MICHAEL RUSSELL spoke to Dougie Pinock as he prepares to retire after 23 years as director at the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton High School
It’s a busy time in the Plockton music school this week. Director Dougie Pincock is feeling more than a little stressed.
“It is that time of the year when we do a CD,” he said. “We get some of the recording done before Christmas, but it gets prepared between Christmas and now. We try our best to get a recording before all the students disappear at the end of term.
“So I am sitting here with loads of bits of paper, working on how I can get all the people I need to record, get them out of school. Sitting in the recording studio is no bother – it is working out when you can actually get hold of people that is frying my brain at the minute.
“We have a problem with the last week of term as one of the students cannot be here, so it is slightly more frantic than usual, especially when we have the end of session ceremony this week as well.”
Perhaps Auchterytre-based Dougie hasn’t been stressing over this for the whole of his 23 years as director of the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton High School, but as of this month the end-of-year recording will be someone else’s task to oversee.
Soon to be 62, Dougie is retiring, although this does not mean a life of aimless leisure; anything but.
He will not miss the stress, though.
“Some things I will miss, of course, but not that. It stresses me out because I don’t like the possibility of something going wrong, or not done as well as it could be, and when you are trying to spin too many plates there is always a problem with one of them dropping off.
“Excitement is one thing, but stress is another.” He laughs. “I will find other things to do that are exciting, but in your 60s, you are kind of wanting a wee bit less excitement, to be honest.”
Piper, flautist, whistle player and a member of the Battlefield Band in the 1980s, Dougie is initially modest about NCETM’s achievement.
This might be because he was the centre’s first and, so far, only director. He soon warms to the task, however.
“There is evidence enough that it has been fairly significant, we can look at it objectively, we can look at the leavers, at who’s out there and doing well in the music business,” he said. “That is the tip of the iceberg, but there is the body of it still underneath the water who have not become professionals but who are still playing, and having an effect on the music business.
“That was always the centre’s initial target. The vision – if I can use such a bold word – was not to create professional musicians, that was always going to be a bonus.
“It was to give young people the skills and experiences they would need to become one if they wanted to, but also go out there and have some kind of influence on the music scene generally.
“That was a shared vision with the Fèis movement. I think the music school has been successful in that.”
There is a role to play in preserving traditions, he said, but music and culture always have to develop.
“That’s really important,” he added. “There has been stuff incubated in here, and certain people have done well and have gone on to become part of the fabric, so to speak, people in bands like Breabach, Treacherous Orchestra, the Poozies, and Kinnaris Quintet, bands that have gone on to be quite influential in terms of how things have moved on.
“Preservation is one thing but keeping the thing growing and developing is probably more in our remit given the ages of the people we are working with. I am proud of that.”
As he looks forward to playing more in the local music scene, Dougie does foresee a wee cloud on the horizon.
“Pub culture is still fairly healthy and there is plenty of gigging to be done there. It’s the bit in between the pub and the festival circuit that I am worried about.
“From 400 to 1200 seat theatres, where there used to be a comfortable gigging circuit – that has taken a slamming, partly due to the pandemic. Some of those venues are really struggling.”
The festival circuit, he says, has “swept aside” the folk club and concert culture. “There is so much more to traditional music than that,” he adds.
At the end of next week, there is the centre’s end of session concert to enjoy, and then a tour with the students. After that, he’s a free man – or will be when his contract officially ends on 31st July.
“I have got two lovely grandchildren in Inverness to go and play with, that is a huge driver. There is also a lot of gigging to be done around here.
“I’ll be back to playing locally, I am in the Incredible Fling Band and a wee offshoot of that ‘The Inn Crowd.’
“I am quite sure that other bits and pieces will turn up, a wee bit of teaching here and there, some online stuff. I have ordered a set of Uilleam pipes too, as it has been a lifelong ambition to learn them, and I also have a clarinet that I’ve had in the house for about 30 years and have opened the case twice.
“Plus there are a lot of compositions that I have had over the years. They need collated and so on. So there is loads to do.”
He has “no intention” of cutting ties with the Plockton music school.
“If I can be of service to my successor in any way, then I am happy to do that.” He laughs again.
“Alternatively, they might not want me anywhere near the place – I don’t want to be like Alex Ferguson, sitting in the stand at Old Trafford.”