The John Rook Manuscript

The Rook Manuscript was created in 1840 and consists of over 1260 tunes including over 80 sets of variations. One of the intriguing things about the manuscript was that the cover including an illustration of instruments (flute, fiddle, northumbrian smallpipes, flutina, bugle/trumpet) that Rook stated that he played (and the contents also referenced some of these instruments). The smallpipes in particular were puzzling as the form shown had only been invented 40 years earlier – and yet Rook gave his location as Cumberland; how was Rook, living in rural Cumberland, connected to the very small group of earlier pipers centered in North Shields?

The manuscript is only known through a photocopy – the original is now lost – but almost nothing was known about John Rook for the last 40 years. After much puzzling and research I’ve now finally found John Rook – and not only has he been found but he can now be placed in North Shields and we have details of his musical activities – in his own hand.

All of the information and the music has been compiled into a new book coming out 30th July. There’ll also be a spiral bound players manuscript of just the music (for playability). Subscriptions for the book open on the 22nd April and will run to the beginning of June.

You can also take a look at the photocopy here – and shortly you’ll be able to buy the book or the players manuscript here. The ABC transcription of the manuscript will also be made freely available in the summer.

Colin Ross – Master pipemaker

Colin Ross – fiddler, piper & master pipe-maker passed away recently. Amongst many other sets of pipes, he made both of my main chanters which I’ve played for the last 20 years or so and passed on his pipe-making knowledge to my family.

The ‘super-extended’ F chanter or ‘geet lang walking stick’ as it’s sometimes called is what I now play most and it is a masterpiece for which I am very grateful. I was on holiday when I heard of his passing; this tune came to me whilst reflecting on various memories – and playing his instruments. I always loved the way he played the fiddle and particularly the energy he applied to the big fiddle slow airs – this tune always knew it was going to be in D, use the extended range (a little) and use the top B. The original instruction was ‘Unmawkishly’ – but this was changed to ‘Slow & vigourously’ to be better understood!

Here’s the recording I made in the cottage kitchen on my phone shortly after I’d finished it:

And here’s the notes for anyone who wants to learn it: The Master of Monkseaton

How many keys do I need on my pipes?

Here’s the second of the decision charts for new pipers – one of the most frequent questions I am asked is ‘what keys should I get?’ There is no perfect configuration – everything is a compromise – and the most common one is ‘standard 7’:


Note that this chart only applies for F & G pipes – on a D set the chanter stick is much longer and different restrictions apply.

Bacon Butties

The cooking and serving of a breakfast bap is not I think a difficult thing. The Real Food Company at Newcastle Airport have however demonstrated how wrong I can be.

Breakfast Butty
Real Food Company, Newcastle Airport

At 8am in the morning facing a hard week of work I decided to treat myself, not having time for a sit down breakfast, the ‘breakfast bap’ looked like a good compromise consisting of sausage, bacon & egg. At £5.99 it was expensive – but this was in an airport. The catering assistant reached behind him and pulled out a pre-cut roll, my heart sank a little. One sausage was picked up and placed on the bottom half and the tongs returned to the dish .. but no .. it was not a second sausage but two pieces of bacon. Imagine my reaction then when the tongs are opened and the two rashers returned to their home. A second dip in and single solitary folded up sliver arrives to join the lonesome sausage in it’s flour encrusted home. By now my expectations were significantly reduced but as it turned it out the culinary highlight was to be the egg – which was at least cooked on the spot. The bap now assembled was handed across and I in my pre-breakfast fog actually paid for this.

I sank into the faux leather seats and examined the construction before compounding my error of buying it by attempting to eat it. The ‘bread roll’ had the consistency of cardboard – must have cost 5p at the most. The sausage tasted like it had a good helping of ingredients from the same cardboard factory. The bacon and egg had in effect no taste whatsoever.

Now a roadside butty van will produce you a sausage, bacon & egg butty for about £3.50 – it will be overflowing with sausage, have at least a couple of rashers and you’ll be catching egg from the moment you get hold it. If I’m going to get charged double that and you want to me to be happy about it, I’m going to want a seletion of fresh rolls to choose from, sausages with at least three accurately named flavours, bacon from a pig with a double-barrelled surnam name and invitation to tea from the chicken that lays the eggs

Unless of course there’s a worst butty in the world competition – in which case Newcastle Airport is going to win.