Robert Mathieson’s excellent interview has special meaning to me. The interview process started maybe a year ago when I asked if he’d be interested in and have the time to do an interview. After a bit of convincing he agreed and by chance we were at the same contest in the piping paradise of Dunedin, Florida, this early-April, so we found two hours for an ocean-side on-the-record chat that featured several Coronas (beers, not cigars) and not a little reminiscing.
In Part 1 of the interview you’ll see a 1984 photo of the Polkemmet Colliery band. Along with many others, Rab sent a scan of that shot, which was actually taken by my dad, a day or two after my twenty-first birthday, which we celebrated in Pitlochry. My late father would have got a huge kick out of, not only his photography being useful to and seen by others, but the fact that his picture came full circle back to me after 24 years.
Just about every interview that I’ve done is with a friend. Very few times have I met someone for the first time at the interview itself. When that was the case, I’m happy that those people have gone on to become friends of mine.
Reconnecting with Rab has been a pleasure. When I arrived in Scotland in the summer of 1983, a wide-eyed, 19-year-old piping St. Louisan who the Scots didn’t know from Lou Brock, it was Rab who gave me a shot in his band. I remember calling the RSPBA headquarters during my first week at Stirling University, trying to get help with connecting me with a band. They suggested Knightswood Juvenile, I remember – a fine band, but I was aiming higher. They gave me the name of a contact at Boghall, but they didn’t return my call.
Finally, I tried the number of Matt Morrow, then band president at Polkemmet. He said they would love to meet me, and he told me where and when the band practiced. So I set out the next Sunday to their practice at the East Whitburn Community Centre. This involved a bus from the university to Stirling train station; a train to Edinburgh; a train to Falkirk; and then another bus that somehow got me near the practice hall. It took about three hours.
But when I arrived no one else was there, and then slowly people started filing in. Everyone seemed a little intrigued that I was there, but they seemed to have heard about it. Then a 24-year-old Robert Mathieson arrived, he said hello and then took me to the room where Jim Kilpatrick and his corps practiced and asked me to play something on the chanter.
“What should I play?” I asked.
“Anything,” Rab said.
So I remember starting “Duncan Johnstone” only to have Rab tell me to stop after a few bars. I thought he was going to tell me to get my arse back on that Bluebird bus. But he just said, “That’s fine; you’ll play.”
And that’s what happened. I played, and learned, and had unbelievable fun with new friends that exist today. It was a terrific first year in Scotland, and I can credit Robert Mathieson – as he has done with so many other pipers over the years – with giving me a chance to contribute to his band. All the interviews have special meaning to me, but this one is particularly significant, 25 years on.