The pipe-playing GP

Dr Kieron Cooney discusses his love of the bagpipes and how he set up his band, Wight Hot Pipes, which supports the local hospice and is playing at this year's RCGP annual conference gala dinner.

Dr Kieron Cooney (third from right) and the Wight Hot Pipes
Dr Kieron Cooney (third from right) and the Wight Hot Pipes

When did you begin playing?

Although from an Irish heritage, I was introduced to a bagpipe practice chanter around the age of five. My father, a drum major with the Irish Guards, had his heart set on a family of bandsmen and my brother soon started military drumming. Most years we could be found piping and drumming around the 'top entertainment venues' of Essex.

I soon learnt that piping could be quite lucrative. As a medical student in Cambridge, I was delighted to get my May Ball tickets on the back of a 'piper at dawn' arrangement. All I had to do was sober up in time to climb up to the ramparts of Trinity Hall for the dawn chorus.

Many play the bagpipes but only a few can be called pipers, and I wanted to be one of the best. I took lessons from top Scottish pipers via Skype and e-learning programs and then took on the challenge of solo piping contests in Scotland and England.

Placed in grade three of an amateur league, I went to Edinburgh, Inverness, Glasgow and London for major competitions. With lots of wins and medals, I was promoted to grade two and with time and training, I hope to be in division one some day. I feel I can now say I am a real piper.

Where do you play now?

I moved to the Isle of Wight in 1988 for GP training and have practised here ever since. I discovered a new audience for my pipes and I am now the honorary British Legion and Caledonian Society piper.

I also discovered the phenomenon of 'turkey and tinsel breaks', where New Year's Eve comes around twice a week from October to December - perfect for a piper looking to share his music and make a buck. I set up Wight Hot Pipes in 2008 to explore the potential fusion of Celtic bagpipe music with contemporary popular genres. We're the first southern English Celtic Rock band.

What type of music do Wight Hot Pipes play?

Wight Hot Pipes is a six-piece Celtic rock band with bagpipes, vocals, keyboards, drums and guitars. We're a unique and exciting Celtic band creating the ultimate blend of Celtic rock and traditional contemporary music.

The music is arranged to appeal to young and old - from traditional Scottish pieces to Status Quo, Queen, Dire Straits, Slade, Snow Patrol and Coldplay. The art is in morphing popular music with the bagpipes to create a unique genre, which is amazing and, perhaps surprisingly, entertaining.

Our appearance needed to be as different and eye-catching as our music, so we dress to impress.

In 2013 we released ‘Evolution’ and as the name suggests it was the culmination and testimony of the band's commitment to make people rethink bagpipe music.

The band has played at a variety of festivals and Highland gatherings, including the world renowned Isle of Wight Festival. We also play at private functions and corporate events; are actively involved in fundraising for local charities and feature annually at the Ise of Wight's own Tattoo and Island Highland Gathering.

Along with myself on bagpipes, we have Tori Blain our lead vocalist, Richard Bones our lead guitarist, Chris Austin on drums/percussion, Shaun Pequin on bass, Andrea Millband on keyboard and Toni Horsfield on backing vocals.

How does the band support the hospice?

As a GP, I was aware of the struggle our hospice faced. I believed my solo piping and the Wight Hot Pipes could attract attention and support.

The proceeds of the Wight Hot Pipes' first album went to the hospice. The popularity of the band was instant, which led to various island events to promote and celebrate the work of the hospice.

The Medics Mayhem, involving entertainers from the island medical profession, was followed by the now regular Medina Tattoo. The tattoo is a festival that includes Scottish pipe bands, marching bands and choirs - and the Wight Hot Pipes. All performers offer their services free and all proceeds go to the hospice.

The Island Highland Gathering is perhaps the most well-known fundraising event. It is a traditional Scottish highland games, with caber tossing, haggis hurling, pipe bands, highland dancing and a packed-out Wight Hot Pipes concert.

As a solo piper, I can also be found on top of the Tennyson Downs each May for the biggest hospice event of the year, the annual 'Walk the Wight', which involves around 10,000 sponsored walkers.

What about your solo piping?

As 'Piping Hot Doc', I don full highland regalia for Scottish-themed events, including Burns Night. I also play at funerals - sometimes even the funerals of patients.

I am also out over summer weekends at carnivals and parades with the Portsmouth-based Rose and Thistle Pipe Band.

How does piping balance with work as a full-time partner?

A good work/life balance is essential and I feel I have achieved that with time for family, bagpipes and work (not always in that order).

Inevitably on such a small island, I have become recognisable - not least for being more than seven feet tall in my busby. But it still amazes me how often patients end a consultation by asking me, 'Doctor, are you that bagpiper we saw at ...?'

I have yet to wear a kilt during surgery - I may save that pleasure until retirement day.

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