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Pipe Club marching to the beat of its own drum

Members of the Penticton Pipe Club (left to right) Dave Warren, Brian Harrison, Ian Schoening, Jim Longbottom, John Birnie and Nigel Alakija surrounded drummer Jack McCammon during a practice Tuesday for their scheduled performances at the World Financial Group Continental Cup of Curling this week. Missing from the photo is Doug King. - Mark Brett/Western News
Members of the Penticton Pipe Club (left to right) Dave Warren, Brian Harrison, Ian Schoening, Jim Longbottom, John Birnie and Nigel Alakija surrounded drummer Jack McCammon during a practice Tuesday for their scheduled performances at the World Financial Group Continental Cup of Curling this week. Missing from the photo is Doug King.
— image credit: Mark Brett/Western News

The pipes, the pipes, they are a callin.’

The world’s top curlers will be ushered into tonight’s opening ceremonies of the prestigious Continental Cup by a very special group of local musicians.

The nine-member Penticton Pipers Club was chosen earlier this year to lead the way this evening and on each of the the next four days of action at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

What makes the Pipers Club unique is that with the exception of a couple of “younger” guys, the men are all in their 60s and 70s and the sole drummer, Jack McCammon, just turned 81.

“We’re not really even a band we’re just a group of fellows who like to get together for fun and just for the honour of playing,” said Nigel Alakija, 74, who ran the Penticton Pipe Band for many  years. “I heard they (Continental Cup organizers) might be looking for some pipers and I put a bid in and here we are. This is definitely the biggest thing we have done.”

The entire group will perform at the opening and closing ceremonies and two pipers will lead the competitors into the events centre each day prior to the matches. While the group plays a few gigs throughout the year at different venues, Alakija maintains it is simply for the enjoyment of its members and those who stop to listen.

“We don’t really make any money and the money we do make we just go out and have a nice time with our wives,” he said. “Money is not why we do it.”

McCammon, who played bass drum for the Fort William, Ont., Pipe Band for 30 years is really looking forward to the opportunity of playing at the Continental Cup.

“It kind of reminds me of old times, dreaming of the past kind of thing,” said the veteran musician who has also played at the Silver Broom curling events, Calgary Stampede and Rose Bowl. “I wouldn’t say I’m nervous about it, more excited but I guess if you’re not a little bit nervous maybe you should be.

“This (Continental Cup) is a pretty big thing especially for this place so I hope people get out and watch it.”

Like the group leader, he agreed the best part of being a member of the club is the camaraderie.

“They are a great bunch of guys and we really are like a family,” said the drummer.

For his part, Alakija  began playing the bagpipes when he was a young lad growing up in Inverness, Scotland. He eventually went on to music college for further training, in part to be able to pursue what has become a passion, teaching others.  The Club actually began in 1999 with four or five members and has grown to the stage where it is currently at now, adding new people here and there.

“Mostly people (musicians) like bagpipes for the sake of bagpipes or they’ve been in bands and they no longer want a commitment,” said Alakija. “Pipe bands do have a certain commitment but with this band you really have no commitment and because of that people show up much more frequently because they don’t have to.”

It’s members buy their own instruments and accessories, including kilts, however the group leader declined to reveal what they would be wearing underneath the outfits this week.

“Nope, I’m not going to go there,” he said with a laugh and a wink.

So in addition to some high-level curling this week, those attending the Continental Cup will have an opportunity to experience a little bit of musical history in the making.

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