Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer will be joining us for a very special online Burns Night celebration on 26th January. We caught up with them to find out more about what’s in store, what Burns Night means to them and what else they have planned for the coming year.
You’ll be joining us for a Burns Night celebration – tell us about what’s in store!
There are certain things that are expected of a Burns Night celebration, and we’ll be attempting them all! Songs and poems by Burns, piping in the haggis, addressing it and toasting it. We’ll do the immortal memory, dance, sing… it’ll be jam packed!
For those who haven’t been to a Burns Night before, what does addressing the haggis involve?!
Because everyone is in their own homes, they’ll have to bring their own haggis – this can be a cuddly toy! Vicki will pipe the haggis in. If people want to actually have a haggis and eat it during the concert, we’ll put that at the start of the second half so it can be got ready in time! We’ll also be toasting the haggis, so have some whisky (or soft drink) handy!
A Burns Night celebration usually involves dancing – will there be a chance to get our dancing shoes on?
We’ve been playing for lots of online dances in Zoom during the pandemic, and we’re definitely going to have a dance, so clear a little bit of space. It’ll be a specially adapted dance for Zoom and you won’t even need a partner, so everyone can join in if you’d like to!
What does Burns Night mean to you, and how do you feel about bringing those traditions online for a worldwide audience?
Vicki’s Dad was a Highland piper and every year he’d be out on the road for Burns fortnight playing pipes up and down the country. So, Burns Night always makes her think of that, as well as the wonderful celebrations we had at Ilford Scottish Association – of which Vicki’s Dad was the honorary piper.
So Vicki, was it your dad who inspired you to learn the pipes?
Yes, with my Dad being a Highland piper, I took up the pipes several times as a child. It was when I discovered the Scottish smallpipes that my pipe-playing career really took off, so I am Highland trained – but as time went by, I branched out into playing Swedish bagpipes and border pipes. Unfortunately, my dad died not long after I’d taken up the pipes, but he gave me a thorough grounding. I’ve been teaching a lot of Scottish smallpipes on Zoom during the pandemic and I’ve been using my Dad’s old handwritten pipe materials. My Dad taught pipes and built his students up to the point where he ran his own pipe band. It’s been nice to have that connection to his pipe teaching, even though he’s no longer here.
That’s a wonderful way to continue the traditions he started. So how can our audience prepare for an authentic Burns Night experience at home? Any tips?
The deluxe way for celebrating the evening would be to prepare a meal of haggis, neeps (mashed swede) and tatties (mashed potato). We’ll do the haggis bit after the interval, so it can be fetched ready to be piped in! Any meal would do though, or you could even just have a cuddly toy to process in to the skirl of the pipes. We’ll address it and toast it, so have a drink to hand (there will be several toasts!). Any tartan wear around the house could be gathered up to decorate the camera area. We’ll certainly be in kilts – as long as we can get into them after lockdown!
Do you have any favourite poems by Rabbie Burns himself?
There are many great poems – but the most iconic one for me has to be the Ode to a Haggis. My Dad taught me this poem not long before he died. So this is my favourite for sentimental reasons.
What else do you have planned in 2022?
2022 is still taking shape, but we’re really excited to finally be able to play for real live dances and we’ve got Playford dances, contra dances and ceilidh dances in the diary (check out our website!). We’re still playing for Symmetry dance in Zoom twice a month. We publish the dots of the music we play, so people can come and play along! We’ve also got folk clubs and festivals returning into the diary, which is lovely.
We’re down at Halsway Manor in March for nearly two weeks, where Vicki is teaching all levels of nyckelharpa (instruments are provided for complete beginners, but spaces are nearly full, so book now!). There will also be the chance to learn Scandinavian accordion tunes with Jonny, and also a dancing and walking week. It’ll be lovely to get out and up into the hills!
There should also be the culmination of a couple of film projects in the latter part of the year – but an NDA prohibits from saying any more, so that’ll have to stay top secret!
Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer’s Burns Celebration is on Wednesday 26th January at 8pm GMT. Stock up on whisky, find some tartan and we’ll see you there!