Sunday 17 November 2019

Listening to Bagpipes

Yes, I have long loved BBC Radio 3. 

Call it a weakness, if you will.

But the rapid promotion of The Guardian's Tom Service to the rank of the station's Main Mage initially irritated me more than any other change in recent BBC Radio 3 history. 

He spoke too fast, almost to the point of incoherent gabbling, and seemed to me to babble, like, you know, like, you know, in a typical Guardian-writer's right-on way, about stuff I felt he hadn't thought about anywhere near enough. 

I felt he was bluffing it.

Over time, he's grown hugely on me as a Radio 3 presenter (like a Jeremy vine). And he's slowed down massively, and learnt a lot more. And I now rather look forward to his often excellent programmes - such as The Listening Service and Music Matters...

...and that despite the fact that he's still given to setting up straw men and banalities and then, with a swish of his right-on wand, magically covering them in the gold dust of his right-on insightfulness. 

Today's The Listening Service was on a theme that very much appeals to me: The Great Highland Bagpipe. But, while enjoying it, I did note than Tom - in breach of BBC guidelines, though very much in the spirit of his old rag The Guardian - used 'Palestine' to describe the non-existent country of the Palestinians. 

As for 'Scotland the Brave', Tom called that tune 'godawful'.

Anecdote time:

One of my strongest recent memories was going on a family coach trip to Loch Lomond and being, on the way, left stranded for two very long hours with my family at the main tourist spot/coach interchange at Gretna Green - tourist shops, cafes, the inevitable Edinburgh Woollen Mill - waiting for the next coach to arrive and to carry us on, up the motorway, to the land of clans, haggis-on-the-breakfast menu and, of course, umpteen hundred mentions of the ubiquitous Rob Roy. The piper at Gretna Green played 'Scotland the Brave', and three other tunes, and a dog, unrestrained by its owner, stood in front of him and howled and howled and howled. And everyone laughed. And I felt sorry for the poor piper and gave a daftly healthy tip to allow him to do as Gretna Green pipers are supposed to do - retreat and sit bousing at the nappy, and get fou and unco happy. 

Ah, yes, and now here's the BBC Tam O'Service and his guests talking about 'stereotypes' and 'cliches' and about 'touristified Scotchness', and emphasing the 'diversity' of bagpipe traditions across Europe and the Middle East, as if they are Polly Toynbee's ghost.

I don't think Tom will be voting SNP on 12 December. (I'll guess Labour or the Lib Dems).

But how interesting so much of his programme was. And how much spark and thought he put into his presentation. So I'll forgive him. After all, he's a Guardian man turned BBC man. He can do no other, and will be allowed to do no other.

Cue Pipe Major Groundsman Willie again...


  1. Looked up ‘unco’ the one word that has puzzled me ever since “Wee Macgreegor” - poignant stories from childhood (his and mine) - it just sort of means ‘very’

  2. I thought it was well-known that the bagpipes were introduced to Scotland by a crack Roman legion of black Palestinian, lesbian, Muslim women.

    Sometimes the same ideas come to different peoples in different parts of the world too.

  3. There is nothing quite like the romance of hearing the sound of the pipes approaching from a distance...but the romance diminishes in inverse proportion to proximity.


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