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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Celt Trades Flute For Bagpipes

At New Year, when most Russians were greeting Father Frost and knocking back the vodka and champagne, Vladimir Laserson was playing his bagpipes and savoring a bottle of single-malt whisky in celebration of Hogmanay. For Vladimir is a crazy Russian who is convinced he is a Celt.


You have met him before. Two years ago, I told you how he became obsessed with Scottish and Irish music after dropping out of the Moscow Conservatory, where he found his classical flute lessons too boring. Apart from the bagpipes, the instruments he plays include the guitar, the lute, the spoons and the tin whistle. He proudly boasts that "any instrument you can bang, pluck or blow, I can play. But I'm no good with a bow. I get my dad [Boris, a classically trained violinist] to come in on the fiddle."


When I first introduced you to Volodya, he still had a day job, stencilling concert posters for artists at the Moscow Philharmonia. But his hours of practicing on the bagpipes, which have driven his neighbors close to hanging themselves, have paid off. Volodya is now a professional Celt, whose performances are in demand not only by schools but also by night clubs and bars such as the Irish pub, Rosie O'Grady's, and the Moscow Caledonian Club.


With his long ginger beard and kilt and sporran, which he made himself by cutting up an old leather briefcase, Volodya, who is actually Jewish, really does look the part. It always seemed to me a pity that someone who loved Scotland and Ireland so much had never had the chance to visit the land of his dreams and inspiration.


But last summer, Volodya, 41, finally made it to Scotland. He went on an exchange program organized by the Caledonian Club, a group of expatriate Scots and Russians interested in Scotland, and stayed with a family near Aberdeen. I was dying to hear his impressions.


"We went in a double-decker bus. It was incredibly beautiful. Scotland lived up to all my expectations. The castles, the mountains...," he said. "But the home I stayed in was a bit of a shock. All microwave ovens and the car for every member of the family. I had been hoping for a more traditional atmosphere. Still, I got on well with the grandfather. He was a fisherman. He was on my wavelength."


Disappointingly for Volodya, the Scottish family was not too keen on listening to him playing the bagpipes, as all except the grandfather preferred rock music. "I used to go out in the fields and play to the cows. They listened attentively," Volodya laughed.


He did, however, get a chance to play with fellow musicians. "It was important to me that they did not pat me on the back and treat me like a clever freak. And they didn't. They just accepted me as one of them." He also visited a firm of bagpipe makers, who gave him tips about the nuances of his own instrument, donated some years ago by an old man in Inverness who had heard about him on Radio Scotland.


And of course, fatal for someone living in Moscow where a bottle of even the cheapest whisky costs around 200,000 rubles ($35) in the kiosks, he got a taste for the single malts. "I never liked vodka, it's paint stripper," he said. "But whisky, that's a different matter, just a little drop puts you in such a mellow mood."