12 December 2009

Billy Pigg And The Northumbrian Small-Pipes

Billy Pigg And The Northumbrian Small-Pipes

I remember hearing the Northumbrian small-pipes for the first time many years ago.  I was about 10 or 12 and we went with some of my German relatives - probably my Granny - to Wallington near Morpeth in Northumberland. 

Outside the café area , there was a lone elderly man playing a set of pipes and I remember asking my mum "what are they?", but being German she had no idea.  So I asked someone and was told that these were Northumberland's bagpipes.  The chap playing them was called (so I have been told by my mum) John Armstrong who came from Carrick, and was one of the foremost players of the Northumbrian small-pipes.

The Northumbrian Pipes are a very little known instrument - together with the Half-long Border Pipes - that are peculiar to the Border region.  Northumberland has its own rich heritage of clans, folk tales, dance music and folk songs as well as its very own Small Pipes.

If Northumberland was Scotland, Ireland or Wales, there would be huge interest in its heritage, but as rural society declines and the big cities and London dominates, there is every chance that these special things of England could be lost.

So it has been a real pleasure of my recent few weeks to find online archive recordings of  Billy Pigg, one of the greats of the Northumbrian Small Pipes, together with other folk heroes of Northumbrian music.  These have been preserved in digital online at Radio Farne, which is a project from the Music Information Resource Centre at The Sage Gateshead.  For a link , click Radio Farne.  Or for a less fiery and speedy style, there's the more melodic style of Joe Hutton who can be heard playing at Cullercoats' Bay Folk Club here in 1979 also at Radio Farne.

This is something to be truly treasured.

Find out more about the Northumbrian Small Pipes, at http://www.nspipes.co.uk/.