The 9th International Festival of Town Pipers

Worcester, 13th – 15th May 2022

Report by Eleanor Carr (Bagshotte Waytes)

This year it was Worcester that opened its doors to the merry cohort of waits, who had travelled from across the UK and the Netherlands to gather, after a two year wait, to celebrate the 9th International Festival of Town Pipers. On the night of Friday 13th May 2022, all the waits congregated at the steps of the Guildhall and after having a few photos taken (to immortalise the fact that we had all managed to finally come together), we headed inside for a banquet with the mayor of Worcester. As with any good gathering of musicians, after the food had all been eaten and a suitable number of drinks consumed, it was time for an informal performance. It was the ideal chance for people to be reunited and catch up, as well as for newcomers such as myself to be introduced to many new faces, and all in the warm atmosphere of the Guildhall’s ornate Assembly Room.

On Saturday 14th, we performed at various locations around Worcester. After a snappy breakfast at Pappa’s café, our group started the day off at 10am at Greyfriars. Instruments sufficiently warmed up and players full of energy from coffee and pastries, we played through our chosen pieces at the end of the garden, shaded from the already warming sun. Having reached the end of our programme with reasonable success, we packed up our many instruments and bid the Worcester Waytes a good day, as they headed onto the green for their slot. We ambled over to Tudor House – barely a few minutes’ walk away – and settled into the alcove at the end of the short alley, ready for our next slot. Our performance opportunity at Tudor House provided the added bonus of accompanying a couple of the staff members enthusiastically dancing away while we progressed through our set. Having completed half of our sets for the day, we made the most of our 45-minute lunch break by grabbing some pasties and listening to De Mowbray’s set, in front of the Guildhall. Refuelled, we started our next set outside the front gates of the Guildhall and performed our programme with as much gusto as possible, encouraged by the pools of passers-by stopping occasionally to take in this unexpected display. We even somehow wangled our way into creating a waits-breakdancing fusion, as some teenagers came over to show off their moves to the accompaniment of some 15th Century tunes. Our last slot was in the garden of the Commandery. While not a location with the heaviest of foot traffic, the garden provided a tranquil setting after an intense day and we were supported by several other waits groups who had come to listen while taking their rest break between sets. Overall, it was an enjoyable playing day for our group.

Once again, we all gathered in the evening for a well-deserved drink and hog roast and to regale each other with tales from our days. One part of early music gatherings that I truly love is the moment one person starts to play a tune, with others dipping in and out on different instruments and some even throwing in some dance steps and the jolly atmosphere that always falls across the room at this time of the evening. This continued for a while, until a break and another drink was needed. This was followed by another feature that one has come to expect from these types of activity – the addition of audience participation! My personal highlight from the carousel of early music delights being Paul’s dramatic recitation of the ballad of Sir Eglamore, with a worthy knight chosen from amongst the Colchester Waits’ ranks, to be pitted against the Baggeshotte Waytes’ very own ‘dragon’. After all the activity of the day, I for one had a very restful sleep!

On Sunday 15th came the event whose name would make any first-timer mildly quake in their historically lacking-arch-support footwear: The Great Noyse. All bands gathered at the Commandery in the morning to rehearse the pieces that would be played for the event. Once suitably rehearsed, the bands then reassembled on Friar Street, outside Tudor House, ready to process. After ordering ourselves into our bands within the column, we began our procession through the streets of Worcester. The Worster Braules (a setting based on the Thomas Tomkins FWVB keyboard setting) was the first piece of choice for our performance and was played with great gusto from the united waits groups. We were kept in time by the assorted drums thrumming along the procession line and escorted safely and proudly through the streets by the Worcester Militia. Ending our procession in Cathedral Square, we reformed into a large semicircle to play through the remaining pieces as a unified group, breaking partway through to allow for individual waits groups to perform a piece or two each to the crowd that had gathered to watch this unique spectacle. Having successfully performed all the pieces, the waits groups retreated gradually back to the Commandery to wish each other farewell.

I would like to thank all the waits groups present at this year’s festival for being so welcoming and jolly good fun to be around, and especially to the Worcester Waytes for being such friendly and accommodating hosts. It was a marvellous event to be a part of and I look forward to many more in the future.

Eleanor Carr