Iain Gelston

Traditional Tyneside Piper
Northumbrian Smallpipes & Border Pipes

Available for all occasions, events & venues

See About or scroll down for more info on the instruments I play

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The North East is a region blessed with a culture and tradition of which we are very proud. The area boasts the only surviving native bagpipe in England and a continuous tradition of music going back centuries. But many people don’t realise that we have not one, but two native types of bagpipe – the well-known Northumberland Smallpipes and the Northumberland Half-Long or Border Pipes. And tentatively a third family of bagpipe is associated with the North East – the Pastoral pipe and it’s successor, the Union pipe – which were made and played on Tyneside in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Smallpipes


The instrument we play today emerged from an earlier simple smallpipe around the end of the eighteenth century. Ideal for indoor playing, the pipes are driven by bellows rather than blown by the mouth, and have a quiet, sweet & delicate sound, characterised by the closed chanter or melody pipe which allows for staccato technique. The smallpipes were developed to a great extent in the early nineteenth century by makers such as Dunn of Newcastle and the Reids of North Shields, to produce a sophisticated instrument that could rival other instruments of the time in terms of versatility.

 The Half-Long or Border Pipes

Alum House 6 May 2018 - 1These pipes were once known simply as the Common Pipes or Big Pipes, and could be found throughout England and Scotland. Again they are powered by the use of bellows, but produce a louder and more strident sound than the smallpipes (though still quiet enough to play indoors). The sound can be likened to the Great Highland Bagpipe, but with a much sweeter, more mellow tone. They disappeared from much of England by the early 1700s, but could still be found in the North East as late as the 1850s, and were revived on Tyneside in the 1920s by the Scout Pipe Bands.

Other Instruments

img_3749As well as bagpipes, Iain also plays instruments of what is commonly known as the mandolin family, principally the bouzouki.
Although essentially a Greek instrument, the bouzouki played in the music of the British Isles and Western Europe today was developed from it’s Greek namesake in the 1970s by English makers such as Peter Abnett of Kent. The instrument was redesigned to suit the modes and sound of British and Irish traditional music, and works beautifully both solo and as accompaniment to other instruments.

Iain also plays tin whistle and low whistles.

For samples of music visit the audio page.

Iain features in the Border Piping book, ‘Geordie Syme’s Parcel o Tunes’ by Matt Seattle available at Dragonfly Music.

Iain plays pipes and bouzouki in North East folk band Lowp and features on their CD/Download album Drive Away Dull Care. 

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Concerts & Presentations

With extensive experience as both a solo and ensemble performer over a number of years, Iain is available for both formal and informal performances and entertaining educational presentations.

In Concert

Iain and Pete
Iain also plays various mandolin family instruments, such as the bouzouki here accompanying Pete Stewart on Scottish Smallpipes, at the William Dixon Homecoming Concert, Stamfordham

The music of the North East conjures up many images, and is hugely varied in it’s moods and atmospheres. Iain guarantees a lively, entertaining and diverse show demonstrating the breadth and quality of our regional culture.

With music spanning the period from the late 1600s to the 21st century, you are sure to be enthralled. Whether you are seeking melancholy airs or lively dance tunes, baroque romance or high-tempo virtuosity, you will not be disappointed.

Littered with stories and anecdotes from the history of piping in Tyneside and Northumberland, you will come away from a show both entertained and culturally enlightened.


Iain also provides a multimedia presentation based on the history of piping and music in the North East and Borders. Combined with live music, it is ideal for both schools and for more adventurous clubs and venues seeking something different. The presentation can be tailored to suit both formal and informal settings, and is engaging, enlightening and entertaining.

For either Concert or Presentation bookings please use the Booking form to discuss your requirements.

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Weddings and Events

“The Pipers play for Victory
I’ll make thee fain to follow me.”

Edward Chicken – ‘The Colliers Wedding’, Newcastle 1764

The bagpipes are commonly associated with weddings and social events even today, but the history of this association goes back centuries. There are many North East and Border bagpipe tunes relating to weddings, and it was said that a wedding was not a wedding without a piper.

Flodden 2017

Iain has played for weddings all over the North East and beyond (the most memorable occasion  possibly being in the porch of St Andrew’s in Heddon on the Wall, during a torrential thunderstorm – fortunately the only rainy wedding he’s done, and it was a grand do despite the weather).

Iain also plays at a variety of other events. Recent examples have included playing Town Piper for Morpeth Castle’s Open Day, accompanying the Bagpipe Exhibition at Newcastle Central Library and playing for an Interfaith Peace Pilgrimage to Flodden Field Memorial.

To book Iain or discuss your requirements please use the Booking form.