Talbot Piping Weekend 2014
8-10 August 2014
Talbot, in western Victoria in Australia, was reached by the first European settlers in 1836. Settling near Mount Greenock, they bore the clearly Scottish names of Alexander McCallum, who had a sheep grazing lease for Dunach Forest; and Donald Cameron in nearby Clunes. After a decade, the lives of the settlers who lived and raised their flocks in the solitude of the bush changed as the news of gold find spread throughout the colonies and to Europe and America. The first unofficial discovery of gold in the area was at on Hall and McNeill’s Glen Mona Run. By 1860 there were about 15,000 gold diggers and families in the area. Talbot is now home to 269 people.
Now there is a new wave of Celtic culture in Talbot which, for one weekend in August over the last two years has increased the population of 269 by about 12 cauld wind players from our Celtic Piping Club in Australia, plus visitors who come to hear us in impromptu concert. Talbot’s history, and its proximity to other gold rush towns whose immigrants created a Celtic musical heritage, has created a modern day heritage of Irish, Scottish and folk musicians in the surrounding areas.
As in 2014, we took over a gold rush era building that used to be the Bull and Mouth Hotel until the authorities stripped it of its licence: one of the cruellest and most severe punishments in Australia! Now it is an ideal place to talk about, learn about and experiment with bellows blown pipes; along with the inevitable companions of accordions, whistles and the odd guitar and mandolin.
On Friday afternoon, an advance party demonstrated bellows pipes to music students in nearby Maryborough at the Highview Secondary College. Geoff Jones demonstrated Scottish smallpipes, Border pipes and Northumbrian pipes. David Cretney and Sarah Wade played Scottish smallpipes and Andrew Teusner played a flat set of union pipes, before all played Hector the Hero and an Austrian Children’s Round on smallpipes. The students were then able to have a try: usually with great success.
After settling in on Friday evening and getting help with pipes if necessary, most of us drifted to the local pub, past fascinating gold rush era buildings; many intricately restored. Then it was time for a fireside session. The Irish pipers claimed the larger room with the fireplace for that session while the smallpipers played by the wood stove in the kitchen.
Uilleann piping by the fireside
Saturday started with Geoff running a workshop on adapting highland tunes for smallpipes, and many of us tried our hand at modifying old favourites. We were so struck by Geoff's arrangement of The Battle’s O'er as a slow air for smallpipes that we chose it for the Saturday evening concert.
After bacon and eggs for lunch, Pat Lyons enthralled the group with a demonstration of reed making, using locally grown materials [elder - ED] that thankfully avoided being used as kindling for the fire. David and Andrew are the proud owners of new reeds as a result of volunteering to try in front of the group.
Reed-making at the kitchen table
Thanks to Sarah’s planning and the local help from Helen at Slightly Bent Books bookshop, we then went to 35 Bryce’s Bistrot for an impromptu concert between 5 and 7. There were tunes from the Irish flat sets, uilleann pipes and smallpipes, highly appreciated by the audience of 35 people from the area. We stayed on for a fantastic dinner, organised by the 16 year old chef. Eventually we made it back to our accommodation for some more tunes. The old Bull and Mouth would have been proud of many of the piping tales on offer through the night!
What everyone needs after a big night out is an early dose of theory, which is exactly what we got from Geoff. Geoff took us through the basics of pipe tunes and key signatures, helping those without a strong theory background to understand what we read on the musical page.
The formal part of the weekend finished with a visit by more schoolchildren, this time from Wesley College, Clunes. Again, the students enjoyed demonstrations and explanations about bellows pipes. We hope to see a new generation of musicians using the power of their elbows productively and thank the staff from the two schools and the students for their participation.
The second Talbot weekend was a great success, well-attended and we are now making connections with schools and the community. We are fortunate that Geoff Jones and Pat Lyons gave so much of their time and expertise. Thanks to all the members and supporters for making this happen and the Celtic Piping Club looks forward to similar weekends in the future, as well as regular meetings in Melbourne and a presence at some of Australia’s music festivals. We can now say that another Celtic presence is making itself known in Australia.
Another use for pipe bellows!