Friday 30 November 2007

Obscure List of the Week

Today's Independent reports on the boom trade in... bagpipes (a big seller on eBay apparently). It offers the following list of twenty facts about the bagpipe that I'd imagine are a must-read for everyone (especially those with a mild tartan fetish):

Bagpipes by numbers

1 Bagpipes developed independently in parts of Europe and the Middle East around the same time. The earliest surviving written reference comes in the writings of the Athenian poet Aristophanes, who disdainfully mentioned that the pipers of Thebes played on instruments of dog skin and bone.

2 There are four vital components to modern pipes: a steady supply of air delivered down the blowpipe; an airtight bag (originally made from animal skin but now synthetic) which stores and controls the supply of air via squeezing; the chanter or melody pipe, played by one or two hands; and the drone – a reeded pipe with a sliding joint to alter the pitch.

3 Bagpipes have long been popular as an instrument of war, both scaring the enemy and boosting the morale of the pipers' own side. During the Jacobite risings of 1745, possession of the pipes in Britain was punishable by death.

4 After leaving university, Alastair Campbell – later to be Tony Blair's spinmeister-general – busked his way round Europe with his bagpipes – even basing an erotic essay on the experience.

5 There are more bagpipe players and pipe bands in New Zealand than in Scotland, largely as a result of Scottish migration in the 19th and 20th centuries.

6 The bagpipes made an unlikely appearance in Friends when Ross, played by David Scwhimmer, tried to learn to play them for his sister Monica's wedding.

7 Because of their limited range of just nine notes bagpipers can play only music specifically composed for the instrument. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies composed 'Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise' for the pipes in 1985 while musical satirist Peter Schickele featured them as one of his six instruments for the fictional PDQ Bach's Sinfonia Concertante.

8 The Emperor Nero was known not just for fiddling while Rome burned but also for his love of bagpipes. According to Suetonius, he once showed offered to play them in public after losing a poetry competition.

9 The noise of bagpipes can reach 111 decibels – louder than a pneumatic drill.

10 In 2005 army health and safety inspectors called for soldiers to wear ear protectors while learning the instrument.

11 Bagpipes featured prominently on AC/DC's fist-pumping anthem It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock 'n' Roll). The track featured on their three-million selling album High Voltage in 1976.

12 A mysterious bagpipe-wielding figure peers down from the central panel of Hieronymous Bosch's 15th century triptych The Epiphany, observing, apparently unseen, the Magi's adoration of the young Christ.

13 One of the earliest written records of the "great pipes" in Scotland came in 1623 when a man was prosecuted in Perth for playing them on the Sabbath.

14 The relationship between Cherie Blair and the Royal Family is said not to have been improved by the famous Balmoral ritual of a bagpiper playing a 6am reveille.

15 King Rama VI of Thailand ordered that the Great Highland Bagpipe replace the oboe as the official instrument of his elite Wild Tiger Corps.

16 An asthmatic teenager in Glasgow recently reported that his breathing problems had been radically improved since taking up the instrument. Scientists are investigating his claims.

17 The Gaida – a form of bagpipes– remains Bulgaria's national instrument, and it is common both in orchestras and at weddings.

18 Bagpipe standard Amazing Grace is often hailed as the most covered song in history, with more than 3,200 different recordings in existence . It was played at the funerals of Presidents Kennedy and Nixon, Joe DiMaggio and Sonny Bono.

19 The jazz musician Rufus Harley switched from saxophone to the bagpipes after watching the Black Watch play at President Kennedy's funeral, adapting the instrument to play jazz and blues.

20 Paul McCartney's bagpipe-based 'Mull of Kintyre' was his biggest ever hit. The 1977 single sold over 2 million copies, outstripping anything he had achieved with the Beatles and created the highest selling bagpipe track of all time.

Random Blowe | Original articles licensed under a Creative Commons License.