Pipers in Boston: Jamie MacLean, Nick Hurn and Matt Horsman (Photo courtesy Pipers Inc.)
It sounds like a summer movie. Four Scottish bagpipers load up their “Harvey the RV” for a madcap tour of the East Coast, from Boston to Miami, and play their instruments whenever and wherever they can. They pass a hat, drink a few beers, get pictures and take them, and are on to the next gig.
While not a film, it’s really happening, and on Friday evening, they’ll arrive in Richmond for a few days in time for all the fireworks. We're a new addition, so our fair town hasn't yet gotten added to their tour map.
Nick Hurn, Matt Horsman, Angus Lutton and Jamie MacLean are, together, Pipers Incorporated. They are friends and college schoolmates, recently graduated. Their European tour last year proved gratifying and award-winning. They played before the Prince of Monaco and also participated in the Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo, at which was present Queen Elizabeth II. They were in Paris last year, and that's how my wife, Amie, caught their act. And she found them, well. Adorable.
Pipers in Paris: Matt Horsman, Nick Hurn and Jamie MacLean (Photo by: Amie Oliver)
A few days ago I caught up to them via Skype when they were in a Secaucus, New Jersey, Walmart. Nick Hurn explained that Walmart allowed for their overnight camper stay, and that gave them the opportunity to replenish supplies before taking off for Philadelphia.
“Last year we went on a massive loop around Europe in a Mercedes Sprinter van,” he says. “We got such good feedback for our performances. So we decided, well, we’re now old enough to drink in the States, so we’ll go there next year.” By the way, Hurn celebrated his 22nd birthday in Philly.
Hurn and Horsman are boyhood friends from Edinburgh who both graduated from Glasgow University. Hurn's studies included English literature, though now he’s leaning toward the adaptive reuse of old properties. Man, is he coming to the right place. Jamie MacLean returns to Glasgow in the fall, and Angus Lutton graduated a few weeks ago from Aberdeen College in Geography. I ask if Angus’ geography skills should make him a good navigator for Harvey. “Angus just arrived here,” Hurn replies. “So his skills in that area have yet to be tested.”
Each of the Pipers Inc. players knows scores of songs, but the art is in learning enough together for a switchable repertoire that can, depending on the crowd, last up to an hour. Horsman notes that he and Hurn have played together since age 9. “We want to mix things up, to keep from driving ourselves crazy playing the same songs,” he says. They can provide an hour’s worth of music ranging from traditional Scottish tunes to contemporary music – up to and including Justin Bieber. The two young Scots laugh and look somewhat sheepish. “We learned that because we played in Toronto,” Hurn says. But there’s Pachelbel’s Canon and Beethoven selections, too.
By far the most unusual experience in the United States thus far was their Times Square concert. Hurn asked a security guard if they could play and arrangements were made. “Oh, you know, we hear about rude New Yorkers, and anybody we ran into did anything they could to help us out.”
To be there amid the wild lights at the center of New York was, says Horsman, “surreal. Our approach has been, ‘Better ask for forgiveness than permission,’ and with the Scottish accents and kilts, it’s usually worked out pretty well for us.”
In Boston and New York, though, finding Irish and Scottish bars that would let them play for a few coins tossed in a box and maybe a beer or two proved a bit more difficult. Hurn says, “These are places with bands booked in advance. And then we show up. But everyone was agreeable.” In Boston, the group played at the Boston Pride Festival, the Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
One of the objects of these impromptu gigs is to keep Harvey fed. “She gets an intimidating nine miles per gallon,” Hurn says. “She’s a thirsty gal. Well, you know there’s a division in the group about whether Harvey’s a he or a she.”
I replied that when I was at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow a couple months ago, an exhibition of work by Tessa Lynch included a collaborative wall text dialogue, "The Painter’s Table & The Flâneuse," where at one point a speaker observes, “And you know how you can discern the gender of inanimate objects? If they can carry something (smoothes hands over protruding belly) — it’s female!”
Hurn and Horsman thought that worthy of consideration.
Richmond, too, is in their consideration. They will, by week’s end, bring Harvey, be it he or she, into Manchester and from there hike/bus/Uber to various locations throughout the city. Look for kilted pipes players in Carytown, perhaps near the Carillon prior to fireworks, Tredegar Iron Works, and other places around town. There is a Facebook page here, though their Instagram site right now is the most active: @pipers_inc.
“It’s just such a great way of seeing as much of the world as we can,” Hurn says.