1910 ~ 1996
Life of the Musician
As he was an amateur musician, the performer did not make any commercial gramophone recordings.
Norman MacCaig was recorded by Alan Lomax in Edinburgh in December 1951 playing ‘Lament for Rory’ (Mor?) and can be heard here.
There is also a recording in the School of Scottish Studies archive.
SSS Archive No.: SA1954.071
Native Area/Country: Inverness-shire: Barra, Ross and Cromarty: Scalpay, Edinburgh, ?
Additional Comments: Ficord 7″ reel
Date Recorded: 1954.07
Fieldworker(s): John MacInnes
Informant/Artiste: JOHNSTON Calum, MACLEOD Angus, MACCAIG Norman, ANON
Old Archive No.: 1997
Type of Material: Gaelic songs pibroch port waulking cradle nature complaint bird comic, Scots Child ballad convivial, fiddle chanter music
In this 1990 Scottish Television interview the poet and musician refers to his love of music but makes no reference to traditional music. Could there have been an edit?
He does, however, make a reference to the fiddle in this poem Two Men at Once at the start of this documentary about his relationship with Assynt.
Lewis born Gaelic singer and actor, Dolina MacLennan became a close friend of Norman MacCaig after she settled in Edinburgh in the late 1950s:
“I met Norman MacCaig just the week after I met Stuart MacGregor and Hamish Henderson, in 1958. Stuart took me along to Norman’s the following week. I hadn’t heard of him; at school we’d tended to concentrate on historical poets, in both languages. He played the fiddle that night, the one and only time I ever heard him play, in spite of frequent visits over the years.” (Personal communication December 2013)
In one obituary:
“The Herald remembered his multi-facedness, his love of music, both traditional (in his youth he had played the fiddle, even attempting the pibroch) and classical…” Alan Taylor in The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Edinburgh, 2005) p. xxxviii
Andrew Greig, in At the Loch of the Green Corrie, wrote in 2010:
“In Scottish music, he loved pibroch, the extended high form of piping… Only late in his life did he casually mention to me he used to play the fiddle. ‘Not like Aly [Bain], but quite well. He also played the chanter, but never the pipes. Apparently he pioneered a mode of fiddle playing that took pipe tunes and made an equivalent of the grace notes of pibroch.”
“…as for his later claim that he could mimic the intricate grace-noting of a crunluath on his dilapidated fiddle, it smacks of delusion… He then informed me that he played the fiddle, but… I was never asked to his parties at which he scraped away. I therefore cannot tell you how he played, although I gather it sounded pretty eldritch.” Alistair Keith Campsie in Literary Louts and Layabouts 1 at the Piper’s Press website.
Shetland fiddler Aly Bain wrote in The Scotsman (9 November 1910):
‘Celebrating the centenary of Norman MacCaig’s birth, Aly Bain recalls a fiery friendship that spanned the generations and reflects on a fitting homage to his talents’:
“My first encounter with Norman MacCaig wasn’t too friendly. It must have been about 1971 or 1972. I was having a party at the flat I used to have up by the Meadows in Edinburgh. We were having quite a night of it. There were a lot of people there: actors, musicians, singers, writers, all crammed into my wee living room. Norman came along with a mutual friend, the singer Dolina McLennan. I was playing a tune on my fiddle. Norman didn’t like what I was playing and said so. He could be like that. There were times when he would drag my bow from the fiddle and tell me that the tune I was playing was rubbish. I had heard of him previously but this was the first time I had ever met him. My first thoughts were: “Who is this guy?” I met him again shortly afterwards at a party at Dolina’s house, on Thirlestane Road. That was a great house for parties. I was there with the Shetland guitarist Willie Johnson. Norman was there and we fell into a horrendous argument about emotions. He said that if he wrote anything emotional he tore it up and threw it in the bucket. I had a big argument with him about that. Towards the end of the night I was playing this slow air and I noticed he was quite moved so I pounced and said: “There, you are emotional.” In the end, of course, he was very emotional. He just didn’t want to admit it. After that we became really good friends. I think we both realised we liked arguing with one another. I would say that Norman, in his later years, was my best friend.”