January 05, 2012


Unforgettable. [Photo:Linda Graham]I read about the rock legend Peter Frampton recovering his beloved 1954 Gibson Les Paul guitar after losing it 31 years ago when he thought it was destroyed in a cargo plane crash in Venezuela. (It begs the question of why he would put it on a cargo plane in the first place if it was so beloved, but never mind.)

Most pipers I know won’t part with their instrument at any time. When away from home, they keep it by their side, closely watch it or, at the very worst, ask a trusted friend to look after it while they go to the toilet. In a beer tent, they will leave it on a pile of pipes, knowing that pipers don’t steal from other pipers. I’ve known pipers to walk away from a flight when some idiot ticket agent insists that the case must be checked.

I’ve had a few embarrassing moments in piping. Maybe the most shameful was in the early-1990s at the old Fort Erie Games. Fort Erie always had a good beer tent and the weather was always hot and humid. Add those elements to solos in the morning, a McAllister band reed in the afternoon and a designated driver and . . . well . . . you know . . . one forgets.

There was no band practice – and no practicing of any kind – the next day. Or on the Monday. Band practice was on Tuesday night and it was then that I was overcome with panic. My pipes – at the time ivory and full nickel Lawries from the 1950s – were gone. The mind raced. I don’t know about you, but when I think I’ve forgotten something really important – passport, laptop . . . anniversary – I get a weird rush of blood to the head, dizziness and a strange sick sensation.

I can’t really remember what I did after tearing apart the house looking for them, but I eventually realized that I must have left them at the games park, under the big tree where the band tuned up. I remembered that much, anyway, and figured they were gone for good. With the band practice to start in a few minutes, I figured I go along anyway, and set to take what would come.

When I got there, it was of course Ken Eller who asked me if I had been looking for the box and contents that he happened to notice and gathered up before he left – since The Captain always but always closes down a beer tent. The feeling then was the exact opposite of the losing one. I’m not usually a hugging person, but I’m sure I hugged Kenny then. Once everyone stopped laughing, all was right again in the world.

Until I tried to blow up the pipes. They didn’t seem to work. At all. Another rush of blood to the head. Clearly, Kenny couldn’t let the joke end at giving me back the pipes. He had extracted all of my reeds – which I still consider a compliment. (I’m pretty sure he returned my chanter reed back when he couldn’t manage it. More on that theme another time.)

Given the circumstances, I’m amazed that more sets of pipes aren’t lost. We hear about the concert violinist who leaves his multi-million-dollar Stradivarius in a taxi. There must be a few good stories out there about lost bagpipes and their recovery.


  1. The worst story I’ve ever heard about lost bagpipes was a fellow who stuffed his Robertsons in a bagpack and set out on his motorcycle down the highway. When he got home his pipes were missing from the bagpack – turns out the zipper gave out and they fell out of the bag onto the highway. He doubled back and found a large collection of very expensive twigs.

  2. On the final night of a band trip we attended a farewell party and of course there was a considerable number of bevies consumed. The morning after the P/M comes into our room holding as S/I set of pipes which were left behind and says to me, ” You missing anything?” Of course I knew he was referring to the set of pipes in his hand but I said no my pipes are over there. It turned out the pipes belonged to his son.

  3. losing is horrible… closest we’ve come in our band that I know of is last summer, a fellow was playing his father’s pipes (early 50s, I want to say hendersons … probably worth $10k)

    we were in a bar and had finished playing. we all piled our pipes on one table, and he held on to his. unbeknownst to us he put them down on a different table later.

    some while later a patron came in asking us if we were expecting any other players, as he had just seen some guy walking down the street with a set, but it was weird as he was walking ‘away’ from the bar

    we all ran out immediately to chase this guy down. eventually found him – just some drunk frat kid who was dared by somebody in the bar to ‘just take them’.

    don’t think i’ve ever wanted to kill anybody more in my life.

  4. I lived about 45 minutes from a park my pipe band practiced at. When I got home I opened my trunk and to my horror my pipes were not there. I called everyone and no one knew where they were. I rushed back to the park and they were no where in sight. I spoke to a few shops near by and gave my number in case they showed up. 3 weeks later I get a call that someone found my pipes STUFFED HIGH UP IN A TREE!!!!. The pipes were just like I left them and still play them today. My only guess is some kids found it and put them there. So dont alway keep your eyes to ground when looking for your pipes. They might be high up.

  5. Thank you Andrew, for the kind remarks:

    ” When I got there, it was of course Ken Eller who asked me if I had been looking for the box and contents that he happened to notice and gathered up before he left – since The Captain always but always closes down a beer tent.”

    It is nice to finally receive credit for all the waiting around I did to make sure all my friends were safely on their way home with nothing lost. As far as the chanter reed, you are right on that one… managing it was a major concern… best reserved for another time!… The Captain

  6. Brilliant. I once tore my flat to bits as I frantically looked for my pipe case, those heavy wooden boxes of the day, to no avail. We had a band gig the night before, and I jumped on my old VW sedan and sped up to the banquet hall. As I got there the manager told me that the one item they found from the night before was, blimey, a pair of drum sticks. Considering my pipes lost, I returned to my car mumbling and cursing, and as I popped the back to store the sticks, bingo, there was my pipe case with the actual pipes in it. Lesson learned – from then on I disassemble the set and deliver it to safety BEFORE the swallies start to flow.

  7. about 25 or so years ago, my first teacher, Hal Senyk had his pipes stolen from the car in Victoria. These pipes were one of 6 sets of Hendersons that came to Victoria in 1939, the same group of 6 , of which I play. didn’t think of them for a while but when I went back to Vancouver to judge at the big indoor meet in easter a couple of years ago, I was judging with Hal and he told me this. “Bruce, you won’t believe this, I was just in town a few months ago ( vancouver) and walked by a flea market and saw a pipe case,,,,,the same as mine and looked inside and there was my set of pipes, untouched after that long, the same couple of practice chanter reeds and cane drone reeds in there as well. told the guy he wanted them and the guy said the price but Hal said “no you don’t get it, these are my pipes, they were stolen 25 year ago” The guy was going to maybe try to give him a hard time until Hal gave him his business card ( he’s a lawyer) and after telling him the police would need to get involved, got his pipes back safe and sound without damage ! That’s a true story, as close as I can remember it from him.

  8. Sadly, I know a number of players in my local piping community who have lost great instruments or become victims of theft. The near-misses are funny, but the actual losses are tragic.



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