The Black Watch- Interview with Piper Will Colquhoun
Special thanks to Piper Ray Spengler for his assistance. Visit: www.pipesalot.com
PCM: The pipers are all on active duty?
Will Colquhoun: Yes, basically the Black Watch is a British Army Regiment. We are soldiers first and musicians second. The last three -four years we have been busy with the operations in Iraq. So piping has taken almost second place. The last six months of the year we’ve had a revival as we have had time in the U.K. away from Iraq.
PCM: Have you even been on a piping tour and then called into action?
Will: No, we would have some warning and wouldn’t organize a piping tour. For example, the three months we are in the U.S. the rest of the Black Watch is in Northern Ireland and they don’t need us now. If they needed us we wouldn’t be here. We’re fairly safe.
PCM: When you say they don’t need you, is it like they’re running out of guys lets get the pipers in?
Will: Not at all it’s just that the Black Watch is not particularly busy for the next three months. When we went to Iraq, and we’ve been to Iraq two times, we had some warning before we went. You get more than three months notice as a rule. If the Black Watch was deployed somewhere the pipes and drums would be part of it. We’re in retreat right now, that’s why we can afford to take three months off to do this, which is great.
PCM: Do you like this kind of touring?
Will: It’s awesome! It’s great! This is fairly unique. The three months in America happens every five years. It’s the biggest event on our calendar in terms of musical performance. It’s very exciting.
PCM: One of the original members of the Black Watch was Sir James Colquhoun in 1742. Was he any relation?
Will: To be honest I haven’t looked into my family history. The whole Black Watch is based on huge family ties. You can trace through the generations, the different names that keep cropping up. Colquhoun is actually not a big one even though my brother tells me there are two or three Colquhoun’s in the Black Watch. There are a number of other big names which have been in the Black Watch through out history.
PCM: What kind of bag do you use?
Will: We just moved onto a new type I can’t remember the name.
Will: It’s not Canmore. I use to have a Canmore bag. We use to go with hide but it caused all sorts of problems with moisture. The best way to avoid moisture changing the timbre of the chanter and the drones is to use a synthetic bag. Not so much for playing solo, but when you’re playing with a group you want to get everyone’s pipes sounding the same so you get one noise instead of many.
PCM: I was wondering how the Scott’s felt about the modern equipment.
Will: The biggest problem we have is moisture. Moisture can set off the drones and it will make the chanter reed wobble. Anything we can use with technology to help with that is great. We also use dehumidifiers and water traps. Anything we can do to control moisture.
PCM: Tone enhancers?
Will: We call them cut offs because they help aid a clean cut off at the end of every tune. One thing we are keen on is at the end of a tune your drones don’t drag on.
PCM: Do you like them?
Will: I’m not sure, I’m not convinced they work well. The only thing they do is limit the air going through the drones. You do want to have a constant pressure of air going through the bag and drones. Maybe they do work, they don’t do any harm put it that way.
PCM: Speaking of sound consistency, who makes the band chanters?
Will: They are Shepherd. I have gotten use to talking to people who don’t know about piping.
PCM: Waxed hemp?
Will: Waxed, it lasts longer that much longer. It doesn’t degrade, un-waxed tends to.
PCM: What type of reeds?
PCM: How many sets of pipes do you have? I have one set, at home we have the family set but it needs work. The smart ones have a few sets. A few have the fireside pipes, they are popular. You can play them in a pub and not deafen everybody. The other thing that picked up this past year that we are keen on are the electric pipes. It’s got a practice chanter like thing which you can plug yourself into and it’s quite useful for practice and not annoying your wife.
PCM: Isn’t that part of the fun?
PCM: Who are some of the people you listen to?
Will: Gordon Duncan, as far as civilians. For military bands, the Black Watch of course.
PCM: How do you select material?
Will: The Pipe Major, Scott Taylor is basically running it. He has been the pipe major for the past two years. The pipe major does this job for two or three years and then the next person comes in. He’s an excellent piper. He will be doing the solos. He’s written a number of tunes and arranged the more popular traditional tunes to fit with our performance and also to fit with the Welsh Guard Band that will be supporting us. It is pretty much his show, his chance to show it.
The Welsh Guard is the military band that is playing with us. Their musical director has also done some arrangements for the military band to fit the pipes. He’s had a lot to do with the music too.
The best bit of the show for me is when the two come together, it’s quite unique hearing the brass coming together with the pipes. The way the show works, the Welsh Guards will do a number of solo tunes which gets everyone going. The pipes will be through out the show with their number of solo works- marches, jigs strathspeys, basically showing what we do. We will also have some sword dancing to our piping. It’s quite rousing.
PCM: How much time do you spent with choreography?
Will: Quit a lot. It’s marching basically it’s what we do anyway. We’re soldiers that what’s drilled into us.
PCM: What’s the tuning process for the band?
Will: As quick as possible, but it does take a long time. The pipers will tune up themselves. One will do a basic tune for everyone. We have one person go around checking the drones another checking the chanter. It helps we all have the same reed. It’s about half an hour to get the band tuned up.
PCM: Does the band teach or do you have to be in the Black Watch to get into the band?
Will: The way the Scottish Regiment works, they have an exceptional school for the bagpipe that is a six month course and then you come here and the rest is on the job training and learning from elders in the band.
PCM: Is this your first time in Philadelphia?
Will: Yes, It’s a shame we will be there such a short time. I’ve heard there are many things to do and see in Philadelphia. We won’t even be spending the night there. It’s like a whistle stop tour. The key thing is that anybody going to the performance will have a great time. It will be an outstanding two hours. It’s a great display and the people will enjoy it.