January 10, 2024

A chat with Brìghde Chaimbeul: Part 1 of our interview with our 2023 Piper of the Year

[Photo Camille Lemoine]
If you haven’t listened to the playing of Brìghde Chaimbeul, you really need to get on board.

The 25-year-old native of Sleat on the Isle of Skye has been turning heads and attracting ears with her virtuoso playing and creative, even experimental, playing on both the Highland pipes and Scottish smallpipes since she was a teenager, culminating – so far – with last year’s sensational album, Carry Them With Us.

Along with social media sensation Ally Crowley-Duncan (Ally the Piper), Chaimbeul shared the 2023 Piper of the Year award as voted by a panel of experts in the pipes|drums New Year’s Honours.

In addition to releasing Carry Them With Us, Chaimbeul’s year was rich with musical accomplishments. She was asked by the American singer, producer, and songwriter Caroline Polachek to add pipes to “Blood and Butter” on Polachek’s multi-Grammy-nominated album, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You. She signed a deal with Rough Trade, the renowned independent record label usually specializing in alt-rock artists. She collaborated with the award-winning multi-instrumentalist and Nashville-based Colin Stetson to build most of the tracks on her album. She embarked on a continuing world tour and, along the way, played live with Polachek at shows at the O2 Arena in London and the Glastonbury Music Festival in England.

Considering that Highland pipers are usually lone soloists and infrequently work with others on new compositions, her collaborations with esteemed creative musicians like Stetson, Ross Ainslie, Aidan O’Rourke, Martin Green Carlos Núñez, and many others perhaps point to a new creative future for our music.

Her music experiments with unorthodox tunings, creating occasionally discordant, often ethereal, and always evocative effects, pushing the boundaries and extending the horizons of what pipe music can do.

Here’s a particularly insightful comment from one of our New Year’s Honours panellists:

Brìghde Chaimbeul is a singular voice within our tradition. She has broad appeal beyond our insular world, having signed with Rough Trade, collaborated with Colin Stetson and Caroline Polachek, and made innumerable appearances worldwide at large music festivals. Brìghde’s music is quietly traditional, primarily Gaelic, somewhat recontextualized, and delivered in her unique voice. The traditional music ideal: tied to places and people but not conservative and restricting. As a piper, I’m drawn to her unique execution that isn’t note-specific; it’s rhythmical and functional but not gratuitous or needlessly virtuosic. Whereas so much of the piping music from the Glasgow trad scene, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, etc. is chromatic, highly produced, technical, chord-based (and so much low whistle!), Brìghde’s music leans into the drone, using various tunings herself and seeking out collaborators . . . who draw out further drone-based harmonies and dissonances. Like the MacDonald brothers of Moidart, she unearths the old, weird Scotland. There’s been a recent movement in Ireland of like-minded artists mining traditional material for new sounds: earthy, rooted, and somehow speaking to our modern condition. I can only hope Brìghde will spark a similar movement in Scotland while her artistic vision continues to evolve.

Inspired by Rona Lightfoot to take up the pipes as a child, Brìghde Chaimbeul received instruction on the Highland pipes while in school from Gold Medallists Niall Stewart and Iain Speirs. She competed successfully around the games in her teens, but after winning the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2016 and the Horizon Award at the 2019 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, she committed to a career in music creation, production and performance.

Gaelic is her first language, but she mostly lets her music do the talking.

We caught up with Brìghde Chaimbeul as she was in Amsterdam working on a new project between a busy touring schedule that includes an appearance at Celtic Connections in Glasgow on February 3rd.

Here’s Part 1 of our two-part interview:

Stay tuned to pipes|drums to Part 2 of our interview with 2023 Piper of the Year Brìghde Chaimbeul.

You can enjoy Carry Them With Us on all major streaming platforms and as a digital download or delivered on CD or vinyl from Bandcamp.






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