Andrew Davison, OBE. Chairman

I have lived all my life in Northumberland. I started to play the pipes at the age of 15 in the 1970s, taught by Roland Lofthouse on a set made by David Burleigh. I made my first set of small pipes when still at school. Since then, I have made, played and judged both small pipes and Half Longs, been a tutor on a number of courses, and made a CD. I have had the great privilege of knowing and sharing tunes with many who, like me, simply enjoy our wonderful instrument and its music. In 2022 I had the honour of being appointed as piper to his Grace the Duke of Northumberland, after serving as Richard Butler’s deputy since 1995. I am married to Nicola (an excellent piper in her own right) and we have two children, Lucy and Tom. I am a solicitor by profession. I was awarded an OBE in 2018 for services to the environment, culture and the community in the North East of England.

Contact: email –

Andy May, Vice Chairman

Andy May at the Grand Concert (© M.Davidson)

I started to learn the pipes in the late eighties, having been introduced to the instrument by my father Stan. I have learned to play from Roland Lofthouse and Adrian Schofield, and from studying the recordings of Billy Pigg and Tom Clough. Through the 90s I entered many piping competitions and studied music at the University of York with the pipes as my chosen instrument. In 2002 I decided to become a full-time musician. Nowadays I tour with North-East band Jez Lowe and the Bad Pennies, UK/Finnish/Danish ensemble Baltic Crossing, my own Andy May Trio, and various other projects. When not gigging I have become a pipemaker, again learning much from my father, and also Colin Ross. I’ve made around 30 chanters/sets of pipes so far. I have a particular interest in the study of old instruments as I believe there is still much we can learn from them. My current ongoing research project is into the pipemaking of Tom Clough and Fred Picknell.

I joined the NPS committee in 2011 and in January 2012 was made Vice-Chairman.

Contact: email –

Ann Sessoms, Secretary


Gregory McCormick:

Michael Ratliff:

Tom Fairfax:

Tom started playing the Highland Pipes at school in 1980 and continued to play for the next two decades before switching to the Northumbrian Pipes in 1999 when his bride (a tactful lady) commissioned a set for him as a wedding present.  Tom is very much an amateur piper, playing for fun and for the joy of the music and the stories that go with it.  He occasionally writes pipe tunes and is a very sporadic amateur maker of pipes and pieces of pipes.

Professionally, Tom runs a mixed farm at Mindrum on the northern edge of the Cheviots. Mindrum balances commercial Sheep, Cattle, Arable and Forestry enterprises with a range of tourism, environmental and educational projects. He is also CEO of Security Risk Management, a Cyber Security Company based at Newcastle Airport. Tom has been working in information security since the early 1990s and served as a Regular and Reserve member of the British forces from 1985 till 2019. He is a periodic speaker at a range of local and industry events, and is the author of a number of articles in industry and wider press on cyber security issues.

Tom  is also involved with a range of other voluntary initiatives across public, private and charity sectors. In his spare time, Tom paints watercolours and is a keen gardener.  @mindrumgarden  @tpfairfax

Tom served as High Sheriff for the County of Northumberland in 2020-2021.

Andy Lawrenson

Andrew Lawrenson

Andrew Lawrenson is one of four siblings who play the pipes. Born in Dundee, but with a father from South Shields, his family holidays and weekends were spent in Northumberland and Newcastle. He began to play the pipes at thirteen years of age and became an enthusiastic participant in competitions. Many years down the line, the desire to learn to make reeds became overpowering. This, in turn, has led him into pipemaking and fettling.  He cites his influences in playing as Tom Clough, Billy Pigg and Jack Armstrong. 
Andrew’s love of northeast traditions progressed still further when, in his early twenties, he began to dance the rapper sword dance with the Newcastle Kingsmen and, more recently, High Spen Blue Diamonds of County Durham.
Pleased to be living in Newcastle once again and working as a teacher, Andrew now enjoys giving the opportunity to school students to learn the pipes. 

Alice Robinson

Paul Knox

Iain Gelston

Iain hails from South Shields at the mouth of the Tyne but started playing smallpipes whilst living in Yorkshire in the late 1980s, under the guidance of Adrian Schofield. He took up the Half-Long pipes on his return to Tyneside around 2013 and these have now become his main focus, having won all of the Northumberland trophies as well as the LBPS competitions north of the border. His repertoire and interest is centered around the older tunes of Northumberland and the borders, particular the 18th century variation sets that subsequently became the core of the early smallpipe repertoire.

Iain also plays bouzouki and mandola in the Tyneside band Lowp. He is a keen composer of tunes and has self-published two volumes of his own compositions, entitled ‘The New Shields Garland’.

Vincent Syson

Vincent spent 14 years as a church organist, having taken lessons at both Durham and Newcastle Cathedral. He is a relative newcomer to the smallpipes, having started playing in 2017, and has been involved in St. Oswalds and Beamish groups. His passion for history and heritage is matched by his passion for local food, and he plies his trade as a butcher on an organic farm in County Durham.

Carolyn Soakell

Carolyn lives in Oxford and started piping in 2018 with the Oxford group. She is also involved in the Hyde Pipers (Winchester) and London groups. Originally from the North East, she has enjoyed re-connecting with the region via the smallpipes and is glad to have a ready-made excuse to make more trips up north.
Carolyn is a solicitor by profession. She also dabbles with a few other musical instruments and a bit of singing in her local community choir. She enjoys hill walking, outdoor swimming and fair-weather (and ideally flat terrain) cycling – but does much less of these since the smallpipes took over her life. She is particularly obsessed with 3/2 hornpipes.

Helen Capes