Petestack Blog

10 January 2018

The Lindsay System Chanter and MakerSpace

Filed under: Music — admin @ 7:09 pm

Conventional Scottish pipe chanters have a nine-note diatonic scale. This is true for all the main types: the Great Highland Bagpipes and their various smaller derivatives, the Border Pipes and the Scottish Smallpipes. There are thousands of good pipe tunes using just these nine notes, and many great composers and pipers who’ve remained eternally satisfied with that limitation. So why do some of us want more, and isn’t that a bit arrogant for those (like me) who’ve not even got full control over what’s there?

Well, it’s not quite that simple! Border Pipes have historically been able to get some extra range by overblowing, with a (natural?) capacity to produce chromatic notes through additional forked fingerings developed and refined by modern makers. Some accidentals can also be produced on the GHB (Great Highland Bagpipes), and some of our very greatest recent pipers (e.g. Gordon Duncan) have exploited their possibilities. Some Border Pipes (like my Garvie set) have keys for extended range in lieu of the reed compromises necessary to get the same notes by overblowing, and some SSPs (Scottish Smallpipes) also have keys for extended range and/or accidentals. To which it might not be too much of a digression to add that modern Irish Uilleann Pipes and Northumbrian Smallpipes have also evolved considerably from their respective ancestors in terms of range, keys etc.

Now the nine-note chanter is standard in Scottish piping and (quite properly!) likely to remain so. Nobody’s trying to replace it, but some of us are naturally excited about complementing it. While there are many great native (nine-note) tunes for it, some of us just wince at the number of octave-folded or chromatically-altered notes spoiling imported parts of its repertoire, some have come to the pipes from other instruments with more notes, and some are simply inspired by the creative possibilities of Scottish pipes with extended range and/or chromatic capabilities! Some, like the hugely-talented Callum Armstrong in collaboration with pipe maker Julian Goodacre, are doing really exciting things with double and triple SSP chanters, extended-range, overblowing, keyed SSP chanters and even rapidly-tunable/switchable drones. Others, like Donald Lindsay, have approached the challenge from different angles, with Donald’s Lindsay System Chanter utilising clever design to be a 3D-printable (as well as conventionally-buildable) keyless two-octave instrument with some chromatic capability. And Donald’s system, for its very simplicity and reproducibility, is the one I see as a potential ‘standard’ for the typical player (like me) itching to get their hands on a set of extended-capability SSPs.

A few years back Donald ran a very successful Kickstarter campaign to launch the original run of Lindsay System Chanters, but development continues and now he’s hoping to record an album at Watercolour Music featuring the instrument in stimulating group contexts with a starry list of collaborators. So he’s back to Kickstarter and looking for backing at MakerSpace : Donald WG Lindsay & Friends : Album. I’ve committed to the price of a chanter (which will need further adaptation for my missing finger if I want the low D, which of course I do!), but you can pledge as much or as little as you like… ‘rewards’ range from keyrings to multi-packs of albums and chanters, but for me the real reward would be in helping Donald bring this very special chanter design to the prominence it so richly deserves. He’s also running a competition for new tunes for it with the winner to be included on the album, but I’m rather looking forward to being able to try my entry on my own Lindsay System Chanter! So I’m inspired, and perhaps this wee blog piece might help to inspire others? I hope so because this campaign needs support with just 21 days to go and this chanter really is the greatest thing since sliced bread (in SSP terms anyway)!

26 October 2017

Friends in Need

Filed under: Music — admin @ 10:25 pm

Text straight from my YouTube video…

Made this wee video in January (nearly 10 months ago) to show friends on Facebook and hadn’t intended it for public consumption when it took me two days to pluck up the courage even to post it there, but took another listen the other night and thought ‘why not?’

Sometimes I write songs, though not for me because I’m not a singer! This (tiny as it is) is probably my favourite, written for a Kinlochleven High School mini-production of ‘Kidnapped’ in November 2007 and sung by two offstage girl singers as a kind of Greek chorus at the point at which a sick David and Alan quarrel and make up. The cue lines from the book are:

“Alan,” cried I, “what makes ye so good to me? What makes ye care for such a thankless fellow?” “Deed, and I don’t know,” said Alan. “For just precisely what I thought I liked about ye, was that ye never quarrelled:— and now I like ye better!”

Afraid you have to make do with my voice here because no-one else has sung it for years, but I still liked it well enough to try it myself. The balance could be better when it’s just straight-from-camera on a tripod at the end of the piano, but I was actually playing much quieter than it sounds and at least you can still hear the voice!

Lyrics (also by me):
Angry words may cut you deep
And quarrels make you cry,
But though true friends can make you weep
They’ll still be standing by.

Bitter though your mood may be
At times of needless strife,
Your friends in need are friends indeed
And surely friends for life,
And surely friends for life.

31 December 2015

To be fair to the pBone…

Filed under: Music — admin @ 11:56 am

I seem to have finally got that damned slide working properly just weeks after the ‘brass trombone in my future’ quickly became reality with the arrival of my lovely new Yamaha 354. So (touch wood that the pBone continues to behave) I now have two very playable trombones, though nobody should be surprised to hear I still prefer the Yamaha!

So what got the pBone slide working in the end? Perhaps all those repeated baths with snake brushes and cleaning rods had something to do with it and perhaps the four magic words are Yamaha Trombone Slide Lubricant (the bottled ‘liquid’ rather than the cream in a tube) because it was still sticky as hell last night after yet more cleanings till I decided (with glorious synchronicity?) there was nothing more to lose by trying. Now you might think lubricant is the obvious answer, but I’m pretty sure the original pBone instructions clearly stipulated just water and guess its addition to the current online FAQ is a more recent development driven by countless reports (just Google it!) of its necessity. Whatever, I’ve now got a pBone slide that’s falling under its own weight over its whole length for the first time and currently probably as effortlessly playable as its still much quieter Yamaha counterpart. While there are still things I don’t like about the pBone (e.g. the changing push-fit slide receiver and almost-square slide bow that just won’t take snake cleaners), it blows OK, now slides OK and can be played/left in places I wouldn’t dare take my otherwise preferable Yamaha.

Happy Hogmanay! :-)

28 November 2015

Master of nine?

Filed under: Music — admin @ 11:37 am

A slip of the tongue, a Facebook post later and ‘master of nine’ seemed too good a mistake to waste, so here’s what I wrote with appended list of my non-masterly ‘skills’…

Having described myself yesterday as a ‘jack of all trades and master of [oops!] nine’, I’ve tried to count the instruments I ‘play’… not a clear-cut task when some things maybe count separately (e.g. Boehm flute vs. simple flute or smallpipes vs. border pipes) whereas others clearly don’t (e.g. different sizes/makes of recorders and whistles), but let’s say ten or eleven to a useful (not master!) standard and a few more I’ve dabbled with, taken lessons in or (trombone alert!) started learning now. No way I’m still as good at anything as the recorder player who spent a year at Koninklijk Conservatorium, Den Haag, nearly thirty years ago, but it’s fun… sometimes frustrating fun when I can’t practise everything all the time, but fun!


  • Recorders (learned at school, then studied with Rosemary McGillivray and Jennifer Hill in Glasgow, Alan Davis in Birmingham and Michael Barker in Den Haag)
  • Flutes (studied Boehm flute with Frances Wilson and Joanne Boddington in Glasgow, self-taught on simple/trad. flute and dabbling with baroque flute)
  • Whistles (short course with John Gahagan at Battlefield Band’s Highland Circus, Ullapool 1989, otherwise self-taught)


  • Piano (studied with Ian Dobie, Vince Chudy and Robert Foxcroft in Glasgow)
  • Accordion (self-taught)
  • Guitar (self-taught, and better 20 years ago than I am now!)
  • Bass (self-taught, and much the same as guitar!)
  • Scottish smallpipes (started March 2012 and largely self-taught, but have also attended several of Ian Kinnear’s smallpipes weekends)
  • Border pipes (started August 2013 and basically self-taught)

Working knowledge (mostly for school)

  • Tuned percussion
  • Drum kit (intro. from Ron Forbes at Northern College teacher training)

Now seriously starting and intent on keeping up

  • Trombone


  • Violin (had one for a while)
  • Cornet/Trumpet (tried as a boy when my dad bought an old cornet at auction, but it was my brother Angus who became the trumpeter)
  • Oboe/Baroque oboe (lessons from Maurice Checker while at university, but ended up just playing recorder with his group!)
  • Clarinet (had one and tried, but not for me!)
  • Bodhran (sure, I own one, but haven’t touched it for years!)

NB the main bar to violin, modern oboe and clarinet would be my lack of fingers… not so much of an issue on guitar and bass, which I play left-handed to get four fingers on the fretboard.

22 November 2015

pBone mechanics

Filed under: Music — admin @ 12:07 pm

[Update, 31 December 2015: To be fair to the pBone…]

Three years ago I got a pBone (plastic trombone) after hearing about them from our school brass instructor and thinking that sounds like fun. Then blew it a few times before hardly touching it again till a YouTube video of Alison Balsom trying the pTrumpet recently had me digging it out for another go. And now I’m making real progress, completely sold on the trombone (yet another diluting diversion for an incorrigible jack of all trades!), but increasingly unhappy with the mechanics of my pBone…

Musically, it’s fine for now, and that ABS construction will undoubtedly take knocks a brass instrument won’t. But, mechanically, it’s just not good enough. Or, more specifically, no matter how well/badly other pBones work (and I’ve researched this extensively looking for cures), mine seems poor. While I have various minor gripes like the water key spring rusting and having to remove the slide lock to stop it unexpectedly rotating and reengaging, the real stoppers (which might or might not be related) are the bell-to-slide-section joint (aka bell, or slide, receiver) and the wretched glassfibre slide.

So let’s start with that main joint, where the two halves of the trombone plug together. And I mean plug because it’s just a push fit with no retaining ring. When I got the pBone it was very, very tight, but now it’s not. It’s still tight enough to work, but the outer (blue) housing is opening up. Which might not in itself be problematic because there’s an inner black housing forming the socket and apparently taking care of leaks, but it’s quite clearly stressing the plastic as shown by the photos below (clearest if you click through to the enlarged second pic, where you can see three little stress cracks where the socket ends, but there’s also another further to the right):

2015-11-22pbone-1 2015-11-22pbone-2

And what about that slide? Well, even the most cursory search will tell you that pBone slides start stiff, noisy, grabby, scratchy or whatever (take your pick!) but should ease up with use and regular cleaning. Except that some apparently just get worse, and mine seems to be one of them. I’ve done all the research on breaking it in, worked it in the bath and cleaned the bearing surfaces ad infinitum, but it remains at best usable and sometimes impossibly stiff and/or grabby. It was briefly falling under its own weight when not at its shortest, but has got much worse since and is typically spending as much time being cleaned and worked free as played (and that’s loads of time!). But perhaps it’s related to the stressed housing described above when it was briefly getting quite smooth before that opened up so much and started cracking. Why? Because you can still improve its operation (not while playing!) by easing the inner slide tubes outwards above the top of the hand slide as it goes, which suggests developing misalignment to me.

One more thing I’d guess might be contributing to the problem is the shape of the u-bend (slide bow), which is strangely square with rounded ‘corners’ on the pBone. And why? Because the cleaning/sticking problems are typically related to the build-up of deposits in the slides as they supposedly wear smooth (causing annoying black dribbles everywhere from the water key!) and you’ve surely got unreachable deposits landing in that ‘bend’ where no brush is going to get round those two tight corners but said deposits could find their own way back up the slide.


So where do I go from here? No doubt there’s a brass trombone in my future and it’s merely a question of when. It’s a great instrument for me to play and would, of course, have been a good choice for me in the first place with my nine fingers (on which note I did enquire about lessons at school some forty-odd years ago before taking up the flute). And, while there’s no way I’d want to give up my woodwinds now, it could yet be a useful standby in years to come if my arthritic fingers keep getting worse! While I so much want to like the pBone and get it going as both a cost-effective starter and longer-term ‘beater’, I’m so fed up of that slide and thinking that socket housing’s simply going to give one day even if I do miraculously get the slide going properly. :-/

17 May 2015

Balancing act

Filed under: Climbing,Cycling,Music,Running,Sailing,Walking,Work — admin @ 5:32 pm

Something I posted to Facebook a few hours ago that really deserves a more ‘permanent’ place here where anyone can read it. Facebook ‘friends’ can also read some nice responses over there. :-)

A strange tale of work/life balance, life/life balance, running, racing and depression…

As many of you know, 2015 was to be my last West Highland Way Race (with all the commitment that entails) before getting back to other things like fixing up the boat and doing more climbing. So I wanted to do well with 2014’s PW (personal worst) my main motivation for this final, final go. And my usual, slow-burning training build-up was starting to work with 22 modest running days on the trot through late January and early February before breaking the cycle for a windswept walking traverse of the Maoile Lunndaidh group and continuing more sporadically into March as frequently staying late to work with hitherto over-casual pupils started to mess with my routine and mind. At which point I found myself in the grip of a proper depressive episode (remember that ‘breaking point’ post?) as I saw no way of reconciling my work and play needs to provide the necessary platform for that satisfying final race and became angry knowing that the ‘prior’ claims of work would leave me forever feeling cheated here. But then my new boss told me I must run, to get home prompt one day and get straight out running, and we both agreed that running is the solution, not the problem (for which thank you, Rebecca!). After which I ran 40 from 46 days (proper runs!) through to that walking accident on the path to Carnmore and could have been looking at a respectable performance after all with a ‘big May’ to come. But now it’s all gone without killing off the Munros/Tops completion, I’ve been ambushed by a surprising sense of peace. In simultaneously really wanting and really not wanting to do that race again, it had *still* been getting me down, and it’s only now it’s gone *with work absolved from the blame* that something’s become clear; while running is still the solution (and will be again when the injury’s had some more recovery time), racing is part of the problem. Which is why there’s no going back on that ‘last year of running races’ thing despite the loss of the race that’s probably meant more to me than any other, and why you’ll *never* see me grace the starting line of that race again. It wasn’t just my work/life balance that was wrong but my life/life balance too, and the inexplicable accident that had me reduced to despair the night I did it has now proved to be the most effective depression cure yet!

If you got this far, well done, and thanks! :-)

25 January 2015

Microphone clip webcam mount

Filed under: Music,Work — admin @ 10:10 pm

Quite a departure here when most of the blog’s about my own outdoor or musical activities, but here’s something I made for work nearly three years ago, stopped using when upgrading from Windows XP to Windows 7 killed off webcams as full-screen, plug-and-play devices under ‘My Computer’, but thought worth sharing now I know how to get the full-screen output back…

It’s a webcam mount for a microphone stand, made from a cut-down broken microphone clip, and intended for demonstrating keyboard fingering or guitar picking/chord shapes to my music classes on the SMARTBoard (though simple screens would work just as well for those with computer projectors but no SMARTBoard because you don’t need the ‘smart’ interfacing for this). Hopefully obvious from the photos how to make one for a Logitech webcam at least, but the mic clip’s basically flattened off with the webcam attached by a cable tie which goes round the base of the ex-clip and through a hole drilled to keep it snug to that.

2015-01-23webcam1 2015-01-23webcam2

2015-01-23webcam3 2015-01-23webcam4

When used with a boom stand, it’s then easily set up to show piano keys, either hand on guitar etc. and could obviously be useful for other non-musical demos as well. It’s no good with the supplied webcam software because you just can’t get full-screen live output from that when the whole point’s large-scale, live demonstration rather than recording, but back in service now Mark McLean found me a cheap-and-cheerful solution in VideoLAN’s VLC media player, which we already had installed on every school computer. Just select your webcam as video capture device (make sure it’s not your audio capture device first if you’ve got amplified audio output and don’t want things screaming!), click ‘Play’ and there you are! There’s a hint of time lag which might rule out a useful live Flight of the Bumble Bee, but won’t cause you problems demonstrating the kind of five-finger positions, simple beginner tunes, keyboard settings/screen output, guitar shapes and picking/strumming patterns you’re most likely to want on screen.


And that’s it really, apart from how you get it to where you need it when most webcam cables are pitifully short and standard extensions may result in no output at the length you need. But this one works fine with a 10m NEWlink USB2.0 active repeater cable and Mark’s now successfully tested the same cable with a number of different devices since we got ours, so there you go! :-)

2015-01-23keyboard1 2015-01-23keyboard2

2015-01-23piano1 2015-01-23piano2

12 August 2014

Squares, stars, wheels and kelpies

Filed under: Music,Running,Uncategorized — admin @ 11:27 pm

Some tidying up of ‘Munro’ odds and ends last week, with Thursday as ‘deleted Top (square) day’ seeing the missing bumps (which quite frankly probably all deserved to be deleted!) on Meall Garbh and Meall Corranaich efficiently dispatched…


And Friday providing a good opportunity to bag long-demoted, but in no way diminished, ex-Munro Beinn an Lochain (still fully deserving that Corbett star!) en route to my mum’s for the weekend…


Which brought us two good trips together, with Saturday spent in Edinburgh at the Hebrides Ensemble lunchtime concert and Scottish Parliament to see the Great Tapestry, and Monday at the 12-year-old Falkirk Wheel (which I’ve been meaning to visit since it was built) and newly-completed Kelpies. And the Wheel/Kelpies combination is a great double act with obvious common ground in their stunning blend of art, engineering and watery purpose, and the Kelpies in particular suddenly making huge sense (as portal to the new canal extension rather than ‘just’ monumental sculpture) in growing logically from their environment in a way you just don’t appreciate from the motorway. So, with Wheel and Kelpies alike set in thoughtful, attractively landscaped parks where you could spend considerable time happily wandering on a fine day, what else can I say but ‘thoroughly recommended’? Except just watch the time-lapse (construction) and aerial videos on the Kelpies site! :-)

2014-08-11wheel1 2014-08-11wheel2

2014-08-11wheel3 2014-08-11wheel4

2014-08-11kelpies1 2014-08-11kelpies2
2014-08-11kelpies3 2014-08-11kelpies4

29 August 2013

Border pipes and Ben Vorlich

Filed under: Music,Running — admin @ 10:41 pm

Having a nice new set of Garvie border pipes to collect from Nigel Richard in Pathhead, what better way to start my Saturday than a quick trip up Ben Vorlich on the way? Which is what I’d meant to do till my wee walk slyly morphed into a Vorlich/Stuc a’ Chroin/Vorlich run, with the return over Vorlich included to 1. get the best run back down the main path when the peak was pretty well on/in the way anyway and 2. even up my somewhat meagre Vorlich/Stuc ascent count at three apiece! But not to worry when you can do the lot in three-and-a-half hours and still be down by lunchtime…

So what can I say about the new pipes apart from beautiful, fun and full of exciting possibilities, with (being quality borders) the chromatic scale you can’t get on smallpipes augmented by my additional high B/C/C# keys and the lovely alto drone I got Nigel to make after he nearly talked me into a baritone instead being just what I wanted all the time? Not that I’m going to abandon my (also lovely) smallpipes, but good times ahead! :-)

2013-08-24vorlich 2013-08-29garvie

4 June 2013

Rob Morsberger

Filed under: Music — admin @ 10:33 pm

Rob Morsberger was a musician of rare talent, writing and performing catchy, literate, eclectic and impeccably-crafted songs standing comparison to the very best of singer/songwriters. He was also a dear friend from Edinburgh University days, much loved and admired by many over his 53 years and very much in all our thoughts right now.

Some things we shared all those years ago still seem as clear as if they were yesterday. It was Rob who first brought Paul Simon without Art Garfunkel to my attention, and the early Simon solo work first heard in Rob’s Edinburgh flat that I still love best of all Simon’s output. I’ve no idea how many times I’ve played the tape of Randombach 3, an early dance score commission where Rob met the task of matching the rhythms of existing Bach movements with true style (shades of neo-classical Stravinsky and American minimalism but still above all Morsberger!) and recorded with Dick Lee and Will Schofield. While I recall him being justly proud of the first two movements, he seemed less satisfied with the concluding third (which he’d had to get finished comparatively quickly), but yet its lighter character with cheery clarinet theme for Dick still strikes me today as a fitting foil to what precedes it. And who could forget the gigs with Steve Kettley, with a Music Faculty concert of 8 December 1983 producing the uncomprehending Scotsman review comment ‘Steven Kettley and Rob Mossberger [sic] made improvisations for saxophone and piano, a form of dexterous doodling which is best listened to in small doses’ (but I could have listened to all night and think Rob, despite being a little perplexed and hurt by that bizarre assessment, might now find it funny in retrospect!). But, above all, my abiding memory of Rob back then has to be the camping trip we made to Glen Finnan in 1984 where we retreated unceremoniously after the ‘Night of the Midge’ (well, not just one midge!) to my aunt’s house at Spean Bridge…

While we didn’t see each other for many years after Rob moved to New York, we continued to correspond sporadically by post (remember that?) and I still have his letters, with one starting ‘Dear Ratfink [used affectionately, believe it or not!], I’m trying to do some composing right now, but as it is not really getting anywhere I’m taking a break to write to you instead’ and another (headed ‘ROBERT SECRET PRODUCTIONS’ and starting ‘Dear Pete – Ratfink 1’) announcing the birth of his first-born Ben, who’s now grown up but I’ve never met. And then we sadly drifted out of touch till I found him again (after years of regretful wondering) on Facebook in January 2011. But just months later he was diagnosed with the brain tumour that’s now killed him, responding with true grace and fortitude in a burst of creativity to get projects finished, tackle new ones while he still could and provide for his family.

His farewell Edinburgh concert of 5 December 2012 (at which Steve Kettley also played, Jenni Whiteside sang and I also caught up with the long-lost Antonia) and breakfast meeting with him, Jenni and Barbara the following morning are now treasured memories, and I remain grateful to my employers for letting me go and the snowy roads for staying clear enough to let me to get down from the Highlands for that and back without too much hassle. His songs remain both hugely enjoyable and deeply thought-provoking, with the inspiration behind some being obvious (the Stevenson reference of Modestine striking me on the way home from that trip), Rob having to point me in the right direction for others (my attempts to link ‘Natalia’ and ‘revolution’ having failed to pin down Alexander Herzen for Where is the Song) and some perhaps destined to remain forever mysterious now he’s no longer here to put me right.

So goodbye, Rob, and may your family and many friends take comfort from knowing there are people worldwide thinking of you and yours, with yet more surely about to start discovering your wonderful body of work.

With love

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