Mr Menuhin’s Delight, Edinburgh 1985

Queens Hall 1985

Well, here is an interesting photograph, by Antonia Reeve, of an event at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1985 that brought together a range of Scottish fiddlers with Yehudi Menuhin and my own group the Whistlebinkies. That’s me in the light shirt seated in the middle. Ron Gonnella is over my shoulder.

Reviewing the concert in the New Statesman on 25 August 1985 Angus Calder wrote:

[Hugh] MacDairmid wished Scottish culture to live in a modern and international ambiance. One afternoon at Queen’s Hall, Yehudi Menuhin met the Whistlebinkies, a folk band, and six fiddlers expert in different styles. Mr Menuhin’s Delight triumphed because it was so nearly a cockup. Audience and performers were delighted by a common fear of disaster. The Beeb [BBC], recording the event, had failed to provide technology to ensure that Menuhin’s conversations about technique with other artists could be heard in all sections. The compere kept fluffing and some of the fiddlers looked frightened by the occasion. But they played gloriously. Ron Gonella’s suavely beautiful tone contrasted with Bob Hopkirk’s bagpipe-influenced style and the great Aly Bain’s fierce Norse-Shetland virtuosity. The occasion became historic when Edna Arthur played with supreme skill and intensity a magnificent pibroch dating back to 1526, transcribed for the fiddle in the late 18th century.

Whistlebinkies’ flautist. Eddie McGuire, is also Scotland’s leading avant-garde composer (and left-wing with it). The final item was a new slow air and reel written by him for Sir Yehudi. All the performers assembled to participate. The great man, due to lead off, fluffed on the first note, said sorry, and lunged on at once like a small child performing at its first school concert. The piece was fine, the applause was tumultuous; Menuhin played much better in the encore. I felt I was hearing the feudal past being ferried across to the socialist future. Elated, I went out into another torrential downpour. God really doesn’t like to see Scotland getting too big for its boots – or, rather, growing into bigger ones.

I’m sure there is a sound recording of the day out there and I’m on its trail. I have the original programme note somewhere which I will post here. I’ll also capture some others’ memories of the day.