Borders-born piper Jimi McRae is back home after taking Beijing by storm during the Chinese New Year celebrations. Kevin Janiak reports
Former Gala Academy pupil Jimi McRae has found a million new fans after treating festival-goers in Beijing to his own brand of bagpipe playing.
Jimi, who has recently turned 51, has just returned to his Loanhead home following his epic trip to the Far East.
Using a range of different pipes – highland, lowland, border, arabic and electronic – Jimi’s unique way of making modern music with these traditional intruments has attracted a wide following.
The former Galashiels Ex-Servicemen’s Pipe Band and Royal British Legion Galashiels Pipe Band member, who used to busk on the streets of Aberdeen, was spotted by booking agents for the Beijing Festival back in 2004.
Jimi said: “I was performing with my band at the Hub (the old church at the junction with the top of the Royal Mile and Johnston Terrace). They invited me over the following year, and in 2010 I was invited again to perform with my African drummer pal Sam Okoo, with our wee act ‘Scottish Pipes and African Drums’.
“That went well, but this year I returned solo and it was the best yet.”
He performed on stage, using backing tapes, and organisers of the Beijing Chaoyang International Cultural Exchange Association told him they were extremely happy with his contribution to this year’s festival.
The Borderer said it was “an honour and pleasure” to have been invited to entertain the Chinese people again.
He was one of several international artists and groups performing this year.
Jimi said he had been seen by around a million people over the course of the week.
He said: “The crowds were massive.
“Organisers were telling me that the average daily attendance at Chaoyang park – the festival ran from 10am to 5pm every day for a week – was around 150,000.
“That’s well over one million people for the whole week.
“I played two shows a day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
“The Chinese are a really great crowd to play for ... they have a healthy interest in all forms of music and like to have a laugh and enjoy themselves.
“They are very nice people. I was wandering around Beijing sightseeing by myself this time and always felt totally safe. I just had to pose for loads of pictures!”
Jimi, who visits the Borders often to see his 88-year-old dad Kenny, added: “It was great to be back in China.
“The weather was cold, but dry and it was nice to be out and about in the Chinese capital again, visiting famous sites and mingling with the people.
“The hospitality was amazing ... many thanks to the organisers and all the young ‘volunteer’ helpers for helping make the week so special.
“I really enjoyed the company of the other performers too ... it was a great festival ... the best yet”.
Jimi has released several studio albums, including ‘The Last King of Pictland’, which continue to sell well worldwide.
He has also supported Lulu at a huge Hogmanay concert at Stirling Castle.
To hear some of Jimi’s music, look at this story online at www.thesouthernreporter.co.uk, or visit his website on www.jimithepiper.co.uk