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Jon Swayne Bagpipe maker

Jon Swayne

I’ve been making instruments full-time since 1981. Since about 1991 I have specialised in bagpipes, flutes and whistles. Before that I also made renaissance recorders and flutes and baroque flutes, but decided to specialise in bagpipes and whistles as demand grew. I also work as a musician and play in various groups, the best known of which is Blowzabella.
The first bagpipe I made was a Flemish-style instrument in D, based on the picture Peasant Dance by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted in  about 1568. If you are interested in knowing more about the reasons for this, you can find it in the biographical material about me in Blowzabella’s ‘New Tunes for Dancing’ an extract from which is here. That was in 1980, and I continued to make it for a number of years. A more up-to-date version of it can be found in the Historical Pipes section.

The second was a bagpipe in G, based on late medieval and early renaissance pictures of pipes in England. There will be more information about this instrument too in the Resources section. I made quite a few of these during the 80s; they had a distinctive sound which can be heard on the early Blowzabella recordings.
As the result of the wish to make a more modern British instrument, and in answer to the need for a bagpipe with the flexibility to play a wider range of repertoire, in 1986 I introduced an English border-style bagpipe in G, which formed the foundation for the range of border pipes described on the Bagpipes page. It was in the same year that I was elected Honorary President of the Bagpipe Society.

In about 1992 I started the bagpipe trio Moebius with Judy Rockliff and Don Ward. David Faulkner subsequently took over from Judy.

In 1998 I founded the six pipes and percussion group Zephyrus for which I wrote the Halfe Hannikin Variations, and subsequently the English Suite.

I also perform in a duo with accordionist Becky Price, part of the focus of which is to explore little known English repertoire, particularly from the 17th and 18th centuries.

After leaving school I trained and worked as a lawyer, but I combined this with a semi-professional musical career, playing flute and saxophone in a wide range of orchestras, bands and groups in the south-west of England. Becoming interested in early music and seeing the possibility of making instruments for the developing early music world, I took a three-year full-time course in Early Woodwind Technology at what was then called London College of Furniture and obtained a Diploma in Early Woodwind Technology with Distinction. While there I met people playing folk music and helped to found Blowzabella which I am happy to say is still going strong. Playing with Blowzabella turned out to be a good advertisement for my instruments, which helped to get my order-book going. Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with various part-time assistants, especially Rod Nelson who started in the mid 80s and was with me for many years; later ones include Roger Frood, Dominic Allan and Jim Blackburn.

Mike York has been with me since 2000; although he has long passed the apprentice stage, our relationship feels more like a partnership than that of a master/apprentice.

Michael York works with Jon Swayne

Michael York

My instrument-making career started when I came to work with Jon in 1999, having two years previously bought a set of his student pipes. After university, where I studied music and composition, I joined my friends at home in a folk band playing flutes. The accordion player, John, and I became fascinated by bagpipes and he made as many recordings as he could of  pipes heard on late night programmes on Radio 3, including a lot of Bulgarian gaida music. Then I discovered Jon’s pipes and got a grant from a local trust to buy the set of student pipes. Me and my friend Jim Penny did a lot of travelling and busking, went to St Chartier and generally began to meet people involved in folk music and bagpipes. I became enthused with the idea of  learning how to make pipes; Jon took me on, and I've been working with him ever since.
I consolidated my interest in gaida music by making three trips to Bulgaria to meet

musicians and instrument makers and on one trip spent ten days staying and studying with master gaida player and maker Petko Stefanov. Following on from that I made some gaidas for my own use. The experience of making single reeds for them, led to an interest in the double chanter pipes of Greece and Turkey, and to making a range of single reed pipes including Boha, Swedish pipes, Tulum and Tsabouna for various professional musicians. I’ve also designed a three-drone smallpipe in D using the same fingerings as Jon’s border pipes, though of course with just a nine note range. If I had to sum up my approach to instrument making, I would say that it is very much bound up with the music I want to play, in the sense that the process of making music usually starts with designing or modifying the instrument on which the subsequent music is to be performed. 

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