Homage to a Pipe Band

Friday 17th May, 2019

Brian Whittingham is the Tannahill Makar of Renfrewshire – and Chieftain of this year’s British Pipe Band Championships.

Brian lived in Renfrew for many years and was a plater and then draughtsman on the Clyde shipyards. It was during this period he became interested in writing poetry while attending the Paisley Writers’ Group.

He has had nine collections of poetry published and spent the last 16 years lecturing in creative writing at the City of Glasgow College.

Brian regularly visits schools, libraries and local groups across Renfrewshire to give readings and talks aimed at encouraging an interest in poetry.

He has written this poem to mark the return of the Championships to Paisley … and we’ve published it here for you to enjoy!

HOMAGE TO A PIPE-BAND

First, there are the watchers.

We crane our necks
to see the band emerge
led by the Pipe-Major,
whose pride we cannot see
but feel it fit to burst his chest.

He spearheads
the tartan clad ensemble
as they march into their circle
in synchronisation
to their predetermined positions.

Then, there are the players.

The Base-drummer
beats the side of his drum.

The felt-headed sticks
stroke the drum’s skin
as tenderly as one who may caress a lover’s cheek
with the gentle touch
of the back of their fingers.

Yet, dictating the beat with an assured authority.

The snare drummers do their three-pace rolls
Trrrrrrrrrrt – Trrrrrrrrrrt!

The pipes pick up a tempo
as intimidating as any approaching army
marching into battle or as gentle as
a summer breeze skimming over
the silent waters of Castle-Semple Loch.

The tenor drummers twirl
their sticks above their heads,
make them spin like
twisting acrobats leaping from a trapeze.

And as the watchers,
we know little of
the timeless years of practice on drum-pads
and Mammy-Daddys and Paradiddles.

We know little of
chanters, and blowing and squeezing and
the technicalities of drones and reeds and tuning.

We don’t see
the nurturing and pulling together
of communities of families and brothers and sisters.

Because we, the watchers, on the day,
though we can’t explain it,

it seems by stealth
we have our senses engulfed
by the kaleidoscope of tartan finery
and the emotion surging through our tapping feet
pumping through our veins
and soaring into the pride and place of our hearts,
each and every single one

that will take that emotion home
as if a bottled souvenir
that we can open on tap
whenever our soul’s needs arise.

Brian Whittingham

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