Dermot Hyde:
a piper in the Pipeline

An interview by Tom Knapp,
October 2003

It's not hard to believe Dermot Hyde's assertion that he got his start in theater. It's also not hard to believe that he was, in a past life, a leprechaun. Of course, I mean that in the nicest of all possible ways.

He's quick to laugh. He loves jokes but rarely tells them -- and if you tell him one, you can tell it again just a few minutes later. His mind for jokes, he freely admits, is a sieve that's been used for target practice, run through several laundry cycles and used as a trampoline.

Fortunately, Hyde isn't making his living as a humorist -- although it's quite impossible to watch him for long without chuckling. He maintains a running commentary between numbers, sometimes poking fun at members of the audience, sometimes at himself or his musical partner, and sometimes at the tradition itself. During a recent performance, for instance, he explained to his audience how the Celtic spirit -- and its music -- can encompass such great extremes of sorrow and joy. "It's like seeing a lovely girl walking down the street, and the next minute you get your electricity bill."

Hyde, with Tom Hake, is Pipeline, an Irish duo featuring Hyde on uilleann pipes and whistles, Hake on bouzouki, guitar and harp.

Whimsy aside, Hyde is all business when the music starts. Still, he has to laugh when he watches, for instance, Braveheart, where the screen shows someone playing the Highland pipes but the soundtrack is pure Irish. The uilleann pipes don't seem to be finding their way into the public consciousness the way its Scottish cousin has done. "I really wish it was," he laments.

"I've been playing this music for 30 years, my influences -- as usual -- being my mother and my father from County Donegal," he explains. His father played fiddle, his mother was a pianist -- that must, in some odd brand of Hyde logic, explain why he became a piper.

It was also a circuitous route for Hake.

"I met Tom in the theater," Hyde recalls. "We both did some acting ... but when I met Tom, he wasn't playing any of this music. He immediately fell in love with it." The occasion didn't set the duo on fire right away, however. "That was 20 years ago. We've been talking about it, but now we're doing things."

Pipeline became an active project about five years ago, he says. Part of the reason for their slowpoke approach to the project was the pair's attitude towards music, Hyde explains.

"We're not businessmen," he insists. "We play this music because we genuinely, genuinely get so much pleasure from doing it."

They consider themselves traditionalists, but not from an entirely pure perspective. "We represent the original tradition, but we beef it up -- not necessarily to make it up to date. We're not trying to get away from being old-fashioned, because there's nothing wrong with that.

"But it's entertainment," he stresses. "It's not about being a good musician, it's about entertaining people who pay good money to see us play. I absolutely insist that people go home feeling good and happy."

There are several components that are vital to a good band, Hyde explains. "First, you have to be able to play your instrument, but you are also compelled to play something new. The existing repertoire is exhausted, to an extent. So you have to write some of your material yourself. Then, you have to present it in a manner that makes the audience like you."

His experience with acting helps in that regard, he says. "That fact that Tom and I both have an affinity for the theater makes us treat the idea of the music a little differently. We feel bad if people go away and didn't like it." And, without that touch of extra showmanship, "we would be obsessed with playing the music more perfectly than we do. And that's not what this music is about."

"Music is about theater," he says. "If you don't want to get involved in that, stay home in your own kitchen."

Hyde maintains a lively patter during his shows. That sort of thing can't be scripted in advance, he notes. "It just doesn't work. We prepare nothing, because it all depends on the audience. ... You have got to know who your audience is." Even set lists depend on audience demographics and reactions, he says.

On the day of our interview, Pipeline had performed for the Piper's Ceilidh, part of the 2003 Celtic Colours festival in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. "This was a beautiful audience," Hyde says. "They were really listening to us, and you can't get any more intimate than that. You have to treat that with respect."

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 8 November 2003

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