Mar 07


FT + Popular43 comments • 9,458 views

#312, 15th April 1972

I don’t know exactly what the market for “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes was, but I’d hazard a guess there’s not much crossover between it and its surrounding hits. To state the obvious, it sounds more than a little out of place – a sudden incursion of solemnity, but also in its way the most extreme sound to reach Number One in 1972.

I have rather a soft spot for the keening, buzzing, stringent sound that bagpipes make. If you’re a southern English pop fan,  you don’t get to hear them a lot outside televised ceremonials, but I’ve never understood their position as comedy instrumental whipping boy. I also don’t know what use the artier end of drone-making has made of them: surely some, as what “Amazing Grace” reminds me of are the minimalist CDs I own by the likes of Tony Conrad and Charlemagne Palestine*. The Dragoon Guards’ drones never become the focus of the record – there’s a tune to play, and a well-known and comforting one at that – but even so the thick overtones and piercing sweetness of the sound can’t quite be overcome by contextual frumpiness. I’m sure that if you were there, the pipes would have become intolerable, but I think they’re an attractive palate cleanser at the very least.

*My recreational drone use has become a minor casualty of getting married: Isabel can’t stand extreme monotony or repetition, whereas I find both of them touch and soothe something quite deep in me. I can get roughly the same effect through an engrossing computer game or a hot bath, though, and without causing her extreme mental torment. Not a sacrifice I particularly regret, but I’ve kept most of the CDs for some happy day when I have a study of my own and can keep out the kids with a bit of Angus Maclise. For the record, I think what this track most reminds me of is Jim O’Rourke’s harmonium drone album Happy Days, though I seem to recall Keiji Haino did some bagpipe material too – so perhaps I’m thinking of that.




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  1. 31
    Billy Smart on 9 Dec 2011 #

    I’ve just found another bagpipe-heavy hit, Paul & Barry Ryan’s ‘I Love How You Love Me’ – Number 21 in 1966, pop pickers! That’s one hell of an odd arrangement, a conventional Everlys-type song and performance with raga-like bagpipes oscillating in the background and occasionally coming into to the foreground. This counterpoint of drone and harmony *might* be the point where the Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine were invented.

  2. 32
    Billy Smart on 18 Dec 2011 #

    And I’ve just discovered *another* bagpipe hit – Kelly Marie’s no. 22 smash ‘Hot Love’. She was clearly looking for another gimmicky hook to follow on from ‘Choo! Choo!’ synths. As a substitute, the bagpipes do make your ears prick up when they come in, but don’t really convey hot lovin’ to me.

  3. 33
    wichita lineman on 18 Dec 2011 #

    None match Ruth Copeland’s Silent Boatman, the only song I can think of with bagpipes on it that can make me well up. At least, Parliament’s cover has bagpipes on it.

    In an era when Linda Perhacs is on US chat shows and people yawn when Vashti Bunyan turns up on a festival bill, Ruth C remains one of the few once-obscure girl singers of the era still entirely lost. She was Durham-born, and Funkadelic were initially her backing band. Her first album is a weird mix of Motown, folk and funk; one song has a crying solo, and the opening track is a monologue about her journey from Durham to Detroit. The whole thing is off-the-scale great:


    Re 31: The Ryans’ 45 is totally bizarre, and it’s hard to believe it was any kind of hit.

    I’m surprised Joe Meek never used bagpipes for novelty effect… am I forgetting something?

  4. 34
    Mark G on 19 Dec 2011 #

    #32 omg I just remembered the TOTP appearance where her 2 faithful side-dancers broke into a scots jig (hop on one foot, then hop on the other) while wearing kilts….

  5. 35
    Mutley on 19 Dec 2011 #

    Re 33. The closest Joe Meek got to bagpipes was probably the Tornados’ Stompin’ Through the Rye (1965) which was B-side to Early Bird and produced by Joe Meek. This was presumably based on Bill Haley and his Comets recording of Rocking’ through the Rye (1956). Haley’s lyrics were based on Robert Burns’ poem Comin’ thro’ the Rye. Neither version had bagpipes but should have, given the strong “Scottish” feel. At least both had bagpipe-like effects, made by guitar and saxophone on the Bill Haley number. The title of J. D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) has connections with Burns’ poem too. So there’s Jo Meek’s link with Holden Caulfield!

  6. 36
    Billy Smart on 27 Dec 2011 #

    And I’ve just discovered yet another bagpipe hit, Voyage’s discolicious ‘Scots Machine’ (No. 13, 1978), though I strongly suspect that the other A side, ‘From East To West’ might have been what people bought it for. I rather enjoyed listening to this one, but I’d be stumped as to how to dance to it – disco and traditional Scottish dancing being two imcompatible forms of choreography to my mind.

  7. 37
    weej on 27 Dec 2011 #

    Not much of a hit, but I still love it when the bagpipes kick in in this – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdRBoQ6wWJw

  8. 38
    Ken Shinn on 30 Jul 2012 #

    You’ve just reminded me of how much I love the bagpipes on Tim Curry’s take on “Wake Nicodemus”. And let’s not forget Cicero’s “Love is Everywhere”, heavily-plugged on a PSB connection but didn’t really trouble the charts. Which was a shame.

  9. 40
    Lena on 11 Oct 2012 #

    How sweet the sound?: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/no-agony-please-were-british-vicki.html Thanks for reading, everyone!

  10. 41
    mapman132 on 1 Mar 2014 #

    Surprisingly this was also a hit in America: peaking at #11. I’d be curious to see the sales/airplay breakdown on that…

  11. 42
    lonepilgrim on 24 Aug 2018 #

    I suspect that I may have been mildly irritated by this at the time as I began to engage more actively with TOTP and the charts but now I quite like it for its droning atonal quality. I vaguely recall reading an interview with a drone metal guitarist in The Wire magazine a few years ago who had developed his interest in the musical quality via playing bagpipes in his school marching band.

  12. 43
    Gareth Parker on 28 May 2021 #

    No, I can’t take to the bagpipes I’m afraid. 2/10 for me.

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