In our discussion on Ron Gonnella the other day, Jane MacMorran mused over whether Ron had been a musical friend of the accordionist Jimmy Shand. Jane had heard that as a child Ron would climb on stage at local dances where Shand was performing and play along on his fiddle. I promised to look at David Phillip’s biography of Jimmy to see if there is any reference to this. Imagine my surprise and delight when I opened by copy of the book purchased in an Edinburgh second-hand shop some years ago. I had forgotten that I had bought Ron’s personal copy, signed and dated (August 1976), which had been presented to him by Jimmy Shand! It carries the dedication: To Ron, Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part, Happy to Meet Again, Jimmy Shand.
Today I had a delightful visit and long conversation sharing information, archival material and memories of the fiddler Ron Gonnella with Jane MacMorran, Director of the Appalachian, Scottish, and Irish Studies Program and Lecturer at East Tennessee State University.
Ron was famous for his polished, smooth performance of slow airs and lively jig playing which made him a favourite of the BBC and record companies. His musical and life styles were quite far removed from those of the fiddlers of the folk revival, and it might be suggested that, within the world of Scottish fiddle, his was the model that many revival players consciously sought NOT to emulate. What he did offer to all players in Scotland and abroad was awareness of the old repertory buried in the great collections and rehabilitation of the great legacy of Scottish jig (3/4) tunes through his books, broadcasts and records. In this way he was a good example of the ‘tradition barer’ (as opposed to the ‘tradition bearer’) I have discussed elsewhere. His playing was the epitome of that studied and practiced way of fiddling that allowed little rusticity or rough edges to the extent that it could be quite safe, respectable, sentimental, saccharine and, as a result, highly successful.
Jane is working on the life and music of Ron and I look forward to further discussions and her findings.