Brain disorder forces Pipers frontman to quit

Stuart Cassells plans one last gig with band
Stuart Cassells plans one last gig with band
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THE frontman of rock group the Red Hot Chilli Pipers has announced he is leaving the band after being struck down with a rare medical condition.

Piper Stuart Cassells, who formed the band almost a decade ago, revealed he had been forced to stop playing with the group that took bagpipe music to a new level, playing rock concerts in China and beyond and recording music for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

He has been unable to overcome focal dystonia – a neurological movement disorder that affects about one in every 200 musicians – despite radical treatments, including botox injections into his arm and taking a drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease.

The condition prevents musicians from using the fine motor control required to play their instrument, resulting in cramps and abnormal postures.

Despite that, the former Craigmount High School pipe band star is using his affliction as an opportunity to move to New York and, he hopes, bring a bagpipe show to Broadway.

The 32-year-old’s band, whose first gig was at the Royal Museum of Scotland eight years ago, said the condition has made playing difficult for the last two years.

He said: “It started about two years ago. I’ve gone from not having to think about playing, because I’ve been playing the pipes since I was seven, to having to concentrate on everything. It’s known as writer’s cramp, but it also affects surgeons, bagpipers and violinists. I’ve not spoken openly about it before, because you go for competitions and you don’t want to give away any weakness and give the judges anything to look out for. I’ve seen various experts all over the world and there isn’t a cure for it.”

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers have performed across the globe, including The Gathering in Edinburgh and festivals across Europe, and have sold more than 250,000 albums.

Despite having to leave the band he loves, Stuart is looking forward to the future. He said: “We’ve just headlined the Milwaukee Irish Fest, where we had 20,000 to 25,000 people per gig. It just seemed like a good time to finish.”

The band will continue and have taken on a young replacement from the world champion Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band, but Stuart hopes to return for a one-off gig.

He added: “When we started out we never imagined we’d be going all over the world. It’s been a phenomenal experience, so I’m not sad to move on to new things.”

rory.reynolds@edinburghnews.com