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stories from some of the world's top pipers

Stuart Cassells

“I have always wanted to be the rock star of the bagpipes. I always wanted to perform and I really enjoy it. I had the experience from a young age of having an audience of a hundred or so to perform to every night; that’s five hundred people a week from the age of twelve. I learned then what would work with an audience. You would try something one night and if it doesn’t come off then you don’t get the same applause. The sound of applause becomes quite addictive, you get used to hearing it and the more you hear it the more you like it. I have no problem admitting that I’m a bit egotistical and I think if you are going to be on stage and put yourself out in front of any audience then you have to have a level of confidence. An entertainer has to have some sort of ego.”

The ego has to be tempered with some sort of talent, and there is no doubt that Stuart has plenty of that. He started to hone it from a young age, and was strutting his stuff for friends and family long before he first picked up a set of pipes. “I suppose I’ve always been a bit of an entertainer. From the age of five or six I could recite Burns poems, tell wee stories and sing songs. I would go to my Gran’s most Sunday and she would ask me to sing a song or tell a joke. There were always people visiting my Gran’s house so you never knew who was going to be there on a Sunday afternoon to perform to. I think I was better at poems than songs; unfortunately I’ve never really been much of a singer. Everyone knew me as a wee confident boy who could perform, so even through school I was the one who would be asked to perform in the class whether it was at Burns Day or the school show.”

Perhaps as a precursor to what was to come in later years, Stuart managed to get lots of practice by entertaining tourists in the Stirling area. “My uncle was the chef in a restaurant that had American tourists in on a Friday night. Their regular piper was a young guy called David Methven, an excellent player who was with Shotts and Dykehead at the time and who went on to become pipe major of the Stirling Band, which is how I ended up there. He couldn’t make it one night and so my uncle piped up and said that his nephew played. He gave me a call and I had forty five minutes to get ready. I became the regular fill in for David and within six months he was too busy with other things and they gave me the job. I was working with an old guy called Chick Duthie, a real character. He was a great after dinner speaker and he did the best ‘Tam O’Shanter’ I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot. I learned from Chick about how to talk to an audience and he became like a surrogate father. He was the head guide at StirlingCastle and he gave me my first job when I left school. That was another great experience and a great way of learning how to communicate with people. I suppose that’s where I gained the confidence to be able to go on stage, become a showman and talk to people from all over the world.”


One Response to Stuart Cassells

  • Graeme Cassells says:

    I recall an evening at a Wallacestone pipeband practice when Tam Anderson the P/M had Stuart, who was about ten at the time,marching back and forth across the hall playing his pipes.Every so often Tam would stop Stuart,take the pipes from him and take a hair from his head,which is probably why he doesn’t have many,and put it into a drone reed.
    I commented that the pipes must be the most difficult instrument in the world to keep in tune to which Willie Davidson (the piping tutor,Ex Muirheads) said “Aye,they are about as temperamental as a woman.To which Tam replied in a deadpan straight face not joking not even a smile, “Naw,Naw,Willie,Ye kin sort pipes.” I nearly fell on the floor laughing.

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