May 192023

Cover Genres takes a look at cover songs in a very specific musical style.

Oho! Well, you were warned that this was coming, but the oft-maligned bagpipes have a surprisingly fertile life in coverland. As with the banjo, it isn’t a genre per se, even if usually most associated with the folk and indiginous musics of the Celtic nations. Luckily(?!) for you, it has leaked into any number of unexpected other genres, which, by and large is where we are going today.

But first, some context. Bagpipes have existed since the dawn of time, the ingredients of their manufacture largely available to mankind from very early on, usually in the form of the body parts of an otherwise eaten animal. All you need is a stomach and a pair of lungs–the stomach from your kill, the lungs your own. Apply lips and blow. At the other end of the “bag” is the chanter, a bit like a whistle. By maintaining a constant input of air into the bag, as it flows out and through the chanter, the sounds produced can be altered.

As sophistication advanced, further “pipes” were added, giving a constant tone, as background. This provides the drone, or drones, suddenly a texture so beloved in modern post-rock circles. If you can’t be blethered to blow, bellows devices bypassed the need for the musicians own lung power, these filling the bag by under-arm pumping action, pushing air into the bag that way. The Scottish highland bagpipes are the prime example of the former, the Irish uillean pipes of the latter, but there area host of other models, some lungs driven, some bellows. So we have the Scottish small pipes, Northumbrian pipes, probably the next best known, ahead crossing the channel to the many and varied European varieties.

As “civilization” advanced, so the pipes tended to move outward, towards the edges of any world known at that time, partly as pianos and violins swept in to classier society, in the hubs of nations and empires, and partly through pipes being exported to the “colonies”, the savages taking their primitive instrument of choice to the very fringes of the world.

Enough natter, let’s groove!
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