A passion for a Scottish tradition on the Costa del Sol

The Sur Pipe Band at this year's Douglas Days celebrations.
The Sur Pipe Band at this year's Douglas Days celebrations. / SUR
  • Leslie Thompson, an Argentinian of Scottish descent, recently founded the coast's first Spanish bagpipe band

Bagpipes might seem to be a little out of place in Andalucía, unlike in northern Spain, especially in Galica and Asturias, where they are part of the musical backcloth. However, over the past few years, this traditional Scottish instrument has become more popular in the south, particularly in Teba, a town with a strong connection to Scotland.

Each August Teba celebrates its Douglas Days Festival, an event that highlights the adventures of Sir James Douglas, also known as The Black Douglas, a Scottish knight who was tasked with taking the embalmed heart of King Robert the Bruce to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Although his mission was unsuccessful (Douglas was killed while assisting King Alfonso XI of Castile fight the Nasrid dynasty during the siege of Teba castle), the exploits of The Black Douglas have become one of the most epic stories in Teba's history.

Each year, thousands of people descend on the town to enjoy a festival that presents several bagpipe bands, like the Strathleven Artizans from West Dunbartonshire, who have been attending the event for more than ten years. However, this year, a new pipe band was formed especially for the event, although the members of the band are not Scottish.

The Sur Pipe Band, the coast's first Spanish pipe band, was founded by Leslie Thompson, a piper who, typical of the Scottish diaspora, comes from Argentina. An Argentine citizen of Scottish descent, Leslie has lived in Benalmádena since 1990 and he has been teaching locals how to play the Great Highland Bagpipe, an instrument he has played for almost 50 years.

Leslie claims that participating in the Douglas Days Festival is "a pleasure hard to describe". He has been performing at the event as a solo piper, as well as with the Gibraltar Pipe Band, for 13 years, and he has also been an active participant in other Scottish theme events along the coast.

"What has probably best fed the passion for bagpipes on the Costa del Sol has been the history of Teba and its incredible link to Scotland. Teba has held the Douglas Days celebrations for the last 15 years, and this event, particularly supported by the Strathleven Artizans, has inspired many to take a deeper interest in Scottish traditions.

"We formed the Sur Pipe Band this year and the town hall invited us to play at this year's festival," Leslie explained to SUR in English.

The Sur Pipe Band consists of a collection of pipers, the majority of whom are Spanish. These include locals Marian and her husband Jorge, who both play the Asturian bagpipes; Dany, a multi-bagpiper from Uruguay; Eduardo, who also plays the violin and clarinet; and Rafa, a young, multitalented musician who descends from the celebrated Clan of El Pinini, one of the most prolific Gypsy flamenco families in Andalucía. Along with Leslie, there is Julia, the band's official highland dancer.

The pipe band practises regularly under the supervision of their maestro Leslie, who began playing in Buenos Aires in 1970. His interest began at the age of 17, after hearing a pipe band at an event in Argentina, and he has played ever since.

"I was attending a gathering of the clans with my parents when I first heard a bagpipe band and I decided at that very moment that I wanted to play the bagpipes. This was in 1970 and I have never stopped playing: next year will be my 50th anniversary," the passionate piper said.

Since moving to Benalmádena, Leslie has dedicated his time to teaching the instrument, and he is extremely proud of his fledging pipe band.

The band has already performed alongside The Chieftains, and also appeared at the recent Mijas Celtic Night Festival - and there are several other events planned for the future - so they are making their mark on the coast.

Leslie believes that there is plenty of interest in bagpipes on the Costa del Sol and he is determined to help spread the word, as well as offer his expertise as a teacher.

"There is a very active Scottish expat community on the Costa del Sol and many events are arranged to celebrate Scottish theme things, like Burns Night. There is also the Feria Internacional de los Pueblos, which has had several Scottish 'casetas' over the years, and this has presented pipe bands on several occasions. One of these was the Gibraltar Sea Scouts Pipe Band. The band's Pipe Major, Tony Galliano, has been an incredible supporter of the Sur Pipe Band," Leslie added.

The Sur Pipe Band can be seen performing at the International Festival of Christmas Traditions in Benalmádena in December.