Sunday, 22 May 2011

Les Jeudistes Scottish Choir Tour No. 4

I know I sometimes write the first thing that comes into my head, and anyone reading these effusions is clearly graced with the greatest forbearance (or has no idea how best to spend his/her time), but today's post is something special.

No, it's no illusion, no trick photography. It's the Sultan of Oman's Mounted Pipe Band. Look, you can quite clearly see the camels, with bagpipers mounted. How you do this I've no idea. And just think, the other day I could have found out, but the opportunity passed, and unless any of the myriad camel-mounted pipers that come here every day can enlighten me, it will have passed for ever.

We took Les Jeudistes to Cawdor Castle. It's the one in which Macbeth murdered King Duncan, according to Shakespeare. (In fact Macbeth, who reigned in Scotland - as it often does - at about the time of William the Conqueror wasn't a bad king at all. His queen was called Gruoch, or maybe she was merely clearing her throat when asked what her name was.) It's a fascinating place to visit, and I've known this castle for many years. I once borrowed - by permission of Earl Cawdor, a Campbell - the castle dinner gong for a performance in which I was playing percussion of Carmina Burana in nearby Inverness.

I arranged for a piper to meet Les Jeudistes, thinking we might as well go the whole hog. Mutedly resplendent in mainly blue tartan, he met us at the turnstile, led us in procession to a well-known march called The Old Rustic Bridge by the Mill to the castle drawbridge, where we were all photographed with him. When he stopped playing I asked him what his pipe-history was: usually pipers have served with some military unit or other. He wore a silver badge with a stag's head on it, the badge of Clan Mackenzie which eventually became, together with the motto 'Caberfeidh', the emblem of the Seaforth Highlanders, now merged into The Highlanders.

Yes, he'd served with the Seaforths, he said, but after leaving and before taking full retirement he'd been appointed piping instructor to the Sultan of Oman. Here he had to learn not only to ride camels but to play the pipes while riding. I was tempted to think he was pulling my leg, but he was a very serious-minded gentleman, not at all like his interlocutor, so I imagine it must be true.

Les Jeudistes thanked him and moved into the inner bailey, just beyond the drawbridge. Although open to the skies, the acoustic was excellent. Despite our rule never to sing out of doors, we thought we might have a go just this once. We formed up and sang a couple of our Occitan folksongs. Heads appeared at doors and windows, mulberry-uniformed staff forsook the cafeteria to listen. Enthusiastic applause. Not having perfect pitch, I borrowed J.'s tuning fork to find the right pitch. I suppose I could have borrowed the gong again if I'd thought of it.

There's another stag's head on the heraldic shield above the gate. This time the motto is that of the Campbells of Cawdor: Be Mindful.

I don't think we'll forget.


Z said...

Enchanted as I was to find a pipe band at a wedding reception in Dehradun, I find that experience thoroughly upstaged by the Sultan's pipe-bearing camels. I'd rather have been at Cawdor Castle to hear Les Jeudistes than either though, to be honest.

I was telling my friend Brenda, who remarked on the signature in the church visitors' book, that my friends had come all the way from France to meet me (ahem). She was duly impressed and sends her regards.

Vicus Scurra said...

What amazes me is how that they got the camels to do the "Highland Fling", what with them not having the Gaelic and all.

Dave said...

Wild bagpipes, roasted with a little garlic, taste remarkably like camel.

Rog said...

Sound like it was a perfect pitch.

Reminded me about my mum's 80th a few years ago when me and my brother hired a pipe band and marched through her housing estate one Sunday morning banging out Flower of Scotland at full belt.

She was just as surprised as the neighbours

Christopher said...

Thank you, Z, and thank you, Brenda, compliments returned. And there was no ahem! about it...

Vicus: I don't know which is the more mulish and disobliging, camel or bagpipe. Indeed if you tried blowing at high pressure into the camel's mouth I daresay the resultant noises would somewhat resemble the bagpipe.

Dave: You really are a man of the most diverse experience. You must have lived a life of great deprivation at some stage if roasting bagpipes was part of it. Or perhaps this was deliberate, in preparation for some greater function? I think of locusts and wild honey in the desert and (if garlic was involved) of John the Burptist.

Rog: I believe this is the preferred tune of Scottish bakers?

Sarah said...

Reminded me of a wedding I once went to in Edinburgh. It was held in a former Methodist chapel, now (or then....1980 summut) an Armenian restaurant. A whole lamb was cooked on a huge open fire in the middle of the room. And throughout the evening a piper piped his heart out, standing in dense smoke! It's still the best wedding reception I have ever been to.

Christopher said...

Aye aye, not for naething do they ca' Edinburgh 'Auld Reekie', Sah.

Anonymous said...

The Sultan of Oman's Camel Pipe Band has lots going for it. Bowel aerated sound is prevalent in bagpipe playing which camel mounted pipers could more readily be accused with incongruous, out-of-place musicianship. "So sorry Most Highly Salacious Eminence - It was the camel that insulted The Sultan with his (not You Your Eminence – the camel’s) farting during the playing of Your Eminence’s favourite The Desert Song."

letouttoplay said...

Camels and bagpipes, what an appropriate combination. Very musical creatures camels. And bagpipes are quite humpy looking.
The Sultan must be a man with impeccable taste.