BOTH as a piper and as a pipemaker, Hamish Moore has had a vital influence on the Scottish piping scene over the past three decades, particularly in what has become known as the “cauld wind revival” – the renaissance of Scotland’s hitherto forgotten bellows-blown bagpipes.
A time-served piper from a family of pipers, since the mid-1980s, Hamish has been producing – latterly with the help of his son, Fin – high quality sets of Scottish small pipes and Border pipes, with such success that the firm has closed its order books until it catches up with its waiting list. In concerts and recordings, Hamish’s playing has carried the torch for a revival of interest in bellows-blown pipes which has seen them become commonplace on the piping and wider folk scene, compared to 30 years ago when they seemed the arcane, antiquarian interest of a few enthusiasts.
Hamish was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, where his father, David, worked in forestry with the Colonial Service (also becoming official piper to the St Andrew’s Society of Trinidad and Tobago). Hamish learned his piping initially from his father , then from Jack Crichton at George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh, where he played and competed with the school pipe band and later with Knightswood Juveniles in Glasgow, before graduating to the Grade One bands Edinburgh Special Constables and Polkemmet.
He studied veterinary medicine at the University of Edinburgh and went into practice. His interest in piping had never left him, and in 1981, while filling a locum veterinary post in Miltown Malbay in West Clare, he became interested in Ireland’s very different piping traditions.
It was the start of an epiphany of sorts: when he returned to Scotland, where he was living in Kingussie, he told his neighbour about Ireland’s bellows-blown uilleann pipes and expressing his feeling that Scotland must have had a bellows-blown instrument. The next morning, when he came down for breakfast, there was an old pipe case on his kitchen table, containing a 19th century set of Scottish small pipes – complete with bellows.
He had them restored by the Northumbrian pipemaker Colin Ross, who made a D chanter for the set. Hamish recalls: “I spent the next four years intensively playing, researching, recording and generally immersing myself in everything to do with the emerging revival.”
He recorded his first two albums – Cauld Wind and Open Ended – and became involved with the Lowland & Border Pipers’ Society which has been such a catalyst for the bellows pipes revival, twice becoming its chairman.
In 1986 he retired from his job with the Ministry of Agriculture to concentrate on playing – and making – pipes. With the help of his father, David, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of tropical hardwoods and interest in wood-turning proved invaluable, he set up his own pipemaking business, later being joined by his son Fin, also a well known piper and step-dancer, who served his apprenticeship in the business.
As well as small pipes, the firm’s Lowland or Border pipes are now much in demand, and Hamish and Fin also made the eight handsome sets of Highland pipes in A, modelled in ebony with silver mountings, for the group Seudan, basing the design on the 18th century “Black set of Kintail” in Inverness Museum.
On the playing side, Hamish continued to record, including two collaborations with jazz clarinettist and saxophonist Dick Lee, in The Bees Knees, and Farewell to Decorum, while his increasing interest in the Scots diaspora culture of Cape Breton island, Nova Scotia, informed Dannsa’ air an drochaid – “Dancing on the Bridge”. Between 1985 and 1996 he toured in Europe, New Zealand, Hong Kong and North America and also taught extensively, both in Scotland and at such far-flung establishments as the Gaelic College at St Anne’s, Cape Breton, and Jay Ungar’s Ashokan Music Camp and also set up numerous annual piping schools of his own, notably one at Vermont now almost 30 years old. In South Uist he established the now flourishing Ceolas summer school.
Hamish has long been particularly fascinated by the styles of piping common in Scotland before the standardisation of Highland piping under the military bands and the competition circuit – hence his interest in the Cape Breton music and dance which crossed the Atlantic with Scottish emigrants during the 18th and 19th centuries. When teaching, he places considerable emphasis on the internal rhythms of the music and how these are related to the old Gaelic “hard shoe” style of step dancing.
His playing suffered a set-back in 1996 when he developed focal motor dystonia which “froze” one of his fingers. He didn’t play the pipes for five years but has since developed a modified fingering arrangement which allows him a degree of playing.
During 2008-2009 he was artist-in-residence in Barga, the Tuscan hill town where so many of Scotland’s long-established Italian families came from. His residency proved a great success and he staged a sell-out concert involving Scottish and local musicians which included a composition of his own for pipes, choir and other musicians based around the bell chimes of the town’s Duomo.
As from October 2013 (and a thousand sets on from the firm’s beginnings), Fin has run the main pipe-making side of the business. Hamish, however, still divides his time between Edinburgh and Dunkeld, where they have their workshop, spending his time on more specialist pipe-making, research and development, writing, teaching and some performance.