Traditional Music Forum Guest Blog

The Clutha, 1963 The Clutha, 1963

The following was published by the Traditional Music Forum earlier this week:


Guest blog by Stuart Eydmann

I’m sure that no reader of this blog would disagree with my suggestion that instrumental traditional music in Scotland is in a very healthy state indeed. Participation levels are high throughout the country and among all age groups. This is supported by a large infrastructure of instrument makers and technicians, retailers, publishers, teachers, learning and performance opportunities. Traditional music is integrated, to various degrees, into formal education at all levels, there are dedicated programmes on radio and television and among many young people, playing a traditional instrument is seen as cool.It must be difficult, particularly for those under the age of 40, to appreciate that this was not always the case and that the current levels of interest is the result of developments of relatively recent origin. 

Before 1970 the clarsach was something of a rarity, bellows-blown bagpipes were still confined to illustrations and descriptions in history books and there were only a few young Scottish fiddlers known outwith their home communities. However, things changed rapidly as informal instrumental sessions took off in the towns and cities, new folk bands formed, and festivals were established. Scottish musicians absorbed whatever they could from Irish, American and other sources, sought out native players and scoured published collections to help inform emerging personal and national styles and repertories. There were musical blind alleys and short-lived fashions (such as psychedelic-folk and folk-rock), much experimentation and creativity of a do-it-yourself type before things became firmly established and ‘institutionalised’, but there was no going back.

I have a personal interest in that period as someone who came to traditional music then and also as a researcher seeking to understand and explain the processes that were at play at the time. I am also anxious that the contribution of its pioneering musicians should not go unrecorded and unrecognised. Some of the innovators and ‘early adopters’ are no longer with us and I fear that others are in danger of being forgotten. Fortunately, many are still around and therefore time is right to capture their testimony.

In my work at Edinburgh University, where I am currently Traditional Artist in Residence, I have been scrutinising the archives of the School of Scottish Studies to identify what information we hold on the instrumental aspect of the revival. On one hand, this has confirmed my fears that the instrumental music of the period 1960 to 1985 has been relatively poorly documented in comparison to song, but on the other, it has thrown up some real musical gems that underline the need and potential for deeper and broader research. This has helped me to identify principal gaps in our knowledge and archival material and to plan action for redressing the balance.

Taking the fiddle as a pilot, a list of players active during the early revival was brainstormed during the talk I gave at the Scots Fiddle Festival in November 2013. This identified the names of dozens of musicians. Checking these against the archival holdings has allowed the setting of priorities for a programme of research and field recording that is now underway. It is not just about archives. There is a wealth of ephemera, photographs, home-made recordings and discographic material out there that awaits harvesting, organisation and study.

A project blog is up and running ( and will be populated with new information over the next few months. Also, I will give a seminar at the Celtic and Scottish Studies on where I will talk on my findings to date and introduce some of the ‘hidden musicians’ from this highly dynamic, interesting and crucial period in Scotland’s music:

“The Fiddlers’ Return: mapping the instrumental folk music revival in Scotland”
Friday 4 April 2014, 1.10pm – 2pm
Conference Room, Celtic and Scottish Studies, 27 George Square, Edinburgh