A bank holiday weekend of all seasons
It’s fair to say that wedding season has now arrived. My weekends are now becoming blurs, punctuated with the often lengthy drives between the various venues and stops for tea and coffee. My car has become the image of an archetypal picnic spot, except for the obligatory name carved into the table surface and seagulls lurking in the rear.
Not that I’m complaining, not even slightly. In fact I love this – getting to travel around the country performing the instrument I love, being a part of people’s big days and getting to meet so many people is just fantastic, no matter the weather. This really is the dream, and something that as a wedding bagpiper I am extremely lucky and privileged to experience.
The bank holiday weekend of May 2015 was no different.
However, there is one part of my setup that is less than enthused about the poorer weather, namely my pipes. They really dislike rain or cold winds, and frequently make their stance known by altering their tunings at every given opportunity.
It’s a constant tug of war when I’m playing – if I’m not fighting against a wind or horizontal precipitation that seems to follow me wherever I move, it’s my pipes attempting to tune themselves. But then, when you have an instrument that’s made of wood and delecate components largely made from cane, you have to roll with the punches…
Mr and Mrs Gordon’s wedding, Thursday 30 April
I found myself back in Bathgate at The Vu on Thursday, a place that is moving into my top 5 frequently-visited venues.
Despite its natural beauty and the obvious vantage point that its geography affords (things that I have waxed lyrical on before), it is also in a very meteorologically vulnerable location. In effect, it sits on what is effectively a wall at the end of a wind tunnel…
Upon my arrival at the venue I was comforted to see the sun had stayed out, but that was short lived, as almost on cue when I piped up, so did the poor weather. In fact, a large, ominous black behemoth of a cloud, reminiscent of the invading spacecraft from the film Independence Day rushed in over my head, and brought with it freezing winds.
Despite trying to hide behind the venue wall, the wind still found me by curving round it. It was like something out of the cartoons where phantom arms composed of mist or vapour were reaching out to grab me.
This was briefly followed by horizontal hailstones before returning to the standard horizontal raindrops pelting against me. It’s fair to say that my hands and my pipes staged a protest against this, with my fingers resorting to infantile strops and just going totally rigid.
“Golly gosh. What unusual weather we appear to be having for this time of year [sic]”, said the voice in my head. Thankfully we don’t carry thought bubbles. Sigh.
Then as if by magic, Lisa arrived and brought sunshine with her! We duly made our way into the Waterlily for the ceremony, where I tried to thaw out. The ceremony was beautiful, and it was at this moment I realised that myself, Alan and Lisa all had two things in common, the most notable of these being our shared surname. It is a good name though.
A few more interrupted performances outside during the photographs took place whilst the weather was trying on different outfits. I frantically stuffed my face with as many canapes as I could lay my hands on, almost in a bid to try and fatten up for the ensuing cold like a bear preparing for hibernation. Needless to say, it didn’t pan out quite like that, but it satiated my hunger.
It wasn’t long before I piped Mr and Mrs Gordon to their table and delivered them their toast. I was deeply touched to receive a personal mention from the minister who thanked me for my fervour during what had been a troubling weather day, and a more than generous thank you from the couple themselves.
Mr and Mrs Rignall’s wedding, Saturday May 2
It’s always great when you finally get to meet the people who booked you a very long time ago. Saturday was one such event, when I ventured out to Dalkeith to perform at St David’s Church.
Having never been to Dalkeith, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was totally blown away by the place. Like a small pocket of suburban Edinburgh, it seems to sit precariously perched on the side of the Esk valley and has some stunning views of Midlothian.
Having successfully acquired coffee from Morrison’s across the road and collected some bemused looks from the Saturday shoppers therein as they sized up my outfit, I headed over to the church to start warming up. The weather hadn’t changed much since Thursday, albeit being dryer, but still “blawin’ a hoolie”.
Nonetheless, I soldiered on, fighting against my pipes that were determined not to hold their tuning. What felt like the Arctic wind battered us all as we stood outside before the ceremony, with some poor guests having to chase after hats and fascinators. I think many of us had experienced some form of exfoliation.
The priest at the ceremony was a very jovial, engaging and entertaining man, who made the ceremony very spiritual, personable and fun at the same time. Ceremony over, I briefly played outside the church again as the guests re-emerged into the near-Arctic tundra. It was soon time to head over to Archerfield Estate to their Walled Garden venue and await the arrival of the reception guests.
I got there and headed straight for the tea source, which the staff in the massive cafe at the venue were more than obliging with. Several gallons of tea later, I was refuelled and ready to face the weather again. Despite being a walled garden, the secondary venue didn’t offer anything in the way of defense against the wind. If anything it was amplified.
The wedding party was a very hardy bunch, enduring the horrendous winds at length to ensure the pictures were done right. I even contributed a little by steadying the flimsy step ladder the photographer dug up from somewhere to stand on.
I’m a man of many talents…
Mr and Mrs Fleming, Sunday 3 May
Just for a wee change, for Mr and Mrs Fleming’s wedding, it properly chucked it down with rain. But at least it provided a consistent weather type for the day, which actually was a change.
Having only ever visited the Doubletree Dundee in the past to get (yes, you guessed) tea, I didn’t really know what to expect from the wedding offerings. Suffice it to say, I was heartily impressed.
I stood under the semi-protected cover of the porch at the entrance as the rain found its way horizontally to my exact location. Thankfully I was cloaked in my trusty Batman cape, but still didn’t avoid the downpour. Other than a few bemused hotel guests, I didn’t actually see any wedding guests at the door. It was only after that I learned they were all staying at the hotel!
The wedding ceremony and the post-ceremony celebrations all took place in the hotel’s conservatory, which overlooks the hotel’s gardens. Despite being bombarded with rain for the entire time, the view was exquisite, and it really offered a deeper intimacy to what was a very small but very close wedding.
The mostly-glass structure enabled me to deafen everyone with my bagpipes more than normal, due to its noise-amplifying qualities. I played Claire down the aisle to Highland Cathedral and performed Dougie McLean’s “Caledonia” as they signed the schedule.
What I thought was most intriguing about their ceremony was that they poured different coloured sands into a framed container, which symbolised their coming together. I thought that was a really lovely touch.
I attempted to pipe the happy couple out of the ceremony and upstairs to the upper drawing room, but was thwarted around 3/4 of the way up the stairs when the height of the ceiling dropped considerably. I was unable to crawl on my knees, and ultimately had to admit defeat. It was like a weird re-telling of that scene from Alice in Wonderland, except without the reference to reality-altering chemicals.
This time I was stuffing my face with the haggis balls and mini baked potatoes that were being served as canapes. Having never seen mini baked potatoes served as canapes, I naturally made the most of the experience. I then proceeded to stuff my face with coffee and a cookie downstairs in the bar as I awaited my next task. My excuse was that it was raining heavily.
After a bit of chatting to Lyndsey and Robyn the photographers, it wasn’t long before I played the happy couple into their evening meal. Again, the beautiful and compact nature of the wedding lent itself well to a picturesque setting.
Done and dusted, I finally had an opportunity to take time off. Me and my better half headed down to our favourite city, Edinburgh, to spend the night and enjoy the delights of Bank Holiday Monday.
Thankfully the sun came out for us on the Monday, and we got the opportunity to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens, properly, for the first time. If you haven’t been before, I strongly recommend it. As it’s free to get into, there’s plenty of spaces in there to kick back for a bit and enjoy relative serenity.
It also features a wedding venue so I hope one day to grace the various flora with my skirling.
The day was capped with a visit to Cafe Andaluz on George Street, followed by a surprise discovery of Hotel Chocolat , which I have to say completely astounded me. Not being a massive chocolate fan, I can assure you, dear reader, that this is the place to go for your chocolate fix.
Until a little later,