David Brooks tributes: ‘Piper of Hampstead Heath’ who fought authorities for bagpipes dies aged 72
PUBLISHED: 13:46 15 May 2020 | UPDATED: 12:08 19 May 2020
The famous ‘Piper of Hampstead Heath’ who fought a ‘David vs Goliath battle’ for the right to play his beloved bagpipes has died.
David Brooks, 72, was a member of alternative comedy group The Greatest Show on Legs and a renowned figure around Hampstead Heath for his chipper, colourful character.
In 1996 ‘Bagpipes Brooks’ took on the City of London Corporation (CoLC) at Hampstead Magistrates Court after it ordered him to stop playing his pipes on the heath.
Citing legal precedent of 1746 where Jimmy Reid, the ‘Highland Bagpiper’ was hanged, David defended his case on the grounds his bagpipes were not a musical instrument, but one of war.
Despite widespread support and a 2,500-strong petition, and apparently little opposition to his performances at the time, the longstanding Hampstead resident lost the landmark case and was ordered to pay £95 for his prosecution.
However, David refused to lay down his trusted pipes and it was agreed with the CoLC that he could play at the Parliament Hill Bandstand three days a week for one hour in the morning, which he continued for the next 24 years up until his death.
David’s family are hoping to have a plaque installed on the bandstand and scatter his ashes over the heath.
David’s daughter Eponae Woods-Brooks, 17, told the Ham&High: “He was an amazing man and the best father I could have asked for.
“He broke the mould and he wasn’t very conventional - he liked to do his own thing and he didn’t have any boundaries.
“He was very, very funny and he would bring a sense of occasion to wherever he went.
“He really was the life of the party and he was very open-minded.
“When I was little he used to take me to the bandstand and make me listen to him for hours... I didn’t love it back then!”
Able to play the flute, piano and fiddle, David started off as a saxophonist in the 1960s.
Due to his arthritis he then moved onto the bagpipes which became his musically spiritual home.
David’s eclectic, far-reaching career saw him play in the West End production of Brigadoon, the alternative comedy of the Greatest Show on Legs, Top of the Pops, the 1998 World Cup song Vindaloo by Fat Les, and Spike Milligan’s funeral.
He backed Elkie Brooks, played with Manfred Mann and featured alongside a host of other household artists from the 70s and 80s such as Carl Douglas, Phil Collins, Joan Armatrading and George Harrison.
He set up his own Irish ceilidh band, Sham Rock, and played at various funerals and weddings including alongside Sikh dhol drummers.
David’s daughter Eponae revealed her father was also the mystery character behind the ‘Green Man of Camden’, where he would turn up to places like Whitestone Pond and Kentish Town City Farm playing his pipes through a suit of leaves.
“That was him the whole time,” Eponae said. “He wanted to spread awareness of damage to the environment.
“He wanted the world to see it was becoming quite bad with all this technology and pollution.
“He didn’t believe in materialistic things, so I don’t think he ever understood why anyone else did and how it was ruining the world.
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“He liked to live his life naturally.”
David was a strong believer in homeopathy, sailed the world twice, dipped into filmmaking, recorded his own CDs and had an allotment in Hendon.
With a “wicked sense of humour”, he created “very controversial” artwork out of his Grove Place flat including one of a ‘robot turd’ made out of electric fuses.
Spending so much time on his beloved Heath as a ‘pond-dweller’, David’s family plan to donate another of his works, based around acrylic underpants, to the men’s pond.
His partner Hilary Woods described David’s swims there as his “tonic”, saying: “He was a very caring, creative and artistic person – he was always involved in a project or band.
“He would love to go the ponds and lido on the heath and just debate current affairs.
“He was quite controversial and might have upset some people by what he said – but he didn’t mean to and it was never done maliciously. He was just very outspoken.
“I think everyone who knew David, he touched their lives in some way. Everyone’s got a funny story to tell about him.”
When the time comes, David’s family will hold an “alternative” cremation.
It will defy traditional funeral custom as “that is something he would have hated”.
To honour David’s green spirit, instead of a hearse, a bike with a side cart has been mooted.
Having suffered from health problems later in life, David died at home on May 8.
He is survived by his partner Hilary, daughter Eponae, two sons Lester and Charlie, four step-daughters, three grandchildren and one step-grandchild.
To help David’s family towards a burial plot in Highgate Cemetery, click here.
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