The fiddler’s ear

The following newpaper quote from 1934 is confirmation of the late persistence of an aural fiddle culture in Scotland, at least in one rural area:

BORDER MUSIC FESTIVAL The fifteenth annual Border Music Festival will be held at Hawick and Galashiels from May 14th to 19th. Four new classes are included in the syllabus, which has just been issued. There are a class for Women’s Rural Institute choirs, where the test is singing two Scottish songs in unison; a strathspey and reel class for violinists, intended primarily for those who are accustomed to playing by ear; a class for bagpipe players under 19 years of age; and a class for percussion bands. Southern Reporter 25 January 1934, p. 4.

Quiet Flows the Braan

A programme in commemoration of Neil Gow , the father of Scottish fiddling, who was born on March 22,. 1727 Taking part:
Charles R. M. Brookes
Catherine Fletcher
Ian Sadler
Thomas Smith
Harold L. Wightman
George Harvey-Webb (violin) and The Reel Players (Leader, Margaret Smart)
The programme written by Ian Macpherson
Produced by Andrew Stewart
BBC Radio Times for 23 March 1936

The fiddler wha ate a the pies

DAVID MCCALLUM in Violin Solos
DAVID MCCALLUM , who is Principal First Violin in the Scottish Orchestra, studied in Glasgow with the famous Verbrugghen and then at the Royal College of Music with Maurice Sons. He made his first public appearance at the ace of nine in Bonnybridge Town Hall. A cab met him at the station and drove him in state to the hall, where, after a heavy meal of pies it was discovered that he had left his fiddle and music in the train. After considerable anxiety the instrument was returned later in the evening on the same train on its return journey and he was able to appear before the concert ended.
Scottish Children’s Hour BBC Radio Times, 25 April 1934

David McCallum was born in Kilsyth in 1897 and died at Arundel, Sussex in 1972.

Aberdeen Fiddler hits out at older generation

Alec Sim’s Scottish Septet
Alec Sim has lived in his native Aberdeen for the greater part of his life and has been playing the violin for as long as he can remember. He disagrees with advocates of the bagpipe, claiming that the fiddle is the true national instrument of Scotland. He has played his own violin before the King and Queen at Balmoral, has appeared at Queen’s Hall, London, was violinist in Lena Ashwell’s first Scottish Firing-Line Concert Party which toured the North of France for two months during the Great War, was for several years leader of the now defunct Aberdeen University Orchestra, and is now conductor of the Aberdeen Strathspey and Reel Society. His Septet is a permanent combination consisting entirely of strings. Sim is critical of the older generation of Scottish fiddlers. “You know how the old fiddler sawed up and murdered our music”, he says. “We are trying to get away from this and to play it with the same care that one would play Bach or Beethoven.”
Scottish Dance Music BBC Radio Times for 7 August 1939.

Fiddle Music: BBC reassures jazz fans

Pipe-Major WILLIAM Ross and HEAN FINDLAY (violin)
Our listeners will now be aware that every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday they may listen to Scottish dance music. The increase of Scottish dance music in our programmes will not be at the expense of lovers of jazz ; the latter will find something very much to their taste in the National Programme. Pipe-Major Ross is instructor in the school of Army pipers in Edinburgh Castle, and for four successive years held the title of champion piper of Scotland.
Piping and Fiddling BBC Radio Times for 15 October 1934

James Scott Skinner : Foe of Jazz


Fiddler James Scott Skinner would certainly have had a pretty poor view of contemporary developments in traditional music whereby elements of Scottish folk and modern jazz are brought together in ‘fusion’. Indeed, one of his artistic aims was to kill jazz through fiddle music:

Skinner-NYT New York Times 14 March 1926

Unfortunately/fortunately (please delete according to your own taste) he did not live long enough to complete his task:

Skinner-NYT-2 New York Times 18 March 1927

The Beauties of Niel Gow


Back in the early 1980s I was asked to write the preface for a facsimile reprint of The Beauties of Niel Gow published by Celtic Music. I found my old copy the other day and reproduce my text here. Curiously, with my reference to the revival, this is now, in itself, a historic document.

Harry S. Smith, no. 12007, 3rd Scots Guards


I came across this battered violin tutor in a second-hand bookshop in London. It appears to have been used, if not owned, by a soldier, Harry S. Smith of the Scots Guards. As it is marked ‘Ward 20’ I wonder if he was a war casualty who passed some of his time in convalescence learning to play the fiddle. A Google search tells me that the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion was formed at Chelsea Barracks in August 1914, though would not see service abroad, would remain in the UK for the duration of the war, and was disbanded in 1919. Perhaps a military historian might wish to follow this up.

Fiddle Pibroch 1 : Experiment


The concept of pibroch played on the fiddle (or of a distinct genre of pibroch-style fiddle music) as discussed in detail by the late David Johnson is slowly gaining attention and it is always great to encounter players exploring the possibilities of this field. Simon Chadwick, better known for his work in the revival of the wire-strung clarsach, has posted this video of his work in this regard.

I will be posting on another musician’s fiddle pibroch playing soon.