A BAND that started almost by accident, and never envisioned being a huge success, now has a gold disc and millions of fans worldwide.

That’s the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, who will play at The Forum in Barrow, on Friday, May 29 – their first gig in the town.

Bagpiper Willie Armstrong was one of the founder members of the band in 2002, and told The Mail how it all began.

“We had a small group of three pipers and two drummers, we just did corporate events,” he said. “We didn’t envisage we would have a band on stage touring the world!

“In 2007 we won the TV show ‘When Will I Be Famous? and after that we were touring the world. We had 20 minutes worth of material when we won!”

The name, reveals Willie, came about by accident, when the then girlfriend of one of the founder members was tidying his flat for him.

“She had two piles of CDs - one for rock, and the other for traditional music. She put a Red Hot Chili Peppers CD in the wrong pile. When he asked her why, she said she had misread it, and thought it said Chili Pipers.”

The Red Hot Chilli Pipers did enjoy a cameo appearance at T in the Park in 2004 with the Darkness, and then opened the main stage in their own right in 2014.

But after their success in the 2007 BBC TV talent show, the world beckoned. They were awarded a Gold disc for over 100,000 UK sales of their first album – `Backrock to the Masses‘.

“We went to America and played big festivals. We thought there would be confusion between us and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so we have to be really careful with the marketing – and we make sure there are pictures of people with bagpipes!

“We also tour England quite a lot now and the venues are getting bigger and bigger.”

In 2014, The Chilli Pipers released a new live DVD and CD entitled `Live at the Lake`. It was their most adventurous project to date, taking 16 musicians and dancers across the Atlantic to perform at Milwaukee Irish Fest, the US spiritual home of the band. By the shores of Lake Michigan, tracks included Insomnia, Gimme All Your Lovin’, Thunderstruck, Everybody Dance Now, Amazing Grace, Fix You, Chasing Cars, Wake Me Up, Don’t Stop Believin and We Will Rock You.

And in February 2019, the Pipers and Tom Walker released a new version of his massive hit “Leave a Light On”. The release was in aid of Nordoff Robins, the music therapy charity and it went straight into the iTunes top five. The collaboration came about after Tom performed with the Red Hot Chilli Pipers at Murrayfield Rugby Stadium before the Scotland v Italy Six Nations match.

Willie says that one of the reasons behind the success of the band, is the skill of the pipers.

“I think the difference between us and other bagpipes is ours are perfectly in tune. It is a beautiful instrument when it is played perfectly. 90 per cent of bagpipes are played out of tune and not correctly,” he said.

“It is quite a difficult instrument to master I would say, which is why a lot of people struggle.”

Bagpipers – like other wind instruments – come in different keys, and Willie revealed that the Chilli Pipers use bagpipes in the key of D flat, which is quite unusual. They do this because it suits the kind of music they play better, but it also makes them different to the more traditional tone.

The band has now performed to over one million people, had over 4.5 million views on YouTube of their viral cover of the Avici track `Wake me up`, and have over 350,000 Facebook followers.

He is looking forward to playing in Barrow at the end of May – the band have never performed there before.

“I think in the north people are more accepting of traditional music. I think there is a rich tradition of music round there, so I am looking forward to Barrow,” said Willie.

In June 2019, the Red Hot Chilli Pipers released a new studio album, entitled “Fresh Air”, an exciting fusion of brand-new songs and carefully selected covers. In a new departure for the Red Hot Chilli Pipers many of the songs include lead vocals. Some of the highlights are “Leave the Light On” featuring Tom Walker on vocals. Leonard Cohen´s “Hallalujah” and “Shut Up and Dance” from the American band Walk the Moon, both feature the incredibly talented singer Chris Judge on vocals.

“You do an album and you will have maybe 150 ideas, whittle it down to 70, then 40, by the time you get to the studio it is 20, and there will be 15 on the final track,” said Willie.

“The singer we have got is totally amazing. He can sing four octaves. He is the vocal coach for Susan Boyle, and he goes on tour with her. He can sing the harmony over the melody. I don’t know how he does it but it is amazing.”

Willie finds that the band has been growing ‘organically’ for many years - people come and see the band, and then return to another gig but bringing family and friends with them.

“I never envisaged this. There is no way I thought this could happen, but I have been doing it for 18 years now. This is my full time job with the rest of the band, but I am 55 now.

“I will have maybe another two years at it. The band is uniquely Scottish and it will be here a long time after I am away. There are pipers still playing in their 70s, but it is quite a physical instrument, although it is all the travelling that wears you out, and if you are running about the stage for an hour it wears you out!

“I have told the guys in the band it will be another two or three years for me, and then one of the younger guys will come in.”

But Willie has one wish before he retires from performing live – he wants to play at Glastonbury.: “If it happens after I am away I will come back!” he said.

They are at The Forum in Barrow on May 29. Go to www.theforumbarrow.co.uk