Border pipes have been enthusiastically taken up by many leading Highland pipers as a quieter and more group-friendly alternative to Highland pipes. Many of these players make great music, but they are not, and do not claim to be, Border pipers. Matt's concern is with the repertoire and style - past, present and future - that are specific to the Border pipes and their culture. More than any other piper today, he has given his attention to researching and developing the Border repertoire, a task which he presently sees as having five aspects.
1 - Tradition
Seeking, identifying and disseminating the traditional Border repertoire. Inspired by the vision and pioneering work of Gordon Mooney, Matt sought out more Border pipe music and in 1995 was rewarded with the rediscovery of the William Dixon tune book of 1733. Made in Northumberland or possibly Newcastle, this is an accurate record of a cross-border repertoire at a time when the tradition was at its peak. The music was published as The Master Piper in 1995 with a new edition in 2002.
2 - Composition
Matt's best known pipe tune is Lindisfarne, composed in 1990 before he took up the pipes. It has been recorded by Matt, by Gordon Mooney and by Kathryn Tickell. The KT recording on which Kathryn played fiddle and Matt played pipes was used in 1999 for a TV commercial for McDonald's featuring Newcastle United's Alan Shearer.
Matt has composed many more pipe and fiddle tunes, eight featuring on the Border Seasons CD and five on the Border Directors CD. In addition he did nine of the twelve string arrangements on Border Seasons.
Other musicians who have recorded Matt's compositions include fiddler Pete Clark, lutenist Rob MacKillop, The Blackford Fiddle Group (Scotland), piper Jim McGillivray (Canada), and Nomos (Ireland).
3 - Arrangement
Matt's researches have made him very aware that traditional pipe tunes are not fixed entities, but evolve under the hands of different players in different places at different times, each putting their own stamp on the music and forming part of a chain across time and space.
Matt continues the Border tradition of composing variations to traditional pipe tunes, and though he has never tried to conceal his own contributions they have often been taken for traditional.
4 - Other voices
Highland and Border piping are related but distinct traditions, the one continuous, the other interrupted. Some composers not primarily involved in any piping tradition have used the Border pipes as a colour in their palette, and Matt has been involved as a player in pieces by Roger Hanschel, Matilda Brown, and Dick Lee.
5 - The unknown future
"The future is what the present can bear" (- R Fripp)