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Celebrating the other Bard

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Saturday, January 25 is a date marked in the calendar of every Scotsman – it’s Burns night: an evening of poetry, toasts and dancing.


Pipe Sergeant Charlie Sim, 74, is hoping he doesn’t run out of puff this month.

Charlie is a piper with the IHS Reading Scottish Pipe Band, who will be playing at several Burns Night Suppers around Berkshire.

“We are always busy around Burns Night,” Charlie said. “We call it Burns Fortnight.”

Burns Night is a special event in the Scottish calendar that marks the life of poet Robert Burns. At each meal, haggis is ceremonially piped in, before a poem is read to it.

The evening also includes speeches and dancing.

This year, the Reading Scottish Pipe Band will be performing for, among others, Finchampstead Scout Group, St Sebastian’s Dance Group and at Arborfield Village Hall.

The band look impressive in their uniform which includes a black jacket (doublet), tall feather bonnet and kilt in the  deep red, dark blue, green of the Cameron of Erracht tartan. Each uniform costs £2,000 and the band will be playing a concert in Reading Town Hall on Sunday, April 27 to help pay for them.

The pipers and drummers have a huge music catalogue to learn as they always play from memory.

“Most of the songs are traditional but we do play some modern music,” Charlie explains. “Sailing by Rod Stewart, Mull of Kintyre and also Christmas carols.”

Pipers continue to compose and some of the newer melodies commemorate distressing occasions.

“There is a tune called The Bells of Dunblane which marks the Dunblane school massacre and Piper Alpha was written about the explosion and fire on the North Sea oil rig that killed 167 men,” Charlie says.

“The Sands of Kuwait and The Crags of Tumbledown Mountain were written by members of the Scots Guard to commemorate military battles.”

The Reading Scottish Pipe Band has travelled the world and played at festivals and special occasions in many countries. They have played many times in France, Germany and Spain, as well as Serbia, Sardinia, Japan, Italy and Romania.

The band has also played in front of millions of people.

“We represented Great Britain at the Olympics,” Charlie recalls.

“We played at the closing ceremony with Eric Idle playing Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life. All we were paid was an Oyster Card!

“It was a good experience though. When Andy Murray won his Gold medal, we were all watching on a big screen and performed Flower of Scotland for the crowd.”

It’s not just about the Olympics.

“We are always looking to welcome new members,” Pipe Major Ron Paterson says. “We have about 50 members, of which eight are ladies. The eldest member is piper Bill Simpson who enjoyed his 90th birthday last month, the youngest is drummer Verity Jackson, 14.

“People travel from as far away as Middlesex, Wiltshire and Surrey to play.”

To find out more about the band, log on to www.readingscottish.org. They meet in St Andrew’s URC, London Road, Reading.


Other local Burns Night celebrations 

ST ANDREW’S URC is holding a Burns Supper on Saturday, January 25 at its London Road church. As well as a meal, there will be entertainment to enjoy. The fun starts from 7pm.

For more information, log on to www.standrewsurcreading.org.uk.


IN Mapledurham, a Burns’ Night Supper and Dance will take place from 6.30pm on Saturday, January 25 at Trench Green Village Hall. Entry is £18.

For details, contact Paul Corby, via www.stmargaretmapledurham.org.uk or the church office on 0118 996 8836.


THE Henley branch of the NSPCC is planning a fundraising Burns Supper, which is provisionally planned for Friday, January 24. For more details, log on to www.henleynspcc.co.uk.


DUNSDEN Village Hall is holding a Burns fish ‘n’ chip supper with quiz on Saturday, January 25.

Starting at 7pm,tickets are £10 and include a meal, which could be Haggis.

Tickets can be purchased from Binfield Heath Stores or from dunsdenvillagehall@yahoo.co.uk or telephone 0118 947 0339.


FOR anyone needing to brush up on their Highland Fling, Scottish Dancing sessions are held every Monday in the Victory Hall in Beenham. They start at 7.45pm and run until 10pm. Organisers promise a warm welcome. For details, call Betty on 0118 971 3541 or e-mail Jackie: jackieoversby@gmail.com.

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