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History, Tradition, Heritage As related to the subjects of piping, drumming and pipe bands.

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Old 12-29-2018, 12:17 PM   #21
Ian Lawther
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Default Re: Famous historical people who played pipes

Originally Posted by zarb View Post
Burl Ives played Northumbrian bagpipes.

Should it interest anyone here is an article I wrote regarding Ives and Northumbrian pipes for the Northumbrian Pipers Society journal.

Another Burl Ives Photograph
by Ian Lawther
Some years ago a photograph was published on the cover of the Northumbrian Pipers Society magazine showing Burl Ives playing the Northumbrian smallpipes accompanied by James Dean on tenor recorder. Since then other pictures of Ives with the pipes have surfaced including one I purchased on eBay last year in which Burl sings while playing. It was, I was told, taken by a professional photographer in Portland, Oregon.

Some of Burl Ives connection with Northumbrian piping is well know through the story of Jack Armstrong going to Hollywood to provide music for a proposed film version of the Pied Piper which was to have starred Burl Ives but I started to wonder about the background to all this. Searching the internet has not been very helpful but did turn up a references to the Burl Ives archive in the Library of Congress and in particular an item listed as "Learning bagpipes, Newcastle on Tyne [photograph]". An email to the Library got the following clarification of what was shown:-

“The photograph listed in the Ives Collection's online finding aid as "Learning bagpipes, Newcastle on Tyne" is actually in a folder titled "Scotland, New Castle-on-Tyne," and depicts Ives holding a set of small bagpipes, with an unidentified individual in a business suit. The credit on the reverse side of this photograph reads "Copyright, Newcastle Chronicle & Journal Limited."

Intrigued I decided that when opportunity arose I would go and take a look at the photo. Fortunately there is a bellows pipe weekend held annually in Shepherdstown, West Virginia at which I regularly teach. This year travel arrangements worked best with me flying from Seattle to Baltimore on Thursday before the course and staying that night with fellow Northumbrian piper Colin McNaught. I discussed my interest in this photograph with Colin and discovered that he had been something of a Burl Ives fan in his boyhood. It was agreed that we would go into Washington DC on the Friday morning and view the Ives photograph.

As with other research libraries it is not just a case of strolling in and asking to see an item. Colin and I had to fill out applications for a reader card each, and then be photographed and be issued said card before heading to the “Performing Arts Reading Room”. Once there we had to fill out a form requesting the particular part of the Ives collection (Box 9) containing the picture. We were also told that we were not allowed to wear our coats in the room, and as I put in the request form Colin kindly took our coats back to the cloakroom.

With the request submitted I was shown to table where I waited for Colin to return and the box to arrive. Neither took very long and the pair of us dug out the photograph we sought. The first thing that we noted was that the “ unidentified individual in a business suit” was Jack Armstrong (as we had suspected it would be). We then realized that the picture was taken at a railway station and that the background was a railway carriage. Burl Ives was casually dressed in a waistcoat, with a ribbon bow tie (which seems to have been a regular item of dress for him). He has a trilby on his head and a pipe in his mouth. Ives back is to the railway carriage and Jack is facing him. Armstrong is wearing a suit with a hankie in the breast pocket and is holding a cigarette with the lit end into the palm of his right hand.

What is interesting in comparison with other photos of Ives is that he is obviously having to concentrate very hard on what he is doing. Other pictures tend to be in the form of publicity shots with him posed accordingly but here he is obviously trying something he is not yet comfortable with and it shows in his face. Whilst he appears to be attempting to play the pipes his bag pressure is much lower than in other pictures. In all the others I have seen his drones are pointing at “10 o'clock” but it this they are angled at “8 o'clock”.

Having viewed the photograph we then started going through some of the other papers in the box which referred to the tour he undertook in Britain in 1952. These included the itinerary from which we could see that he played at Newcastle City Hall on 4th April 1952. He also had some gaps in his performances that might have fitted with further visits to Northumberland (there were no concerts between London on 12th April and Scottish dates beginning 15th).

In press releases for the tour Burl Ives had declared an interest gathering songs stating “It's the people of Britain I want to see. Working, playing, singing their songs as they lead modern useful lives yet steeped in the pride of their great heritage”. Jack Armstrong would have been a known source to Ives, having been recorded by Alan Lomax in 1951 as well as performing for the BBC. Perhaps Jack was used as someone who could help introduced Ives to some of those 'people of Britain'.

We were unable to find any reference to the purchase of the pipes in the papers. It may not have happened that year – Ives was in Britain again in 1953 playing in Newcastle on 6th July. Did he get an interest in the pipes during 1952 and collect a set from Armstrong in 1953? Certainly he had the pipes by 1954 when filming of East of Eden took place. This being the only film featuring both Ives and Dean and the source of the photograph referred to at the start of this article.

The papers did, however, reveal a somewhat disorganized element to the accounting with letters from Ives wife, Helen, to his UK lawyers / accountants requesting full details of the monies earned or lost on the tour because she could not make head nor tail of it. Colin and I joked that what she was missing was that Ives had bought a set of pipes off Jack Armstrong on a platform at Newcastle Central and had left no trace of the deal!

While the papers tell us nothing about the pipes we do know something of the instrument in question. They were made by Robert Reid and were donated by Ives to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1963. The catalogue describes them as being made of wood, brass and ivory. According to Francis Wood they have a rare 6 keyed chanter.

It would be nice to be able to include a copy of the photograph of Burl and Jack with this article. I asked the Library of Congress about getting a copy but their rules specify that I would have to get permission from the Burl Ives estate and Newcastle Chronicle & Journal Limited as copyright holder. The last contact address the Library had for the estate was from 1966 and a search for the law firm in question turned up obituaries for the partners. The Newcastle Chronicle replied that they have a “£75 reproduction charge” though they do not actually have copies of this photo in their own archive. My interest didn't extend quite that far......

As the number of people with first hand contact with Jack declines it would be interesting to try and piece together more of the story of Burl Ives acquisition of the Reid pipes, but I think that will need to be taken up by someone nearer to those sources.
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Old 01-03-2019, 01:11 PM   #22
burp birl
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Default Re: Famous historical people who played pipes

Glen Campbell?
Don't take life seriously! You'll never get out of it alive!
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Old 01-03-2019, 02:16 PM   #23
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Default Re: Famous historical people who played pipes

Henry VIII purchased 8 sets of bagpipes in his lifetime, the financial records survive today. Whether he played them himself is unknown but he was known to have been a multi instrument musician.
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Old 01-04-2019, 07:17 AM   #24
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Default Re: Famous historical people who played pipes

The Internet is your friend.


Originally Posted by burp birl View Post
Glen Campbell?
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Old 01-04-2019, 11:17 AM   #25
John Miner
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Default Re: Famous historical people who played pipes

Originally Posted by RJB View Post
Rumor has it that those two tall geeks, the Property Brothers, play. How well is a question.

Whether or not they're 'famous' is also still in question.

Not a question any more! ha ha


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Old 01-07-2019, 11:29 AM   #26
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Default Re: Famous historical people who played pipes

Fantastic string of ideas. Thanks to all.

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Old 01-11-2019, 11:53 AM   #27
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Default Re: Famous historical people who played pipes

Turns out the set of Northumbrian pipes Burl Ives had was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1963. Robert Reid set, too. Crying shame they won't be played again.


Turns out The Met has quite a collection of bagpipes:
Before you start fixing problems with your reeds, check to see if the bag or stocks are leaking.

Last edited by TwitchyFingers; 01-11-2019 at 11:55 AM.
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Old 01-12-2019, 12:12 AM   #28
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Default Re: Famous historical people who played pipes

Sometime after WW2, there was a former German Wermacht Colonel; or maybe a General who played the GHB and came to Scotland competing in the highland games circuit. Can't for the life of me remember his name. Anyone?

But coming closer to time, another who plays is Detective Inspector John Rebus....well at least his actor, Ken Stott does.
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Old 01-12-2019, 05:43 AM   #29
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Default Re: Famous historical people who played pipes

Originally Posted by AndrewLam View Post
...But coming closer to time, another who plays is Detective Inspector John Rebus....well at least his actor, Ken Stott does.
Huh? Not Rebus=John Hannah, the Mummy fellow?
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Old 01-12-2019, 10:16 AM   #30
Roddy Livingstone
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Default Re: Famous historical people who played pipes

Originally Posted by Leong View Post
Huh? Not Rebus=John Hannah, the Mummy fellow?
Character was originally plated by John Hannah. Later series it was recast to Ken Scott.
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