Italy 2007

7th Lo Spirito del Pianeta festival in Bergamo, Italy



On Friday 1st June, 27 band members and six Highland dancers from the Jane Knox School of Highland Dancing flew to northern Italy for three days to participate in the 7th Lo Spirito del Pianeta festival in Bergamo. This ten-day festival, a celebration of traditional music, dance and ethnic cultures, is centred around the Lazzaretto, a quadrangle of 16th century buildings located in the Lower Town. Bergamo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, consists of two parts: the Città Alta (Upper Town), built up on the hill, and the Città Bassa (Lower Town), which is the financial, industrial and administrative centre.This year, groups from Mongolia, Bolivia, North America, Peru, Ethiopia, Austria and Kenya were performing at the festival. Also there was the Scottish group Saor Patrol, and it was through Charlie Allan, the group’s piper, that we were initially invited to perform at this event.

Friday 1st June

We set off from Edinburgh airport just after lunchtime. In the current climate, there are some pretty tight restrictions in place for flying: limits on baggage, restrictions on hand luggage, tight security measures, photo ID for check-in and so on. It requires a good bit of pre-flight organisation to ensure that pipes and oversized drums are all checked in without any penalties. So, it’s fair to say that trying to check-in with your girlfriend’s passport isn’t going to win you any brownie points with the check-in staff, or for that matter with the PM!

Luckily for our embarrassed piper, however, after a desperate phone call or two, his partner having to leave work in Haddington, drive to North Berwick and then hurtle along the by-pass to the airport, Keith did manage to check in eventually and joined us in the departure lounge just in time for boarding, to a round of cheers and applause!


That excitement over, we settled in for the two-hour flight over Europe. The uneasy fliers amongst us had their nerves tested when we flew through a large storm on our decent to Bergamo and the plane was struck twice by lightning. Upon arrival at a very wet Bergamo airport we were met by the festival organiser Ivano, and taken by coach to the Lazzaretto, where we dined al fresco under a large open-sided marquee. The Festival had begun several days before and tonight a group from Kenya was performing. Unfortunately, the torrential rain meant that their performance had to take place in the marquee and not upon the massive stage in the centre of the quadrangle.

After watching the performance over a few beers, we were taken to our accommodation at a local youth hostel, about 20 minutes’ walk away from the Lazzaretto. Some people opted for an early night whilst others took off into town to explore Bergamo’s nightlife.

Saturday 2nd June

After a long lie and breakfast at 9am, we had a free morning to explore the city.Lunch was back at the Lazzaretto, after which we spent some time getting the pipes and drums settled for the performances later in the day. After a quick siesta, we were taken to the City Chambers where we played, along with Saor Patrol, to publicise our forthcoming concerts. As soon as we started playing a large crowd enveloped us and watched as the two groups took turns to perform. Then it was back on the coach and off to a massive shopping mall where we entered the packed main concourse and marched for about 300 metres through the crowds. A brief stop at the end, a quick performance, and then it was about-turn and back to the entrance. We spotted a few slightly bemused faces as the customers quietly going about their weekly shopping tried to comprehend exactly what this loud group of pipers and drummers were doing marching through the mall. We weren’t quite sure either but it was certainly an experience!

By now it was raining heavily as we drove back to the Lazzaretto for dinner. Our main performance was to run from 8:30 to 9:30pm, but the outdoor stage was too wet, especially for the dancers, so we made preparations to perform under the marquee. After dinner, we tuned up under now clear skies and marched across the quadrangle and into the marquee. A crowd of about 2,000 people had come along to watch us perform and, under the glare of the lights, the temperature soon started to rise.

We split the show into three sections: first, the entire band played for 20 minutes arranged in a semicircle on the area in front of the stage, accompanied by various combinations of the six dancers. The stage was too small for all of us but we just managed to form up and let the audience experience the band at close hand! Then, after the band had played as they left the marquee, we had another 20 minutes of varied performances on stage including a drum fanfare, a smallpipe and guitar duet, a piping quartet and some solo piping and traditional Highland dancing. Finally, about two-thirds of the band and the dancers came back onto the stage for a few upbeat sets accompanied by guitar. In total we ended up playing for well over an hour to the enthusiastic audience, with wholehearted applause throughout the performance.

After a quick beer, we took to the stage again for a lengthy Q&A from the audience, talking about and answering questions on all aspects of pipe bands, Highland dancing and Scotland in general. Our excellent translator did a sterling job, especially with all the specific piping and drumming names and references.

After the Q&A, we mingled with the audience and had a few beers before embarking on the traditional burst of impromptu ceilidh dancing to round the evening off. With kilts, and locals, flying in all directions we thundered through a few sets before marching off across the Lazzaretto towards our coach. Once back at the youth hostel, we set up camp in one of the rooms and gently partied our way through the night; and, like all good hostellers, we made sure the other sleeping guests never heard us. Shhhh …

Sunday 3rd June

After the hectic evening before, most of us had a long lie, and with nothing planned for the morning, we headed off to explore the city. As mentioned above, Bergamo consists of the Upper and Lower Towns, and it was to the historic Hill Town that we went.An excellent view across the city rewarded those who made the steep climb to the top of the hill (or who took the funicular railway!) and the old town itself was full of picturesque courtyards and pleasant quadrangles. The place was alive with strolling locals, tourists, street theatre and parades.

Our only scheduled performance today was a 20-minute performance prior to Saor Patrol’s main show in the evening. So, before we headed off down to the Lazzaretto for dinner, we took the opportunity to record the trip with a group photo. This is the largest band we have taken abroad so far and, with the dancers, it enabled us to do more than just the standard pipe band repertoire that people usually think of.

Once down at the Lazzaretto, we ate and drank before getting tuned up and marching into the quadrangle. A large audience awaited and, with the weather appearing to hold, the events were staged outside. Fifteen minutes later, however, just as we were about to wrap up our performance and leave the field, the rain began. Saor Patrol took over and bravely started their first set but within five minutes the heavens opened and all hopes of an outdoor concert were abandoned. We sought shelter in the marquee as Saor Patrol decamped to the smaller stage and set about getting their show back on course. With an enthusiastic audience driving them on they performed for about an hour to a rapturous reception and then settled in for a Q&A themselves.

More drinking ensued and, once again, friends were made and the dancing began. A little more rowdy then the previous night, but the locals and the band enjoyed themselves nonetheless. And, finally, it was back onto the coach and home to the hostel where we repeated the antics of the night before, perhaps with a little more vigour as we knew it was our last night away!

Monday 4th June

On Monday we returned to Scotland, flying out of Bergamo in the late afternoon. This had been a very short trip, but great fun nonetheless and a good rehearsal for our next trip to Mexico in September.

Many thanks to Charlie Allan who initially invited us to this festival and liaised with the festival organiser Ivano prior to our arrival. Sincere thanks to Ivano and his team for looking after us so well whilst we were in Bergamo and ensuring we had everything we required.

Many thanks too to Fiona, Ami-Jo, Lynsey, Michelle, Ashley and Rachael from the Jane Knox School of Highland Dancing who joined us for this trip; great fun having you along, girls! And we were also pleased to have Julia Gerken along, who joined us from Lothian & Borders Police Pipe Band to play tenor.


Comments are closed.