Let’s hear it for the girls’ skirls

Celebrity bagpiper Louise Marshall Millington. Picture: Neil Hanna
Celebrity bagpiper Louise Marshall Millington. Picture: Neil Hanna
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A MERE puff of the likes of Highland Cathedral does it for most people – images of tartan-clad men clutching ­bagpipes, their backs as straight as their rosy red faces.

But with the British Pipe Band Championships looming, the spotlight is set to be thrown on the increasing number of women taking up Scotland’s national instrument, defying the stereotype that piping is a man’s game.

One such example is at Preston Lodge High School, in Prestonpans, which has 31 places for eager pupils desperate to learn bagpipes and drums. And despite being instruments traditionally dominated by men, the school is turning convention on its head by having 24 girls in the group – compared to just seven boys.

The group has already competed in the European Pipe Band Championships where it bagged bronze in the novice juvenile category.

Lee Moore, ­bagpipe instructor at the school, said ­female students were earning their places in the band solely on merit.

“It really surprises most people when they learn that almost 80 per cent of our band members are girls,” he says.

“But in my experience, this is simply down to the fact that they are more determined to master an instrument compared to the boys.

“The girls are definitely more interested in playing at an earlier age. Piping is often seen as a male dominated pursuit and that is certainly no longer the case. Here at Preston Lodge the girls have seized the opportunity and shown great dedication to representing the school. Hopefully this growing trend will influence other females to start playing in pipe bands and keep the tradition going strong all across Scotland. It would be fantastic to see this being repeated at more and more state schools.”

The Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championships, now in its second year – with the motto “Every School Needs a Pipe Band” – was held this year at Broughton High with organisers working hard to promote piping and drumming, particularly in the state school sector where it is still relatively unusual.

David Johnston, from East Lothian, is chairman of the committee behind the competition: “Independent schools have a thriving tradition of producing excellent pipe bands and they have also seen a much greater interest among girls in the past few years.”

Keen for not only more piping in schools, but also among girls and women, celebrity bagpiper Louise Marshall, 44, started learning the bagpipes when she was just nine, following in the footsteps of her late father, William Marshall – who was the official piper at Gretna Green for more than 40 years.

Pictured overleaf, she can boast the likes of The Queen, Sir Chris Hoy and the Pope as people she has played for – to name but a few. Louise has also given Britain’s Got Talent star Susan Boyle a lesson recently, ahead of the celebrity’s role as Chieftain of the British Pipe Band Championships, on May 31 in Bathgate.

However, despite an early enthusiasm for the pipes, Ms Marshall studied business and German at university, then had two children (Rory, 15, and Iona 12), before piping professionally. Her son, a drummer with Stockbridge Pipe Band will play at this month’s championships.

“I absolutely love what I do,” she says. “I have been given so many opportunities and it’s lovely to teach young people as well as adults, especially when it’s something you enjoy – it has opened so many doors for me.

“I think there should be more tuition in schools available so piping can be available to all pupils because at the moment it’s not.

“There’s a big push for that at the moment – every pupil should be given the opportunity to learn them.”

The British Pipe Band Championships 2014 take place on Saturday, May 31, at Burgh Muir, Bathgate. Visit www.bathgate2014.com for more details.