He is Fife’s “singing barber” who made his theatre debut in Black Watch for the National Theatre of Scotland and toured the world with the Red Hot Chilli Pipers.
He reached number one in the World Music iTunes charts with his debut solo single and became a household name after reaching the semi-finals of Britain’s Got Talent.
But as Fife singer songwriter Cammy Barnes reflects on his whirlwind career to date, the down-to-earth 33-year-old dad says he owes it all to learning the bagpipes as a child and performing with Methil & District Pipe Band.
How did Fife’s Cammy Barnes get into playing the bagpipes?
Born at Forth Park Hospital in Kirkcaldy and brought up in Methil, Cammy went to Denbeath Primary and Kirkland High School.
But his aptitude for the pipes, which saw him crowned Scottish champion in his teens, led to him being trained at the Aberdeen City Music School from S3 onwards and the National Centre of Excellence, Plockton.
“My dad Robert Barnes started the Methil Pipe Band when I was about six,” says Cammy.
“He was a piper in the army, the Queen’s Own Highlanders.
“When he started Methil Pipe Band, I started learning there.
“The rest is history to be honest.
“He taught me the basics.
“Then I went to an old boy in Methil called Walter Drysdale.
“He was in his 70s and I was probably one of his last pupils before he passed away.”
What did Cammy Barnes do after he left Methil Pipe Band?
Cammy played in Methil Pipe Band from the age of nine right up to the age of 19.
He laughs that the pipes were “bigger than me” when he started.
One of his fondest memories is playing at the opening of East Fife FC’s new Bayview stadium.
He went on to join the Fife Police Band.
When he left school, he was going to follow in family footsteps by joining the Army.
Instead of becoming a soldier, he pretended to be one – playing the role of 18 year-old squaddie Macca, a piper from Fife.
“I was about to start my first stage of Army training when my gran saw in the paper that the Black Watch were looking for a piper,” recalls Cammy, whose grandfather served with the real Black Watch.
“I thought it was for the Army. It turned out it was for the National Theatre of Scotland.
“The casting director – I told her ‘you need to tell me today if I’ve got this job because I’m joining the Army’!
“I still remember she said ‘darling, you give me your kilt – I’ll make sure you get the job!’
“I gave her my Methil Pipe Band kilt. My dad was raging at me!
“But my mum was delighted because at the time when I was joining the Army, things were really really bad then.
“There were a lot of young Fife guys dying (in Afghanistan).
“In hindsight, I hate running and I love food. I would have been the worst soldier!”
Cammy Barnes was ‘too young to drink’ when touring with Black Watch
Cammy toured the world with the acclaimed Black Watch show for four years.
At that point, he’d just turned 20.
He laughs when he recalls how him and Jack Lowden – who’s gone on to become a successful actor – were the only two members of the cast that were not allowed to drink in America. They were too young.
“We were raging like!” he laughs, adding that they toured the USA and UK three times, as well as visiting South Korea.
The show did “great things” for the charity Help for Heroes.
He was “really proud” to be part of it, and his parents were proud too.
Looking back, it was “almost like an apprenticeship in performing and knowing how to tour”.
However, it also got him into the Red Hot Chilli Pipers through “being a chancer”.
How did Cammy Barnes get into the Red Hot Chilli Pipers?
“The Chillis’ founder Stuart Cassells had just left the band,” he recalls.
“He was in the running to get a big marketing job working for Macallan whisky.
“He messaged me and said ‘can I bring some of the Macallan people along to the Black Watch play on the press side? I need to impress these people.
“I said: ‘Only if I can get a Chilli Pipers job when the Black Watch finishes!’”
He followed though and a week later Cammy was on tour with the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, going on to tour for eight years.
A “pinnacle” came during his final year with the Chillis when he played alongside an orchestra for the soundtrack of How to Train Your Dragon 2.
He’s proud of his name on the credits at the end of the movie.
When Covid-19 hit, Cammy had not long left the Chillis.
He’d been cast in John McGrath’s The Cheviot, The Stag, and The Black Black Oil, with the National Theatre of Scotland and was about to start rehearsals with that.
But when that stopped due to lockdown, Cammy found himself thinking what he could do instead.
Cammy Barnes had a ‘pipe dream’ to open a barbershop – then opened two!
Since touring America with the Pipers, he’d had a “pipe dream” to open a barbershop.
On tour, he’d figured out the best way to get to know a town was to get a ‘local’ haircut.
One day he joked to an American barber that if his music ever stopped he’d love to cut hair.
The barber said ‘the guy who owns this shop doesn’t cut hair at all. He just rents the chairs, comes in, drinks beer and listens to live music on the stage’.
Cammy loved the concept.
But it only became possible after he sang on a VisitScotland’s ‘Scotland is Calling’ advert – a worldwide campaign where he performed James Blunt’s Bonfire Heart – and had a bit of money behind him for the first time.
Early in 2022, he took a risk and opened a Barney’s Barbershop in Methil, opening a second in Anstruther seven months later.
He trained as a barber so that he “knew what he was talking about”.
He now employs six and has two apprentices.
While he doesn’t cut hair anymore unless someone is off sick, he quite enjoys going in and singing a song.
“My biggest fear about opening a barber’s shop was people thinking ‘Cammy Barnes – great singer, terrible barber’,” he laughs.
“But I’ve learned a lot from my incredible staff who offer a ‘higher end service’ of haircuts.
“They are in the finals for Scotland’s best barber shop this year – the only Fife finalists.”
Cammy Barnes: From the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo to Britain’s Got Talent
It’s certainly been a busy couple of years for Cammy.
In August 2022, he performed at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo as part of specially created tattoo super group Electro Pipes.
He also had the privilege of singing the Skipinnish song Walking on the Waves – laughing again that this “trumped” his dad who performed as the solo piper at the tattoo years ago – but never sang!
He’s performed at Murrayfield and his team even cut the Scotland rugby team’s hair.
But it was this year’s Britain’s Got Talent semi-final appearance, singing Caledonia, that made Cammy a household name.
The birth of his daughter Bonnie inspired him to pursue his dream.
But he reveals he’d been getting “chased” to enter the show for a few years.
“Every year I’d get an email about it – same with The Voice,” he says.
“I pretty much knocked it back every single time.
“But when I became a dad, I started panicking with the music thing and everything.
“There’s only so long I can chase the dream.
“In my head I was like ‘I need to settle down, I need to stop trying to chase a pipe dream. Just continue with the barbershop and be a dad’.
“Britain’s Got Talent, I felt, was like my last wee crack at it.”
Cammy Barnes had mixed views of TV talent shows
Cammy said TV talent shows were “essentially everything I was against”.
But he had a “really really good experience” and changed his opinion on it after being treated “really well”.
“It was a bit of a whirlwind to be honest,” he says.
“Britain’s Got Talent is only two performances. It’s weird, because it came around so quick – doing my audition.
“Boom I was on stage. And boom I was away home.
“To me it was essentially two days. It was a bit mad.”
Cammy found himself in the media spotlight appearing in newspapers and even appearing on Lorraine Kelly’s TV show.
However, despite increased fame, he’s glad he stayed rooted in Fife.
People saw him every day in the shop and walking about Methil, so he wasn’t treated any differently which was “really really nice”.
The exposure didn’t do him any harm though with his single Bonnie’s Song – inspired by his baby daughter – shooting to number one in the UK iTunes charts in August, beating Miley Cyrus, Calvin Harris and Sam Smith to the top spot.
How has becoming a dad to Bonnie influenced Cammy Barnes?
Bonnie is now 10 months old and, at the time of this interview, has just attended her “first gig”.
She joined Cammy when he turned on the Five Sisters Zoo Christmas lights in West Lothian.
Cammy has since turned on the Dunfermline Christmas lights alongside Fife Provost Jim Leishman ahead of doing the same in Leven.
Since becoming a dad, Cammy says he has become a “lot more focussed” and is taking his music career “way more seriously now”.
He “grafts to give his family a better life”.
He continues being amazed, however, at how people still “connect” with Bonnie’s Song.
“See seeing grown men greet at a gig when I play that?” he says.
“It’s mad, you know what I mean? People can relate to it.”
Cammy now tries to write songs every day
Cammy writes notes on his phone.
Every time he has a conversation with someone, and somebody says a line that “clicks”, he’ll write it down.
He also watches a lot more movies now and tries to write songs about them.
“I ken that sounds strange,” he says, “but it gives you inspiration sometimes to write about something that you wouldn’t normally write about.
“My recent single Leave – it was just watching Chick Flicks that inspired that, combined with own experiences!” he laughs.
Cammy says he’s seen a “massive up” in his ticket sales and downloads.
For the first time in his life, he has a full management team working for him.
Music has become his “job” – something that’s always been his dream.
Significantly, he’s now doing that for himself – not as part of a band.
He’s not sitting still though and remains excited about the future.
What are Cammy Barnes plans for 2024?
Next year is looking “really really good already”.
An album has been written and he’s at the stage of “swapping out songs and trying to piece it all together”.
Releases are planned every six or seven weeks.
There’s also a Highlands and Islands tour and support slots on the horizon.
This will culminate in an album launch at the Barrowlands in Glasgow in December 2024.
“Between the Chillis and Black Watch, I’ve done most venues around the world including Murrayfield, but nothing touches the BaRrowlands – it’s unbelievable,” he says.
Does Cammy Barnes still play the bagpipes?
Cammy says he doesn’t really play the pipes much these days.
He laughs that it “takes 10 years to learn and another 10 years to keep them in tune”.
But as St Andrews Day is again celebrated around the world, he’ll be forever grateful for the foundation they gave his career, without which, the rest may never have happened.
“St Andrews Day and Burns Day were always the biggest for playing the bagpipes,” he adds.
“When I was young I always went outside and played a tune. My neighbours loved it!” he laughs.
“But they let me see the world. Without bagpipes I wouldn’t have started singing.
“Bagpipes have been really really good for me.
“But I keep joking that I want people to forget I play the pipes.
“Then when I headline the Hydro one day I’m going to pipe myself onto the stage and people will be like ‘wow, he plays the pipes’!”