Most of the time I assume the answer is yes. For those who say no, or worse, well that doesn’t concern me at all.

Why is that you may ask?

Well it’s because I’m a piper, one with 33 years experience piping at weddings under his kilt belt.

So what has changed since those early days of being a wee pied piper? The answer is a lot.

When I first started, most weddings would begin at 3 or 4 pm if taking place in the Church of Scotland, or between 12 and 1pm at Roman Catholic services. The story at both ceremonies is more or less the same, with one being the abridged version, and the other, the holier directors cut. Likewise, most weddings would take place on a Friday or Saturday (never a Sunday) and most definitely not during the week. After the ceremony it would be straight to the wedding reception, where on arrival guests received a glass of wine, rarely champagne, then a receiving line. This was where the bride and groom, plus their respective families and other add-ons, would stand shoulder to shoulder meeting every single one of their guests. Depending on the venue, the manager (acting as toastmaster) would announce each and every person in attendance, by calling out – Mister and Mrs Smith or Mister and Mrs Macdonald, etc. It was long, tedious and at times a test of your piping stamina, for the piper may have been asked to play during the whole protracted experience.

Thankfully we have moved away from much of these superfluous parts of weddings, but it should also be pointed out that by losing some of what made weddings traditional – fussier, and at times bizarre, modern additions have taken their place.

So here we are, over 30 years later, and the wedding industry has changed, dramatically in many ways.

Gone is the rule of two i.e. Friday or Saturday. Sundays have very quickly become the norm and is probably the second most popular day, after Saturday, for getting married. Thursdays have also become fairly common, and it isn’t too strange to have weekday weddings now. It used to be a popular saying in Scotland – Marry in May, rue the day (i.e. it was bad luck), and the wedding season was usually between June and early September. Now it’s open season 363 days a year. In my whole time being a piper, the only two days I haven’t played a wedding, are Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, but no doubt this will change in the very near future.

The idea of having a beautiful winter themed wedding, with pristine virginal snow falling gently from the sky, as you and your lover are caught in a beautiful pose, is usually ruined by lovely grey slush, with the added attraction of a Glasgow Corporation gritter in the background, flashing its big orange light. A Wonderful Life it most definitely is not!

Then there’s the drinks reception. Something that only a couple of decades ago barely existed. Now a drinks reception after the ceremony can last from an hour, to three hours! As you can imagine, the longer the reception, the more dangerous it becomes. Alcohol equals deafness, children get hungry and are usually sent out to buy takeaway food, folk fall asleep, arguments start, dresses get ruined and tempers fray…quickly! The upside of the longer drinks reception, is that since the mid 1990’s, the dreaded receiving line has fallen out of fashion, although I have noticed in the last couple of years that it is slowly clawing its ugly way back in at some venues. The reason for the drinks reception is to allow everyone to meet, and for the newly married couple to ‘do the rounds’.

So why has the receiving line returned? It’s because of all those parents who married in the 1980s and ‘90s (whose children are being married now) thinking that that’s what should be done.

This can be quite the problem with Scottish weddings, just ask any wedding supplier, there is most definitely an opinion of – ‘Aye-that’s-whit-ye-should-dae. Why? Cos-ye-jis-dae…a’right!’

Take for example the 1995 film Braveheart. This caused an upswell of Scottish nationalism, patriotism and general tartan-shortbread-tinnery. Look at wedding photographs from West-Central Scotland before the mid ‘90s. There was hardly a piper to be seen, let alone kilts. That film is the sole reason why kilts, and Scottishness in general, have been on the continuous rise at weddings.

As a piper I shouldn’t complain, as having a piper at a Scottish wedding, is now seen by many as a must. Unless money gets tight, then it’s a quick purchase of a cd/download/stream of The Auchenshoogle Pipers greatest hits. Entertainment in general is usually the last things to be booked for a wedding, and if the budget doesn’t stretch, then the band becomes a deejay and the piper becomes a piece of recorded music.

After dinner toasts have now almost completely been replaced by before dinner toasts. Being a speaker, as well as a piper, the general rule of thumb for this type of toast should be 7 minutes, knowing that if you push to 9 minutes then you might still get out alive. No matter how good you are, there will be a guest gasping for a cigarette, another dying for a drink, yet another bursting for a pee and probably somebody who is absolutely bored senseless by your speech. Short and sweet is usually best. Sadly, it is becoming fairly common for those giving toasts to try and outdo each other, not may I add by wit or sentiment, but by the length of their speech. The worst I’ve witnessed was 40 minutes (father of the bride), 45 minutes (groom), and an hour (best man). The first dance was at 10.15pm at night, and the wedding had all but collapsed. Also, it has sadly become fairly common for best men to verbally slaughter the groom. Some gentle ribbing, a few anecdotes close to the bone and gentle entendres are all fair and good, not opening up with – ‘Let’s deal with the elephant in the room. Sharon, if you had been any good in bed, it would be you marrying Davie today, not Jessica!’ (this was part of a toast that landed like an unexploded, but still ticking bomb, in the middle of what might have been, in other circumstances, a wonderful wedding).

As a piper at weddings, I can really only speak of what services are offered by those who play Scotland’s national instrument. Every performer will have their own way of working, and it’s fair that when most pipers receive their first wedding, they will ask their pipe major or tutor for advice. I’m only being honest when I tell you that I have often been told by pipers that the reply they received was – Just turn up and play when folk go in and out!

For me personally, the choreography, services and overall presentation of a piper, are just as vital as their piping ability. When it comes to weddings, the most important person is indeed the bride, or in the case of same sex marriages, it might be two brides, two grooms, still one of each (albeit of the same sex) or any other mix and match situation. Regardless of how the soon to be married couple wish to be considered, they are the most important part of the day.

Traditionally the piper belongs to the bride until after the vows (as she is the lady of the day), so initial piping is strictly for the bride arriving. This also signals to everyone at the wedding that the day has now officially commenced. Many years ago it was fairly common for the piper to actually go to the bride’s house and pipe as she leaves. Neighbours and people passing by on the street would cheer and join in the celebration as the blushing bride left her family home for the last time. This practice is still sometimes carried out in parts of Glasgow, and I personally think that it is a lovely touch. As the bridal car reaches the venue for the vows, I always stop the car 100 metres or so from the venue, salute the bride, and march/lead/pipe the bridal car along the road to the entrance of the building. Over the years I have had countless brides tell me that this particular part was the highlight, and often most emotional part, of their wedding day. The piper would then go on to pipe the bride down the aisle. Usually beginning just outside the door at the top of the aisle, then walking in playing, before immediately staying at the rear whilst piping (never walking down the aisle) as the bride makes her grand entrance. After the vows, the piper once again plays for the recessional, and the music for this part is usually more upbeat and celebratory for the happy couple. Once the last guest has exited, the piper leaves for the reception before anyone else arrives. Sometimes you are asked to pipe guests on arrival, but the standard practice is to play for the newly married couple as they arrive, again by leading their wedding car up the driveway. Once the drinks reception is complete, most weddings would have their top table guests piped to their seats, followed by the newly married couple being piped to their cake, then to their seats. For many years I have delivered a ‘Piper’s Toast’ to the couple. This is where the piper is the first to publicly wish the couple all the very best for their wedding day and future happiness together, then asking those in attendance to charge their glasses, and please be upstanding in a toast to the happy couple.

I personally don’t know of many pipers who deliver toasts, but I always encourage my own pipers to do so. It is one of the most personal things that you can do as a piper, as you show respect and gratitude to the newly married couple for choosing to use your services. Finally, the piper will play themselves out the room, again with a piece of music that will be rousing and hearty, thus setting the tone for the rest of the celebration.

Of course, all services can be altered to suit client’s wishes, requests or budget. Some clients only require the minimum service, of piping for the bride arriving, others the full boofter package of piping at the house, playing through all the parts of the ceremony and reception, piping for evening guests arriving, then appearing with a complete pipes and drums band as a surprise at the night time buffet.

Whatever you want…just ask and we’ll sort it out!

At the end of the day, weddings are a celebration. You can dress them up or down as much as you want. The most expensive wedding I ever played at cost somewhere between £200-250 thousand. The cheapest was probably about £1500. Over the years there have been highs, lows and anything goes. Many of the tropes and clichés that you hear about from weddings are often true. I could recount many that would make you smile, and just as many that would curl your toes, but I’ll keep them to myself for the time being.

One wedding that I really loved took place a few years ago in Glasgow. The couple married in the local registry office, and after the ceremony, I was to pipe them and their twelve guests, with everyone hand in hand, along the road to the local pub. The wedding meal was Scotch broth, followed by steak pie with all the trimmings, finished with ice cream and jelly. Whilst the entertainment was that everyone sat at the long dining table had to stand up and tell a story, recite a poem, crack a joke or sing a song. All wonderfully low key and incredibly memorable.

So to all you people reading this, that are either considering getting married, or are already in the planning stages. Do what suits you and enjoy every moment of your day, for it will go in fast.

Also, in consideration for the piper, please don’t be late!