Just a few weeks ago I conducted an interment of ashes ceremony at Dundee Crematorium. The family had requested a piper and we contacted Liam Eaton who often plays at funerals in Dundee. His playing was a very atmospheric addition to the ceremony.
So I decided to ask Liam if he would agree to a short interview for the blog. We met the other day for a coffee and I started by asking where he was from and when he’d started on the bagpipes.
“I’m originally from Raasay,” he explained “and music was important from a very early age. I was just four years old when I began playing the guitar and started on the pipes at nine.”
He went on to tell me that he started busking in Inverness when he was 13. Very nerve wracking at first but busking soon led to a huge rise in his confidence. It also leads to new openings – at some point someone will always ask “Do you do weddings?” And so starts a new career – weddings, Burns suppers, and funerals. I wondered which of those presents the most challenge. “Definitely the funerals. People are usually in such high spirits at weddings and suppers that they can easily overlook a minor mistake. But a funeral is an emotionally charged moment. Everything has to be just right because an error can really distress people.”
“And it’s very important not just to play in a professional way but to speak to families professionally. To be able to read people.” That’s certainly something I can agree with as a celebrant.
So how did Liam end up in Dundee? Well, it seems that music isn’t his only passion. He moved here to study forensic science at Dundee University’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification (CAHID). Although no longer a student, that’s the field that Liam still intends making his career in – but in the meantime the music goes on.
I asked whether Liam saw any differences in funeral services here. “Definitely. In the north, services tend still to be quite religious and sombre while here there’s room for elements of comedy in the services. And the music can also vary a lot. Obviously there are still the staples of funeral pipe music but one of my first new challenges was being asked to adapt Susan Boyle’s Wild Horses for the pipes. Pretty much anything can be arranged.” “Even AC/DC?” “Yes! Even AC/DC!!”
Heavy metal aside, what sorts of music would Liam like to bring to funerals and other ceremonies apart from the standard favourites? “There’s a huge repertoire of traditional music that is really suitable for a dignified service: pibrochs, laments. It’s always great to discuss different possibilities with funeral directors and families.”
Thank you Liam for speaking to me and all the best with your musical and scientific careers!
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