of sticks from the many timber types available. These include matai, rimu, totara, rata, New Zealand walnut, kauri, black maire and his favourite, rewarewa.
Colin has determined there are many factors that affect the quality of sound that any stick can produce. These include timber density, grain structure, diameter and shape of the head, diameter and shape of the neck and the diameter of the shaft and also the ‘feel’ of the person using the stick. A particular sound one player may obtain from a pair of sticks may be different from that of another; Colin has found that to get a good balance of sound across a drum corp on finely tuned drums a number of different stick combinations may be required to suit the individual player.
It is also imperative that the sound from one drumstick must be identical to that from its mate. To achieve this Colin has devised a unique method of ensuring the head of both sticks are as near to being identical. When selecting the timber, that with the straightest grain is chosen. Wavy grain may look great as a tabletop or on a cupboard door, but it has not use as a drumstick.
To overcome this Colin spends some time ensuring the best timber is used; when it is turned in the lathe the two sticks are machined as one and then parted later (See Fig 1 below). This ensures the head of each stick is made from timber with the same density and grain structure (or as near as possible).
If you are like the writer, you may not have the ability to tell the difference between one sound or the other. However, there are many drummers (and pipers) who have the ability to make such distinction. Pipers have been trying for years to obtain that great ‘sound’; so why shouldn’t drummers? Such experiments that Colin is making may be the result of the introduction of the Ensemble judge at Pipe Band Competitions.
Colin intends to continue his experiments and create ‘designer drumsticks’. The days of searching through 40 or 50 or 60 different sticks to find a pair may be a thing of the past. In the meantime, we will keep an ear on the Temuka drum corp.
New Zealanders have always had plenty of spare time to pursue leisure time interests. Our successes in many sports and other less physical activities at international level attest to this. Some of those who achieved stardom in their chosen field of activity have later found they can make a living from coaching, playing sports goods and clothing and in some cases, others have moved into the administrative areas.
Many pipers, pipe bands people and Highland dancers have dreamed of using their leisure time activity as a means of earning a living. Many of us would love to escape the drudgery of our day jobs and use the hobby we love to earn a living.
Many of those people introduced in this column over the last three years have used their skills to supplement their income. A few of them have transcended the huge gulf between earning a few dollars ‘pocket money’ and actually making enough money to live.
Donald and Mary Gannaway are two such people. They come from the piping and Highland dancing ranks and have built up a respectable business supplying many of the items needed for piping and dancing.
Donald was born in Palmerston North and initially learned Highland dancing. At an early age he had chanter lessons, but dancing had higher priority until he reached 12. He was dancing at Turakina and after a minor collision with one of the other dancers fell off the board and sprained both ankles.
Donald decided that enough was enough and from then on, he would be a piper. Like many hundreds of others in the Palmerston North area he was taught by his father Frank.
Mary McDonald was born in Gisborne, and she too learned Highland dancing at an early age. By the time she moved with her family to Palmerston North at the age of 14 she already had achieved success at the national level.
At an early age, Donald decided that he wanted to follow the trend set by Lewis Turrell, Allan Dodd and others and move to Scotland to obtain tuition. He spent two years saving his money for the expensive trip ahead.
In 1963 Donald and Mary were married and shortly after departed for Scotland and a two-year stint with the famous Donald MacLeod. Whilst there another notable New Zealand piper, Alistair Munro joined the group for tuition.
In 1966, the Gannaways returned to New Zealand and very shortly departed for Adelaide in Australia for 21 months. When they returned to New Zealand Alistair Munro suggested they move to Christchurch and arranged a job for Donald as a trainee manager with Skellerup Footwear. By the time he left 7 years later he was Assistant Manager.
In Christchurch Donald and Mary quickly became involved in the piping and dancing scene. The dancing pumps available at the time were of poor quality and Donald felt that with the experience gained at Skellerup he could make something more durable. He was right, for now some 25 years later their pumps are still in demand.
In the early 1970s the quality of pipe bags available in the South Island was not good and Alister Munro suggested that be use his knowledge from his time at Skellerup again to see if he could come up with something better.
Donald had seen his father sewing bags and decided that if he made a bag, he would NOT sew it. He developed a bag with a glued seam using some of the newer glues that had recently come on the market.
As a piper, Donald realised that a bag had to have three attributes; firstly, it had to be airtight, secondly it had to be able to get rid of any moisture build-up, and lastly had to be comfortable. The first two are closely allied and perhaps the most difficult to resolve.
He achieved this by approaching a piper who was the chemist in a Dunedin tannery. A leather was produced that allowed any moisture to diffuse out through the pores. He also had them specially treat the leather during the tanning process. The Gannaway Pipe Bag comes in three sizes.
My first experience of the Gannaway Pipe Bag was at Labour weekend in 1978 during the Solo Piping Competitions. At the end of the competitions a recital was performed by Alistair Munro who had one of these bags. When the formal part of the evening concluded at around 11.00 pm Alistair invited other pipers to play a few tunes on his instrument. Most of the pipers present obliged between then and 6.00 am the following morning.
During that marathon session the drones required tuning once only. Before putting the pipe away, the drone reeds were checked, and they had no significant moisture build-up. Surely that would be the harshest test for any pipe bag?
I am a wet blower and have played a Gannaway Pipe Bag since that time and on many occasions have played for more than two hours without a break. Not once was my playing interrupted because of excess moisture.
Gannaway Pipe Bags have been adopted by many pipers and pipe bands in New Zealand. They are also exported overseas, and Donald is currently working overtime to supply orders from Australia, Canada, United States and Northern Ireland. Pipers in the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band, Los Angeles Police and City of Washington Pipe Bands use them.
Currently the Gannaway Pipe Bag is made from hides from the Tasman Tannery in Wanganui. The leather is tanned using Donald’s own formula and the finishing processes are carried out in his factory.
No pipe bag is complete unless it is dressed satisfactorily. Twenty-five years ago, a number of proprietary brands were tried by Donald, but none proved to be to his satisfaction. A piping friend, Alec Munro, who is also a chemist, believed he could come up with something that suited the Gannaway Pipe Bag better. Highlander Bag Pipe Dressing is the result, and it has become as popular as the Gannaway Pipe Bag. The Gannaway Pipe Bag along with Highlander Pipe Bag Dressing has proven to be the best combination for me.
D & M Gannaway Limited also import bagpipes and other piping accessories. They have stocks of other non-leather pipe bags that some have found successful. The business also makes and imports ballet, jazz, tap and ballroom dancing shoes. For the last 4 years they have made Glengarrys and have exported many to Australia, Canada and the United States.
Donald and Mary are both in demand as teachers of piping and dancing. Donald, who has pupils most nights of the week, has taught a number of excellent pipers. He has been the influence behind three pipers who have won the Comunn Na Piobaireachd Gold Medal: Rosalie Heaney (1994), Glenn Harris (1997) and Fiona Manson (1998). Fiona also won the Comunn Na Piobaireachd Open and Clasp competition at Hastings at Easter Weekend 2000.
In between all the above activities Donald has time to be involved in Pipe Bands. Recently he took over as Pipe Major of the Scottish Society Pipe Band in Christchurch.
When I was persuaded to write this series on the Bagpipe Makers and Repairers in New Zealand and a list of names was drawn up at the time it looked surprisingly small. This was not a major concern for I knew more names would become known as I carried out my research.
This has proven correct and while some have made a contribution that has been worth recording, others have not. My test of whether a person warrants an article in this series usually comes down to the extent of his endeavours, the length of time during which these endeavours occurred and whether his contemporaries accepted his contributions.
The simple art of tying a bag onto a set of pipes is so commonplace that it does not justify comment. However, the art of making the pipe bag is encountered much less and is therefore worthy of comment.
Similarly, all pipers have some ability to adjust drone and chanter reeds to get the best out of them. Such actions are hardly worthy of comment but the person who perfects the art of making them has the respect of us all.
One man whose name recently came to light as having been keenly involved in repairing bagpipes and making accessories is the late Bob Morgan of Wanganui. Bob was born in Mangamahu, near Wanganui in 1900; his father’s family had emigrated from England. We don’t know where Bob acquired his interest in the Highland bagpipe but in about 1916, he started learning; it isn’t known who taught him.
Three years later he joined the Wanganui (now the City of Wanganui) Highland Pipe Band and briefly came under the influence of the first Pipe Major, W. Hogg.
In 1920 Robert (Bob) Thomson (ex P/M in the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders) became the Pipe Major, a post he held for the next 16 years. Under his directorship the band won the New Zealand pipe Band championships in 1928 and 1930.
Bob Morgan’s piping flourished under the new Pipe Major but unfortunately suffered a severe setback in the mid-1920s when he cut the tendons in three fingers of his right hand. Although still able to play well there seems to be no doubt that the permanently bent fingers were not as good as they had been before the accident.
In 1936 Bob took over as Pipe Major and held this office until 1955, albeit with a two-year break in the 1930s when Bill Budge held the post. Bob’s enthusiasm for piping and the Wanganui Pipe Band in particular are legendary.
In about 1945 he started the Wanganui Technical College Pipe Band and became their tutor. He tutored the City of Wanganui Senior and Junior Pipe Bands and in about 1946 was involved with starting the Marton and District Pipe Band, which he also tutored. Bob is credited with teaching many dozens of pipers in the Wanganui area during the 1930s, 40 and 50s.
The 1930s and 40s were financially tough times for New Zealanders. Pipe bags were virtually unprocurable from overseas; if one was able to obtain one it would be very expensive and did not seem to fare well in the New Zealand conditions.
Bob decided that he could fill this niche and started making pipe bags. His son David, now living in Auckland, can well remember the patterns his father used for cutting the leather and for locating the holes for the stocks. There were also a number of jigs used for holding the leather at various stages of preparation and sewing.
Many of us take for granted the heavy twine used to sew the seam of pipe bags. It is important that the twine is thicker than the needle; when it is drawn through the hole the twine completely fills the hole and prevents the possibility of air leaks. David again remembers his father laying up several strands of hemp and then waxing it (using pitch and bee’s wax).
Drone and chanter reeds were very difficult to obtain from Scotland. Once again Bob came to the rescue; like his pipe bags, his drone reeds were used by members of the band for many years. Bob’s drone reeds proved to be very good, but he never acquired the same success rate with his chanter reeds. He used Spanish cane.
Bob also had a home machine shop including a lathe. He had a supply of African blackwood and was able to carry out many repairs. One of the most common was to replace broken tuning pins. In those days new chanters were a luxury beyond the reach of most pipers and Bob repaired a number that had been broken or damaged.
Pipe cases were another commodity difficult to get from Scotland. Bob used his talents to make a very serviceable pipe case. Don Fitchet of Wanganui remembers these as being lighter and just as sturdy as those imported from overseas. Don still sees sets of pipes in these boxes with the hand beaten metal corner supports.
Bob Morgan had four children; three became pipers all taught by himself, Noelene Payne, Bob and David.
Piping history is studded with people who have used their piping skills to eke out an excellent income in the service of an individual or organisations. May others have given away active piping and taken up pipe making, reed making, kilt making, music publishing, teaching or bagpipe repairing. Over the last two hundred years in Scotland, nearly all of the leading pipe makers have come from the piping ranks.
Pipers have always been inveterate experimenters; they will try anything to get a steadier more fulsome drone sound or a brighter truer chanter sound. To a certain extent this has been driven by the need to gain the competitive edge in both solo piping and band competitions.
One such experimenter is Jack Phillips of Auckland. He has not been driven by competitions to make improvements but more the desire to use his expert engineering skills to produce as near perfect instruments that will in turn produce high quality sounds. Those who have had repairs carried out by Jack will admit that he has a gift that truly befits that desire.
Jack was born in Pukekohe just over 70 years ago. His father’s family arrived in New Zealand from Northern Ireland in the 1860’s; at an earlier date the family had moved from Scotland to Ireland. His maternal grandmother also came from Scotland.
The Phillips family were musical; Jack’s father being an accomplished pianist. Jack was the first to learn to play the pipes and was taught by Kenny Court at the age of thirteen. As with most pipers in those days pipes bands beckoned and Jack joined the St Andrew’s Pipe Band in Auckland.
In the 1950’s he received his first lessons in piobaireachd from Jock Robertson. During the late 1940’s and most of the 1950’s, Jack competed at many of the solo piping competitions and had a number of successes.
Away from piping Jack had a successful career in electronics; he initially worked for a firm called Cable and Wireless Ltd where he acquired the electronic and general engineering skills. He learned to use the lathe and made the transition to working on African blackwood of the bagpipe with consummate ease.
Experiments were carried out on his own instrument, and he felt confident enough to carry out work on pipes belonging to other people. The first set he worked on were Lewis Turrell’s Henderson’s in 1956. Jack pointed out that the only time he beat Lewis in competition was when Lewis’s pipes stopped in the middle of the event.
Whether this was a frequent occurrence or not Lewis was sufficiently impressed by Jack’s ‘credentials’ that he was given the go-ahead. Lewis today admits that whatever Jack did it made a huge improvement to the steadiness of the instrument, and he has since recommended Jack’s expertise to many other pipers worldwide. Sadly, Lewis’s Henderson pipes were stolen in 1984; they have never been recovered.
The latter part of Jack’s working life was with the Post Office. He was tempted to leave and start up a full-time business repairing bagpipes, but this never happened until he retired in the early 1980’s and from that date his skills have been in constant demand. Whenever the writer has visited Jack’s workshop there are always four or five sets waiting to be worked on. To be in such constant demand is truly the highest accolade that pipers New Zealand wide can pay to a master craftsman.
Jack has devised techniques that make many of his repairs virtually invisible to the eye; unless one was aware precisely what had been done it is quite difficult to see. Many years ago, if a piper was unlucky enough to break a tuning pin on one of the drones the repairer usually glued the broken piece back in place.
This had limited success for it was impossible to completely hide the join and this had a detrimental effect on the drone. Jack devised a method of boring out the drone section right through and inserting a piece the diameter of the tuning pin through its entire length. This eliminated the ugly join and restored the section to as near to its original dimensions as possible.
Some years ago, Jack noticed that bridles on drone reeds were affected by the atmospheric conditions that prevailed from region to region. Many bridles were either too loose or too tight and he devised a method of ensuring that the tension remained constant.
In the above diagram it will be noted that a rubber block has been placed on the back of the reed and tied in place using the bridle. Any expansion or contraction of the bridle hemp will be absorbed by the rubber and thus the bridle will retain its firmness.
Some years ago, Dr. Angus MacDonald of Scotland did a recital tour in New Zealand and was concerned that one of his drones lacked the steadiness that was expected of the instrument. A visit to Jack had the problem sorted out in very short time and Angus left the country a very happy man.
Jack’s expertise is not confined only to restoring the bore dimensions; he has perfected the art of re-combing the outside of the drones and applying a fresh coat of varnish. Many sets have arrived in his workshop after having been seriously neglected and by the time he has finished a magnificent set of pipes, looking exactly as one would imagine they would have appeared in their new state many years before.
Jack Phillips is probably the most complete craftsman involved in the repairing of bagpipes at the present time. If any person wishes to know how he achieves his results Jack is only too willing to divulge this information.
Although he is constantly busy repairing bagpipes, he still has time to teach and is in demand as a piping judge.
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