Belfast Telegraph

Meet the NI bagpiper who has played at Glastonbury and is now set to study at the same Glasgow college as Doctor Who star David Tennant

Bradley Parker (20),from Co Down will make history when he joins the elite ranks of bagpipe players in Scotland this September to study his musical craft. He tells Alison Fleming why he is so in tune with the instrument

A young Co Down bagpiper who started playing at just five years of age is the first person from Northern Ireland selected to study piping at the prestigious Scottish College, which boasts actors James McEvoy and former Doctor Who star David Tennant among its past pupils.

Bradley Parker (20) will start his BMus Traditional Music (Piping) course in the exclusive Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in September, a dream come true for the Portavogie man, who has been performing with the world champion Lisburn-based Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band for three years.

Bradley's path to piping started when he was in primary school 15 years ago.

"One of my friends was learning and I had a lesson on a chanter, which I really enjoyed. I picked it up really quickly and moved onto the bagpipes at the age of six, playing with Kirkiston Pipe Band," he explains.

"I was mainly focusing on solo competitions until the age of 17, when I got in touch with Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band.

"Pipe major Richard Parkes has overseen the band for nearly four decades and I wanted to learn from the best and improve my own knowledge about the instrument."

World's best: Bradley on stage with the Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band

Bradley knew he would be in accomplished company. "When I joined, they'd just won the grand slam of all five major championships - British, Scottish, European, the Worlds and the Cowal Championships," he says. "I played with them in 2014, when they won the World Championships, and it was one of the best feelings in the world being part of the band and experiencing that. You just want it every single year."

Now that he's off to Glasgow to study his craft, former Regent House pupil Bradley says he's sure his parents, Ewan and Roberta, won't miss the sound of the instrument that has played such a major role in his life. And he credits their support for enabling him to follow his passion for pipes.

"They've supported me more than anybody for the past 15 years, taking me over to Scotland for competitions and spending all their money on me - they've been behind me the whole way," says Bradley.

"They've never been involved in the musical side of things, but they've been so supportive, making a lot of sacrifices along the way. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have done half the things that I have.

"We haven't actually had a proper holiday in years because we were always travelling to competitions and getting lessons, so I really want to do my best for them."

Glasgow calling: Bradley Parker is off to study in Scotland

Mum Roberta couldn't be more proud of her talented son, who won Northern Ireland's Young Musician of the Year in 2011, saying his skills on the bagpipes are a family legacy.

"His grandfather played the pipes until the age of 20, so that's maybe where he got it from, and his grandmother on my side was a music teacher so it's definitely in his blood," she adds. "Even after his first couple of lessons, it was clear he had a real gift.

"His tutor at the time was incredibly impressed with him and it all took off from there."

Life for the Parker family has revolved around piping, with Bradley regularly travelling to Glasgow for lessons, and the constant exposure to the music has rubbed off on Roberta.

"We've travelled all over Scotland with Bradley, and I can now recognise the tunes he plays and differentiate between a reel and a jig," she says.

Bradley with a chanter at the age of just five

"I'm so proud of him. He's done exceptionally well travelling to places he never would have before he took up the bagpipes, playing in places like the House of Commons and Glastonbury.

"I've never been tempted to pick up the pipes - it looks too hard for me. I'll miss the noise of the pipes when he goes to Glasgow, but we've become used to it over the years to the extent that we don't really hear them anymore. It's just been part of life."

Bradley has dedicated his life to his passion. While his friends were out playing football or partying, he was focused on becoming a champion piper, picking up an array of accolades and converting his pals along the way.

"I actually got one of my best mates into piping and he's been doing it for about seven or eight years now," he says.

"My best friends are outside of the piping community, and they are totally bewildered by the pipes.

Young star: Bradley with his first prize for playing the pipes at the tender age of seven

"They think it's really cool that I'm doing well for myself, though, and they come to competitions to cheer me on."

Now he'll further his knowledge of the instrument in Glasgow, where he's been a regular visitor for competitions and lessons over the years.

So what will the course actually mean for young Portavogie piper?

"The course is a great basis for the bagpipes, with tuition twice a week from top pipers," he says, "so it will really improve my knowledge and technique of the instrument. It's a great stepping stone into the industry.

"I love all the sub-categories, like performance, production and composition, and my ambition is to make a living out of performing more than anything, either with solo performances or in a small traditional group, and I'd also like to teach the craft of piping.

"It's an honour to be accepted onto the course, and so I'm really excited to be starting and can't wait to get stuck into it."

BMus Traditional Music, Piping, which is delivered in association with the National Piping Centre, is the UK's only Bachelor of Music curriculum dedicated to traditional and folk music, and to the music of the Scottish Highland Bagpipe.

The degree offers the chance for students to concentrate on the total study of piping in all forms, while also developing their performance under some of the best players in the world, taking their knowledge of pipes to the highest level.

Bradley playing a solo

Professor Dr Joshua Dickson, head of traditional Music at the institution, said the college was looking forward to welcoming Bradley in September. "The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is a place like no other, offering a world-class arts education that nurtures the next generation of creative leaders," he adds.

"As one of the world's top three institutions for the study of the performing arts, this is the place to study traditional music and piping."

Pipe major Richard Parkes, who's been awarded an MBE for his services to pipe band music in Northern Ireland, says the entire Field Marshall Montgomery Pipe Band are immensely proud of Bradley's achievements.

"He's a very talented piper, and it's great to see someone from Northern Ireland going to the Conservatoire to study," he stresses. "All of our players are incredibly talented, but the composing and harmony techniques Bradley will study will really add to the skills he has for musical arrangement."

Despite moving across the Irish Sea, Bradley will still be able to practise with fellow band mates as 12 other members also live in Glasgow and come together once a week, with the band getting together once a month in Northern Ireland for rehearsals.

And Bradley, who practises for an hour each night, will continue with his commitment to perfecting his skills in Glasgow, already planning where he'll be able to play with the minimum of disruption to fellow students.

"When I move to Glasgow, I'll be using practice rooms at the Royal Piping Centre, which is just across the road from the Conservatoire, so I won't be making too much noise in my student accommodation," he says.

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