Kevin MacDonald CA: Living the pipe dream
Blending passion with profession is something which Red Hot Chilli Pipers member Kevin MacDonald CA has mastered.
For Kevin, learning to play the pipes was a way to make friends following a move from Inverness to Aberdeen when he was four.
“It seemed to be a natural thing that you would try, as part of the community, go along to piping practice.”
Soon after Kevin turned 10, his father set up a construction company in the Central Belt of Scotland and the family moved to Cumbernauld where pipe bands were ingrained in the community spirit, allowing Kevin to continue playing and meeting new friends.
One of these friends was Stuart Cassells who Kevin would later go on to work with both in his capacity as a piper and an accountant.
“Stuart applied for a grant to start up his own business, Scottish Bagpiper, and one of the pre-conditions was that he needed an accountant. “
At that point, Kevin had just started his traineeship with Scott & Paterson in Edinburgh and jump at the chance to help a friend in need.
The plan for Scottish Bagpiper was to take on a few musicians who could be booked to play at events.
Although Kevin was still in the early days of his CA traineeship, his business instincts were quick to kick in once he had a look over Scottish Bagpiper’s business plan.
Kevin spotted the biggest risk to the fledgeling company was a piper not turning up on the day and there being no-one to replace them.
After hiring more staff and working successfully on the wedding and corporate scene, Stuart had the idea to get together a band of three pipers and two drummers to play some rock music.
The Red Hot Chilli Pipers were born.
Pipe down? Not likely
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the band during the early days, Kevin recalls. Although they weren’t the first pipers to perform their own take on rock classics such as AC/DC’s foot pounding anthem Thunderstruck, they certainly garnered a lot of attention for it, not all of which was positive.
“It was before real social media, but it was forums with people saying, ‘Ah, these guys are a joke. You are idiots. You're an embarrassment to the bagpipes.’
“I didn't really bother me, and I’d tell the band: ‘Guys, they're just jealous. Just ignore it and get on with it.’ My motto is very similar to a football manager. Do your talking on the park.”
And that is exactly what the band did. Over the 16 years they have been together, they have had a turnover of £11.5m and performed more than 2,000 shows in venues around the world.
But for Kevin, it’s the investment in the musicians and their craft that makes it worthwhile.
“We've paid musicians more than £4m over that 16-year period.
“A lot of the members of the band nowadays were these kids that were between seven and 10 when they came to see the original Chilli Pipers line-up in 2008, and now that are playing in the band.
“Our musicians can earn £25,000 to £35,000 a year pursuing their passion, and then go off and do their own stuff outwith the 150 days they're working with me.
“So as much as people can knock us for being a novelty act, what we've actually managed to achieve is encouraging kids to take part in traditional instruments as well as putting money back in the music scene in Scotland.”
CA at the heart of it
Looking after the finances of a global sell-out band which he also performs in leaves Kevin with a lot on his plate.
Whether it’s booking gigs or organising the production of a live DVD, his skills as a CA has seen his bandmates give Kevin a fitting nickname.
“I get nicknamed The Fixer,” Kevin laughs.
“I don't know where it came from, but I do attribute a lot of that analogy to being a CA whereby you learn through your CA exams that, when something goes wrong, you can either be one or two people.
“You can either think, ‘I can't believe that's gone wrong’ and you spend the next five or six hours debating why it's wrong, or you go to a natural default of, ‘Let's fix this’
“I think that's one of the skills I learned from sitting the CA exams. You're set a challenge of how do you fix this problem for the client and you've got to come up with a solution.
“I would say that's one of the most transferable skills, I don't really fold under pressure.”
But being a CA is just one part of Kevin’ success.
“I'm only one man and I work in a load of teams, it’s not just my achievements. All I've done is helped make it.
“I believe I've helped to make a difference along the way, but we wouldn't be where we are without everybody else's hard work. That goes across both the accountancy sector and the Chilli Pipers.
“I think too often these days people at the top get all the credit.
“My only part in it all would be, I've had a helping hand in it, but I couldn't have achieved it by myself. That's friends, family and everybody involved with the business.”
To see Kevin perform with the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, book your place on the ICAS Burns Supper now.