Craig Munro Wallace Bagpipes Ltd

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PROFILE

by Andrew Bova

CRAIG

MUNRO

IN the piping and drumming community, there are a number of standouts who

possess an impressive plethora of piping skills and who exemplify the phrase

“portfolio career”. One of those pipers is Craig Munro: Master Craftsman and

Production Director of Wallace Bagpipes, member of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers,

piper with Saint Laurence O’Toole Pipe Band, adjudicator, sought-after workshop

teacher and lecturer, and piper for cinematic soundtracks such as Disney Pixar’s

Brave and DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2.

It’s four years since Craig was last interviewed in Piping Today, so there’s a lot to

catch up on, as well as finding out his future plans.

What’s changed in the course of the last four years?

There’s been a lot of changes at Wallace Bagpipes since I took over completely

in January 2012. We’ve become a lot more prominent, especially in the events side

of things, including sponsorship of the CLASP (Competition League for Amateur

Solo Pipers). What I’ve done is try to change the direction the business is going

because about four years ago we didn’t really know where we sat in the marketplace.

Two years ago, a German piper asked: “Who are Wallace Bagpipes in terms of their

procedure, marketing etc?” with the simplified version of that question being “What’s

the difference between you and bagpipe maker B?” That’s a very difficult question to

answer without being biased. So what I had to do was sit down and think about who

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PROFILE

Shifting

focus

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PROFILE

we are and how do I define what we’re doing?

In answering that question, one of the

biggest things I’ve been trying to get across

is the manufacturing procedures. My whole

background is engineering and because Wallace

Bagpipes was a branch of Jet Engineering, people

think our factory in Anniesland, Glasgow,

is littered with CNC machines. The truth of

the matter is that we’ve only got one, and that

machine only does 5% of our process, so we’re

95% tradition and 5% CNC automated. Compare

that against most other makers, and you

would find the opposite, 95% CNC and 5%

traditional. So the last four years, for me, have

been about defining ourselves as a traditionbased

company.

The reality is that you’re never going to be a

millionaire making bagpipes, so there’s no point

in trying to take people for every single penny

or, vice versa, trying to rush pipes out the door.

I’m just very thankful that I wake up every day,

I enjoy my job and I have a great team of guys.

All I ever say to the guys in the factory, and to

anybody else that asks me about Wallace Bagpipes,

is that as long as the wages are paid, the

bills are paid, and there’s a wee bit left in the pot

at the end of the year, everybody’s happy. I have

a great team, and I hope we stick together for

the rest of our working days. I have no intentions

of doubling the staff force or machinery.

Our smaller size benefits us in that we have a

very personal approach at Wallace Bagpipes to

the degree that I’m personally at the other end

of the phone or e-mail. Face to face interaction,

personal interaction, individual service — it’s

all important.

One of your recent developments with the

business is a partnership with Chris Armstrong

to produce the Armstrong Bagpipe.

How did that partnership come about and

what sets the Armstrong Bagpipe apart?

I’m eager to talk about this. We manufacture

the Armstrong Bagpipe and Chris is keen for

people to know that we’re the company manufacturing

his product. That’s partly because

while it’s a worldwide market, it’s still quite

niche and people would find out that we’re the

manufacturer, but also because anybody who

knows Wallace Bagpipes knows that we produce

a quality product. We believe in our products

and have great customer service and I know

that because I put my heart and soul into it.

As far as how the partnership came about, we

were teaching a workshop together in Austria

and started chatting about how pipes are made.

The conversation was very positive and later

Chris approached me, saying that he had an

idea to make a set of pipes and wanted to know

how I felt about making the prototype. From

the start, it was an exciting and fun experience.

Anyone who knows Chris knows that he’s a very

methodical guy who leaves nothing to chance

and this was a unique opportunity because his

prototype idea was his own design, not based

on an older bagpipe.

The reproduction market doesn’t sit well

with me. I say let legends be legends and leave

them be. He said the pipes are based on his

findings over the years, over various pipes he’s

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PROFILE

played or set up for pupils or folk in the band, taking characteristics

from various sets of pipes and modifying them

with his own ideas.

What sorts of things did he pick up on and use in his

own designs or are they trade secrets?

I think it’s quite good to get it out there. He never came

to me with a set of pipes, he came to me with drawings of

pipes. Chris is a very artistic guy, to the extent that he drew

his own engraving patterns for his pipes by hand.

When he first gave me the drawings my initial reaction

was: “This will never work. There’s certain things going

on there that, as a pipe maker, defy all logic.” This was

particular in the bores, especially the counter bores. They’re

actually quite short, so if you were to take those drones and

pull them down as far as they could go, they’d likely sit about

an inch off the mount.

There were other things as well but Chris insisted that

I just make it, so I did and I couldn’t believe the results,

to be honest. What he was really looking to do was differentiate

the bass from the tenors. And he’s achieved that.

The bass bell is different from the tenor bells. The bass is

a conical taper and on the tenors, it’s like a chalice inside

which gives the drones a very balanced projection of bass

and tenor creating an excellent

overall blend of harmonics.

This is the only bagpipe I know

of that has different bells in the

bass and tenors.

We went about working on

the prototype very quietly and

he’d only had them about a

month when he took them

to London and won the Gillies

Cup. More recently,

he played the pipes in ScottishPower

for the 2016 season.

Following the Worlds, he boxed up

the prototype and we made a new

set with his distinctive aged imitation

ivory and nickel slides. He had

those going for two weeks when he

went to Oban and took fourth

in the Silver Star MSR. It

shows that the pipes

will hold up at the

highest level.

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PROFILE

You mentioned about Wallace Bagpipes

sponsoring the CLASP. How did that sponsorship

come about, what is the relationship

like and what are your views on the CLASP

as both a competitive and educational

programme.

I get e-mails and requests every day requesting

sponsorship and donations for events and

it’s something that I am very particular about.

I don’t just sponsor everything and anything

— anyone familiar with Wallace Bagpipes will

know that. We’re not in every magazine, we’re

not on every website, we don’t give sets of pipes

away to every solo contest, and I’m very selective

about how I go about sponsorships.

The reason isn’t that I’m a scrooge, it’s more

that we are in business so I’m only going to

sponsor an event if it’s beneficial in promoting

Wallace Bagpipes. What we don’t do any more

is give pipes away for prizes or raffles. My experience

is that most pipes that people win get

sold, which devalues our product. The other

part of that is that if you’re winning the pipes

by winning a competition, then you probably

don’t need a new set of pipes.

Instead we donate vouchers for people to

attend workshops, which actively helps pipers

develop. By providing Wallace Bagpipes

scholarships for people to attend workshops,

it helps them get tuition from some of the best

teachers in the world, paid for by us.

Ultimately, we’re picky about what we choose

and I’ve been quoted as saying “at Wallace

Bagpipes we’re about the right opportunity, not

every opportunity.”

The reason the CLASP really appealed to me

is that this area of piping has been completely

overlooked, diminished, and pushed to the side

over the years. When you get to 18, it’s very difficult

to make the professional grade and most

people just don’t get to that level. Any event

you see is geared towards kids or professionals,

so there was no in-between until the CLASP

came about.

My experience from teaching at workshops

is that on average you’ll get 50 people attending,

and of those 50, maybe 10% will be good

enough to perform at a professional or Grade 1

pipe band level. The rest are sitting around the

Grade 4, Grade 3A area. But that’s my market,

because if you’re a professional piper, you’re going

to be playing a set of pipes that you trust

and been playing for a long time so you’re not

really looking for anything else.

Here, The National Piping Centre has an

association that is solely geared towards my

market for business. But it’s not only that, I

see this as a nice thing to do by giving back to

the people who really need it. All the sponsorship

currently available is either for kids or

professionals. Everybody just forgot about the

pipers outside those two groups, which is why

I feel it’s necessary to support it and which is

why this is now our biggest sponsorship. It’s a

fantastic thing.

The CLASP has given these players an

opportunity to perform and compete, where

before the opportunities were limited, and as a

result they’ve built up a close network of friends.

Sure, they compete against each other, but it’s a

friendly rivalry, and I can see it all over Facebook

that they meet up and get together. And they’re

growing better together, because the CLASP

also provides workshops for them to come and

not only compete, but learn. And that’s why

the CLASP will get my 100% support.

This year’s Grade 1 CLASP winner was Gill

Cairns, who I know very well and plays a set

of our Classic 4 pipes with a wooden Wallace

pipe chanter so it was nice that in my first year

as sponsor I was presenting the top prize to a

complete Wallace set-up player.

How has the birth of your child and the

growning demands of Wallace Bagpipes

impacted on your role in the Red Hot Chilli

Pipers. Have you had to take a step back?

Yep, I’ve done it. It took a lot longer than I

thought it would and I’m still in the band, just

only doing corporate work so the gigs are all

UK based. The touring is done for me. The

big factor in that was my boy coming along and

I wanting not to be away from home for long

periods of time. Having a kid naturally changed

my life, and Wallace Bagpipes is the bread and

butter for me, so it’s about dedicating my time

to the company.

The exposure through the Chillis is fantastic

for the branding and exposure of Wallace

Bagpipes, things like packing the Fruitmarket

or O2 during Piping Live! is great for business,

especially when there is a large piping audience,

of course. But where I see the benefit is

that the Chillis get a lot of kids interested in

playing the bagpipes. Those kids might not

know anything about pipes, so they see the

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PROFILE

‘The big factor in that was

my boy coming along and I

wanting not to be away from

home for long periods of time’

Chillis, think they want to learn the pipes, and

get in touch with the band to find out about

starting lessons.

But it was selfish in that I was going on tours

with the Chillis and leaving the workshop. It

was never a happy medium. I would go away on

tour, which was great fun, great branding and

I’d get paid at the end of it which was amazing,

but I was fooling myself thinking I could be

abroad and run the business from my laptop. I

only ended up coming home to a mountain of

things to deal with.

It was the wee man that really made me

decide I didn’t want to be abroad, I didn’t want

to be away from my family. That said, I believe

the Chilli Pipers are going to be around forever.

If it was going to stop, it already would have.

Recently someone, a professional piper who will

remain unnamed, aired their disgruntled-ness

towards what the Chilli Pipers are doing, and

my whole take on it is that love it or loathe it,

it’s a great advert for piping. You could take 10

of the best pipers in the world, put them on the

stage at BB Kings in the centre of Manhattan

and you’ll be lucky if you sell 50. The Chillis

play a run of gigs at BB King’s and it’s sold out

every night, every single year. I maintain that

there is no other bagpipe act that can do what

they do in terms of ticket sales worldwide.

Your involvement in St Laurence O’Toole

has increased over the years. How has your

role developed?

Well, I should have touched on that when

discussing the Chillis, because it was very difficult

balancing everything out. I have to say that

Terry, and latterly Alen, have been extremely

supportive of my involvement in the Chillis,

Wallace Bagpipes and my workshop teaching

duties. There was a number of competitions

I wasn’t able to attend because I was on tour

and I had to go on tour because it was a part

of my job with the Chillis. That still happens

to a degree, where if I have to miss something

in relation to Wallace Bagpipes the guys are

incredibly supportive, and know that they have

my 100% loyalty.

I’ve been in the band since 2011 and would

like to think I’m a strong part of the band and

have a good connection with Alen and Stephen

Creighton, whom I’ve played for at the World

Solo Drumming on many occasions. It’s a great

band to be a part of, a very close band. My role

in the band has been increasing to the point

where I’m running the Scottish team. That

seems to be a growing thing in pipe bands now,

and we know that Field Marshal have had this

for a long time, probably about 40% of their

pipe corps is over here in Scotland and there’s

no reason that we couldn’t. It’s changed times

in pipe bands now as Terry was very strict about

keeping a home-grown corps. When I joined

the band there were only three overseas players:

myself, Gareth Rudolph and Andrea Boyd out

of a pipe corps of 22 or 23. Over the years, it’s

become more acceptable for distance players

to come in.

Finally, is there anything you would like to

say to the piping and drumming community

at large?

I think we need to remember that, whilst

we’re competing against each other, there’s times

we need to put that to one side and remember

that we’re here to enjoy what we do.

Sometimes there’s too much focus on competition

and being better than the next person.

I’ve found that creeping in more and more recently,

that it’s all about the win and not about

the joy. I think people could come together a lot

more and I’d include the business side in that.

I was told years ago that all the bagpipe

makers used to get together around Christmas

time and go for lunch, or go for a drink, and

discuss how many pipes they sold that year and

how many they thought they would sell the

next year. They’d come up with a figure and

put in one order for enough wood to cover that

figure in order to save on shipping costs and get

a better price on the wood.

There’s none of that now, and that’ll never

come back. So it’s there in both the business

and the competition. And whilst for some of

us it’s a business, for 90% of pipers it’s a hobby

and we need to remember that it’s a worldwide

community.

As a result of that focus on competition,

I’m sad to say that I know of many pipers who

are no longer competing because they’ve lost

the motivation as it’s stopped being about the

music with the focus being on the competition

and the politics.

Ultimately, it’s about the music. l

PIPING TODAY ISSUE 83 • 2016 PAGE 35

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