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SCOTSMAN Sat 5 Nov 2005


Harry Potter and the Piper

Jim Gilchrist


STUART CASSELLS, DEMON PIPER AND bagpipe entrepreneur, seems poised to make quite a name for himself - thanks, in part, to the forces of Darkness, and Harry Potter.


The 26-year-old Glasgow-based piper, who will perform at the Scots Trad Music Awards concert next month, upped his profile back in January when a fiery performance in the face of stiff competition saw him become BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of 2005. The award came with a deal to record his first CD, which sees him in the studio this month.



Until now, Cassells has made a living playing for weddings and corporate events. Distinctly non-traditional developments, however, include joining glam-rockers The Darkness on a track for their second album, due for release on 28 November, and powering an idiosyncratic little number called Do the Hippogriff, which features during the Hogwarts Yule Ball sequence in the upcoming Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It's performed on screen by "the Weird Sisters", featuring Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, Radiohead's Phil Selway and Jonny Greenwood alongside a computer-generated giant piper. But the piping is very much Cassells's.


Meanwhile, back among the Muggles, Cassells honed his diplomatic skills by accompanying the First Minister, Jack McConnell, to China last year. An amiable, stockily built character, he recounts all this with a big grin over a coffee just off Byres Road, where he lives. The Harry Potter recording session, he says, was a gas, and Cocker and co appreciated the young piper's abilities. "I seemed to lay it down, no problem at all."


The Potter job came about because he was the first student to emerge from Glasgow's Royal College of Music and Drama with an honours degree in piping (other notable young pipers have emerged from the RSAMD's Scottish music courses, but he was the first to complete its piping-specific course). Unbeknown to Cassells, his playing had caught the attention of the composer Patrick Doyle, a fellow of the college, who writes the scores for the Potter films.


He established the Darkness connection when he and his wonderfully titled group, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, played at T in the Park a couple of years ago. "They're very approachable guys and very laidback," Cassells says of the chart-topping rock band. "We'd been talking about my playing with them since March. I thought it would be great but never heard anything until I got a phone call from Dan [Hawkins] who says, 'Stuart, what are you doing tomorrow?' And I said, 'I'm going to Spain.' So he says, 'Well, what are you doing this afternoon?' and I said, 'Getting ready to go to Spain.' And he says, 'OK, get a flight down to London right away.'"


So he was off at the drop of a chanter, to find himself in the platinum disc-bedecked portals of London's Whitfield Street Studios. The session, he says, was "just great, a real challenge. I basically just laid down on the pipes the same as what the electric guitar was playing."


For his part, Hawkins is enthusiastic: "I think if we hadn't known Stuart and his awesome work it might not have happened. He just came in and we worked out the melody in his key. He performed it perfectly and we were done in a couple of hours. A total professional. I personally think the pipes make the track."


Now Cassells hopes Hawkins can reciprocate by playing on a track on his own "quite rocky" first album, which he's recording with a mix of folk and rock instrumentalists, courtesy of Footstompin' Records.


The track concerned is an established pipe march, The Hills of Argyll, "which we play more like an anthem. When we were rehearsing it I thought it would suit a good electric guitar solo, so I sent a message to Dan and was quite surprised when he came back and said he would do it."


It may sound like gimmickry to the purist, but Cassells has paid his piping dues in full, and his career path gives an insight into the uncertain prospects faced by anyone hoping to make a living from traditional music. Growing up in Falkirk, he was a member of the town's pipe band by the age of nine; and in his early teens he won "just about every junior solo competition except the Cowal". With his competition contemporaries Chris Armstrong, Gordon MacLean and Andrew Knight, he would later make an album, Young Pipers of Scotland, on the Greentrax folk label (produced by one of his great influences, the innovative piper Gordon Duncan).


When he left school, a degree course in marketing and tourism beckoned, but he took time out and found himself increasingly busy playing for corporate gigs - so much so that in 1999, with the help of the Prince's Scottish Youth Business Trust, he set up his own company, Scottish Bagpiper, supplying pipers, dancers and ceilidh bands for weddings and other events.


While playing the predictable material demanded by weddings and corporate functions, he was developing a cutting-edge piping style that sets him among the young firebrands of the folk piping scene. "I wanted the opportunity to be really top-grade, but on a Saturday afternoon I had to take the weddings, rather than go in for competitions. That was my living, but you get to the stage that you're playing the same stuff over and over." Salvation came with the RSAMD piping degree course, about which he is highly enthusiastic, seeing it as part of a broadening out of piping in Scotland: "Before, you had to make it big in the solo competition circuit before you were recognised. Now it's different."


Developments such as the RSAMD courses, the Feis movement and the general burgeoning of interest in traditional music means there are more young pipers and fiddlers playing in Scotland than ever before, but there are drawbacks. "Musically, it's a very healthy scene, with so many young exciting players about. But the pot of money isn't any bigger. I've been offered a few good playing gigs but they've all been for peanuts, whereas on the corporate market I get paid well."


The piper's dilemma, you might say. It sounds like a tune title, though perhaps not quite with the same ring as Do the Hippogriff.


From “The Darkness” to “Harry Potter” - read how The Scotsman summarises the career of Scottish Bagpiper’s Stuart Cassells...

Click for a sample from "Blown Away"Click for a sample from "Blown Away"Click for a sample from "Blown Away"Click for a sample from "Blown Away"

Red Hot Chilli Pipers; Foot Stompin’ Music

Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama;

Hands Up For Trad; The Prince’s Trust

STUART CASSELLS ON THE BBC: An entertaining contributor to many BBC Scotland Piping programs—from BBC Radio Scotland’s Pipeline to Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show. And did you catch him performing with The Red Hot Chilli Pipers featured on BBC Scotland’s “Piping Hot” documentary? For a quick sample of Stuart on BBC Radio Scotland’s “Travelling Folk” click here.


Home page of Scottish Bagpiper

The Darkness, Harry Potter and Stuart Cassells

Travels with a set of pipes

Corporate Entertainment

Hear Stuart Cassells


FORM A CIRCLE: Why not drop along to one of the major Pipe Band Championship events this summer:

2006 Dates:

Dumbarton (The Scottish) 20th May;

Pitlochry (The British) 24th June; Letterkenny, Eire (All Irish) 1st July; Gourock (European) 29th July;

Glasgow (Worlds) 12th Aug;

Dunoon (Cowal) 26th Aug.

STUART CASSELLS ON CD: Hear a few samples from “Blown Away” the great new album from Stuart Cassells. Buy now.


Hear a different sample on each sporran









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