Updated: Sep 30, 2019
We have managed to track The First Piper, Ross OC Jennings down in Mexico for this interview.
Briefly tell us about your background before the record attempt and any ah ha moments that were instrumental in your decision to set a world record of playing the bagpipes in every country in the world? I’d recently graduated from University and had an internship in London, but it really wasn’t for me! Half way through the internship I went to an adventure travel show in London where they had adventurers speaking about their incredible endeavours. It kicked off this idea of a bagpipe/travel world record, but I very quickly decided that the world record wasn’t the most important part. The first country I visited (Tunisia) made me realise that travelling and piping was going to take a serious amount of time (!!), and I shouldn’t treat the whole adventure as a box-ticking exercise. It’s now become this seemingly endless Celtic musical adventure where I meet the most incredible people through interactions that involve the bagpipes. Each interaction keeps me going and wanting to learn more. Do you play any musical instruments other than the bagpipes and if so what are they? I do not! Just bagpipes and the odd song here and there! Why did you choose the bagpipes for this record attempt? I was given the opportunity to learn for free so I thought why not! I’m half Scottish, half Irish so there was a bit of family encouragement as well. Never thought I’d be travelling around the world with it. What types of music do you enjoy listening to? I really enjoy hearing a good voice, maybe mixed in with a bit of guitar or some other instruments. If I was to choose a genre it would probably be something folky as well. I do love a good Celtic tune though, either something with the bagpipes, tin whistle or fiddle as well! Can you share some of your most memorable experiences on your travels with the bag pipes? Piping in the foothills of Kilimanjaro! I was taken around a few local villages with a guide and one of the villages we entered welcomed us with a song. As a thank you I thought it would be a bit different to play a few tunes for them, and their reactions were absolutely priceless. First there was a bit of fear at the volume of the pipes, but it quickly resided into bemusement and then total hysteria. One lady was in total stitches and she eventually pulled herself together she exclaimed “how are you so ugly?!” (translated by my guide!). To make things even more baffling, I noticed the most elderly lady of the group sitting down with a solemn look on her face. I asked if I had offended her in any way, and I found out through my guide that this wasn’t the first time she’d heard the pipes. He then went on to explain that she had heard them when the British took control over Tanzania after WWII. I definitely had a mixture of feelings there. In February I was piping at the Inland Sea in Qatar, which marks the border between Saudi and Qatar, when a ginormous 4x4 launched over a dune behind me. The car skidded to a stop and out popped this Qatari man here. As he marched towards me I stopped, for fear that he was about to absolutely bollock me for piping near the border, and he just shouted "YALLA, AGAIN!" I piped up again and he moved even closer, with his ear turned towards the bagpipes. He looked at me and calmly said "they're slightly out of tune." I stopped and responded with a "how can you even hear that?!" and he replied with a casual "YANI, I'm part of the Qatari pipe band” and he then proceeded to tune the drones as I played again! How many more countries do have left to visit and when do you think you will complete your challenge? Have you set yourself a deadline to aim for?
There’s absolutely no deadline and that is just as well because I still have around 120 countries to go!! And yes I absolutely do think I’ll complete it but it’s more of a lifetime challenge than anything. What positives have your learnt about yourself on your travels that you can share with us? I’ve learnt to become super adaptable and open minded. Travelling throws you into situations where you’re forced not to be your usual self. It’s great for stretching the mind and giving you another outlook. Sharing dorm rooms, learning not to get stressed when a bus doesn't turn up or something gets stolen - they’re all testing situations at times, but in hindsight they tend to be amusing. Tell us about the type of seminars you give around the world?
The exact content varies depending on the audience, but I always structure the seminars around the following concepts (with a bit of a Celtic twist!): Growth Mindset, Being Ambitious, Standing out, Finding Your Hero and You're Never Alone. I often carry out the Seminars at international schools but I’m now starting to do more talks at conferences and schools in the UK which is really lovely. By the far the most enjoyable thing I do is working with students, no matter where you go and what language they speak, students are invariably the same and it’s lovely to witness how they respond to a man wearing a skirt and playing the pipes! Other than playing the bag pipes what gives you a buzz? Coffee! I absolutely love coffee and the thought of drinking it is as exciting actually consuming it. On a non literal-caffeine-relayed level, I get super excited about flying, quite literally being on a plane takes me back to when I was younger and stepped on a plane for the first time. I don’t get so excited about Ryan Air flights though. What is next for The First Piper?
I’m currently typing this interview out on a beach in Tulum, Mexico! Tomorrow I fly back to the UK for a week before heading back to the Middle East where I’ll be speaking at a Music conference and then working with International Schools in Dubai. I’ll then be off to Saudi Arabia and Jordan!
Thank you Ross for taking time out to share your story with us. We hope very much that you are successful with your record attempt and always happy to hear back from you in the future.
Stay safe, keep in touch and of course keep buzzing!