The Witches' Piper

Bagpipes and storytelling are both a big part of what we do.  I've been collecting folk tales of pipers for several years now, it seems that there are more stories connected to the pipes than any other instrument though, as bagpipes in their various forms have a very wide geographic spread, that's probably not too surprising.  I sometimes perform a whole set of bagpipe tales, and other times just find an excuse to squeeze in a little piper story.  This is one of those short ones.  I found it in Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales, where it's a Bulgarian story.  I told it a few times like that but didn't quite feel right, so I tweaked it a bit and moved it to my native Cheshire, along with a bit of dialect. 

You’ve heard how my elder brother plays the bagpipes?  Well, he was called to play for a party at Carden Hall, it must’ve been the day before Ash Wednesday.  And another feller from aback o’ Malpas was called to play his pipes for the children, Uncle Diccen his name is, he still lives in that village.

Now, at around eleven o’clock, Uncle Diccen was paid for his troubles and set off home.  But he was only betwixt Barton and Stretton when he was met by three women, all dressed in grey they were, and they said “Uncle Diccen, Uncle Diccen, come to play for us!” and dragged him away to a house at the end of the lane and set him on a bench there to play.  Well, other folk kept coming in and soon enough the place was thrunk and coins came crashing at Uncle Diccen’s feet until he thought it was as if he had the rent of the Dee Mills, until it turned midnight. 

Then, with a crash, Uncle Diccen found himself at the top of the poplar by Tilston stocks, and the night as black as a bag.  “Odd rot it! How did I get here?” thought Uncle Diccen.  On the lane below there was a chap coming from Shocklach way, and Uncle Diccen called to him to fetch him down, but this feller took boggart at some devil atop a tree at midnight and rushed off.  Soon enough though, there was a horse and cart coming from the Leche’s place and in it was Thomas Hulme.  “Is that you Uncle Diccen?” says Thomas.  “Damn it, of course it’s me! Now help me down.”

As soon as he was on the ground, Uncle Diccen began to look in the hem of his cloak where he’d hidden the coins he’d gathered, but it was full of nothing but broken crockery and chips of glass.  Such strange things sometimes still happen.

There are a couple of bagpipers in this 17th century picture of a Witches' Sabbath.  I've never been asked to perform at a gig like this by the way.