An obituary by Jim Gilchrist was published in The Scotsman on 16 November 2012:
DEREK Hoy balanced a public life as a fiddle player with the near-legendary Jock Tamson’s Bairns and other folk bands with a far lesser known but immensely far-reaching career as an innovator in the field of information and communications technology in health care. In his own words, he “escaped an early brush with architecture”, going on to become a nurse, nursing tutor then pioneer in the field of health informatics, an unflappable, dry-witted presence, as at ease in a ceilidh as in an international conference.
One of four children, Hoy was born and raised in Edinburgh and went to Daniel Stewart’s School, where early musical leanings saw him standing in as the school pipe band’s drum major. He also learned cello but, according to family lore, one day picked up his grandfather’s fiddle and that was that.
His growing interest in traditional music was intermingled with an appetite for Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, while his older brother David, already playing drums in a band, taught him basic guitar. After graduating in architecture from Edinburgh University, he took a post-grad nursing degree course, following that with an MSc in education and working as an intensive care nursing tutor. He was fascinated by the advent of internet technology and, seeing its applications elsewhere, realised its potential within health care. A scholarship took him to the United States in the early 1980s to study information systems and establish enduring professional connections and friendships.
Hoy’s vision was frequently 20 years ahead of his time – “at the bleeding cutting edge” of health informatics, as one colleague put it. Behind quirky acronyms, his innovations provided very real benefits. For instance, Agnis (A Generic Nursing Information System), named with characteristic wit after one of his bosses, was used widely in a number of countries as an educational tool for nursing students. Aliss (Access to Local Information to Support Selfmanagement) is making a very real impact on the lives of people with long-term health conditions. International projects included Telenurse, providing informatics infrastructure for nurses across Europe, and WiseCare, uniting computer specialists and clinical experts in the care of cancer patients. One collaborator, Peter Ashe of NHS National Services Scotland, remembers Hoy as “a maker as well as a visionary. He built the systems at the heart of all these innovations.” He worked variously with the National Health Service in Scotland and with the Scottish Government, then spent several years as a senior researcher with Glasgow Caledonian University. In 2009, with Professor Nick Hardiker of Salford University, he formed Snowcloud, continuing his visionary work and collaborating with colleagues in Scotland, the Netherlands and Switzerland (a suggested alternative company title was MIP – Men In Pyjamas, reflecting frequent Skype conversations at all hours).
Hardiker agrees that few people understood exactly what Hoy did outwith his fiddler’s chair, but, he says, “Derek quietly made an enormous contribution to the field of health informatics, in Scotland and internationally.” Hardiker acknowledges Hoy’s ability to use mind maps and other paper-and-pencil sketches to put over complicated ideas: “I have yet to meet anyone who matches Derek’s ability to make really complex things so easy to understand.”
Among online tributes from across the globe, one lamented the passing of “his out-of-the-box thinking, quick wit and love of good single malt”. And malt as much as music helped oil the development of healthcare informatics. A seminar might end with Hoy producing his fiddle, while many Edinburgh meetings were held in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society – where, he blogged, he found his newly arrived iPad useful as a tray. “But it’s just the 16GB wfi model,” he reported, “so only holds four drams at a time.”
Hoy’s progress in health care computing was paralleled by his commitment to traditional music, with early groups during the 1970s, including Wee Willum and Chorda. There was also the short-lived Harry and the Helmets, for whom Hoy advertised for a girl singer. A girl did indeed apply, failed the audition but evidently made an impression as Derek and Christine married in 1977.
Largely self-taught in the days before summer schools and workshops, he developed a very personal and versatile style and a formidable repertoire, honed in the informal conservatoire of Sandy Bell’s bar, as well as visits to the Glasgow-Donegal fiddler Jimmy McHugh and playing with the Edinburgh Highland Reel and Strathspey Society and the Edinburgh Shetland fiddlers. At the beginning of the 1980s, he joined the ranks of Jock Tamson’s Bairns, playing on their second album, The Lasses Fashion, as the band established a reputation for an authentic yet individualistic approach to Scottish music that lasted long after they dispersed in 1983. They reconvened, to widespread delight, in the late 1990s, recording two more albums. Known to his fellow musicians by his school nickname of “Happy”, supposedly due to his long face, Hoy played in radio and stage productions with broadcaster Billy Kay, including Fergusson’s Auld Reekie, and also in the music-theatre productions of Mike Maran, including the Neil Gunn-inspired Atom of Delight, from which Hoy’s winsome title tune has taken on a life of its own. He was also a stalwart of Bella McNab’s Dance Band and a long-standing teacher with the Adult Learning Project, now the Scots Music Group.His colleague in the Bairns, singer Rod Paterson, regards Hoy as a one-off: “With Happy, every time his bow went near the strings, you got what kind of man he was.” Another Bairns member, John Croall, recalls a memorable millennium gig at Disneyland Florida, where they were the only adults unaccompanied by children, “so Happy suggested we go watch the banjo playing bears – we thought they were very good and showed potential”.
Hoy used his IT skills to set up the online audio archive RareTunes, in collaboration with friend and fellow-musician Stuart Eydmann, and also set up websites for the Scots Music Group.
The Hoys’ Portobello home was a hospitable one, hosting many a ceilidh and house concert. Derek took immense pride in the achievements of his immediate and extended family, not least his two daughters, Jenny and Sarah, both musicians and teachers. His father-in-law is former athlete and And, of course, Derek followed with immense pride the exploits of his fast pedalling nephew, Sir Chris Hoy. While feeling the first effects of what would be diagnosed as an aggressive brain tumour, he was with the ecstatic family in London to witness Chris’s historic triumph on 7 August. His brother David, Chris’s father, recalls: “My last proper and happy memory of Derek is of him standing with a glass of champagne in his hand at around midnight, after Chris won his sixth Olympic gold in the keirin. He had a broad smile on his face, a tear in both eyes and, as we hugged, he just kept saying, ‘What a wonderful day.’”
He died peacefully, at home, nursed by his family and their support, reflecting the care which he gave his parents during their last days, and which he extended to countless others through his work. By tragic coincidence, his fellow Bairns fiddler, Ian Hardie, had succumbed to a brain tumour a month earlier. From this writer’s point of view, that of a near-neighbour and friend, Hogmanays can never be quite the same. Derek was inevitably the last man to leave our house, in the small hours of the new year, when there would be a ritual dram and he’d give us a last, sweet air on his fiddle. He leaves a rare note indeed, still hanging in the air.
Ben Nevis Hiking Song (march) The air to a song composed by Shetland and Edinburgh fiddler Willie Johnston in the 1970s during a trip by a party of fiddlers from Edinburgh Shetland Fiddlers to climb Ben Nevis. Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival003.Hoy.
Unidentified (air) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival006.Hoy.
Unidentified (air) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival007.Hoy.
Unidentified (march) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival008.Hoy.
Unidentified (march) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival009.Hoy.
Marquis of Tullibardine (reel) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival010.Hoy.
Not a Swan on the Lake (air) Bagpipe slow air. An example of Ceol Meadhonach. Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival011.Hoy.
Unidentified (reel) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival012.Hoy.
Unidentified (reel) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival013.Hoy.
Unidentified (reel) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival014.Hoy.
Unidentified (reel) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival015.Hoy.
Unidentified (reel) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival016.Hoy.
Unidentified (strathspey) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival017.Hoy.
Unidentified (strathspey) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival018.Hoy.
Unidentified (strathspey) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival019.Hoy.
Unidentified (strathspey) Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh,1994. Revival020.Hoy.
The Old Man Hoy (strathspey and reel) From a house session with Stuart Eydmann (fiddle) and Tony Cuffe (guitar). The tune was written as a birthday present for Derek. Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh, c.1995. Revival001.Hoy.
Jimmy McHugh, Newcastleton, 1970s (Christine Hoy)
Irish Reel (reel) From a house session with Tony Cuffe (guitar). Derek was very interested in Irish fiddling and, like many others of the revival, learned much in the company of All-Ireland Champion fiddler Jimmy McHugh who lived in Glasgow. Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh, c.1995. Revival002.Hoy.
Unidentified Air (song air) From a house session with Tony Cuffe (guitar). Tony was unfamiliar with this tune, hearing it for the first time. Recorded on compact cassette by Stuart Eydmann, Edinburgh, c.1995. Revival004.Hoy.
Pipe Marches (retreat marches) Revival021.Hoy.
Niel Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife (air) Revival022.Hoy.
Swedish Air (air) Revival023.Hoy.
Irish Air (air) Revival024.Hoy.
Tunes from the Flowers of Edinburgh Family (reels) Revival025.Hoy.
The Seagull / Paddy’s Leather Breeches (bagpipe jigs) Revival026.Hoy.
Clean Pease Strae / Flowers of Edinburgh (reels) Revival027.Hoy.
An thou were my ain thing (air) A song air from a recording supplied by Derek. This may have been made at a rehearsal for a Jock Tamson’s bairns recording session. Revival005.Hoy.
Derek plays on stage at the Fiddle 2008 festival in Edinburgh, November 2008 along with his daughter Sarah Hoy. They are joined by bellows piper Fin Moore.
Derek performed extensively in radio and television productions, particularly those produced by Billy Kay. The BBC Genome Project indicates the following programmes:
25 April 1982 22.15
Odyssey: Poets and Pioneers
‘ Ach lean Sinn am fasan ‘bha againn ‘bho thus (But we followed our old customs nevertheless) (JOHN MACLEAN , Balephuil and Brandon) In the 19th century, hundreds of families left the Hebridean island of Tiree for new homes In Canada. Traditions among their descendants, music and poetry describe the process of adaptation and the survival of the old culture and values in the emigrant communities.
Compiled by – MARGARET A. MACKAY
Readers FLORA MACPAIL and DONALD MEEK
Singers DONALD SINCLAIR HECTOR KENNEDY
Fiddles DEREK hoy and HUGH LAMONT
Producer BILLY KAY (first broadcast on Radio Scotland)
12 June 1982 22.15
Odyssey:Poets and Pioneers
‘ Ach lean sinn am fasan ‘bha againn ‘bho thus ‘ (But we followed our old customs nevertheless) (JOHN MACLEAN , Balephull and Brandon) In the 19th century hundreds of families left the Hebridean island of Tiree for new homes in Canada. Traditions among their descendants, music and poetry describe the process of adaptation and the survival of the old culture and values in the emigrant communities.
Compiled by Margaret A. Mackay
Readers FLORA MACPHAIL and DONALD MEEK
Singers DONALD SINCLAIR , HECTOR KENNEDY and AUSTAIR MACNEILL
Fiddles DEREK HOY and HUGH LAMONT
Producer BILLY KAY (First broadcast on Radio Scotland)
(Postponed from 25 April)
21 November 1984 19.00
By TREVOR ROYLE
A dramatised impression of the thought and writing of James Kennaway , drawn from his novels, notebooks and letters. with ‘I had to blaze in every direction, right or wrong, so I wouldn’t sink with too much left undone, too much never tried, too many sensations missed.’
Fiddle played by DEREK HOY Piper TOM Speirs
Directed by PATRICK RAYNER BBC Scotland
21 July 1985 18.30
By TREVOR ROYLE
A dramatised impression of the thought and writing of James Kennaway , drawn from his novels, notebooks and letters.
Fiddle played by DEREK HOY Piper TOM SPEIRS
Directed by PATRICK RAYNER BBC Scotland
27 July 1986 4.30
The Scots Tongue
Six documentaries about the language of lowland Scotland, written and presented by BILLY KAY
1: The Border Ground The links between the Borders’ dialects today and the origins of the national language Musicians TONY CUFFE DEREK HOY and BILLY JACKSON Producer BRUCE YOUNG (First broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland)
3 August 1986 4.30
The Scots Tongue
A series of six documentaries written and presented by BILLY KAY
2: Makars to Miners The speech of Fife miners has its roots in languages brought to this country before the flowering of Scotland’s court poets in the 15th century. Readers PETER RAFFAN. JOHNSHEDDEN Musicians TONY CUFFE, DEREK HOY and BILLY JACKSON Producer BRUCE YOUNG (First broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland)
10 August 1986 4.30
The Scots Tongue
Written and presented by BILLY KAY 3: The Buchan Heartland Readers PETER RAFFAN , JOHN SHEDDEN and GERDA STEVENSON Musicians TONY CUFFE, DEREK HOY and BILLY JACKSON Producer BRUCE YOUNG (First broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland)
24 August 1986 4.30
The Scots Tongue
A series of six documentaries about the language of lowland Scotland, written and presented by BILLY KAY 5: Split-tongued Sourocks Readers PETER RAFFAN JOHN SHEDDEN , GERDA STEVENSON Musicians TONY CUFFE, DEREK HOY and BILLY JACKSON Producer BRUCE YOUNG (First broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland)
31 August 1986 4.30
The Scots Tongue
The last in the series written and presented by BILLY KAY Freedom Come All Ye? City dialects are often despised. Can MacDiarmid’s ‘plastic’ Scots, and the old, rural dialects come to terms with urban speech in the 1980s? Readers PETER RAFFAN , JOHN SHEDDEN and GERDA STEVENSON Musicians TONY CUFFE, DEREK HOY and BILLY JACKSON Producer BRUCE YOUNG (First broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland)
Derek was one of my fiddle tutors when I attended the Scots Music Group. I will never forget his wry sense of humour and the fantastic tunes he taught us; even though I will probably never know their real names as Derek often made up his own names for them. His teaching sessions were often peppered with humorous stories of his week; such as the time his glasses were blown off his face and landed in a bush, while walking Sarah to school. After moving on from SMG I studied towards a Masters in Professional Education at Queen Margaret University. I too am a nurse, and while doing a literature search for e-learning came upon a study carried out by Derek; as I remember it involved a virtual patient called George (this was a couple of years ago so I may have misremembered the name). While academically sound I could also imagine the fun Derek would have had in carrying out this piece of work and the humour he would have brought to it. I will remember him as a brilliant, unassuming and very funny man. I often think of him now when teaching and, although I had not seen him for a number of years, he continues to be an inspiration and role model to me. Karen Matthews
I have been recalling the day I spent with him in the studio in Edinburgh, when we recorded fiddle parts for some of the tracks Tony Cuffe had recorded before he died. And incredible house sessions with the music and the wine flowing and all our hearts lifted by the tunes. Laurel Martin, Boston, USA
He will be remembered in the folk world as a wonderful, tender and passionate fiddler in Jock Tamsons Bairns, and Bella Mc Nabs. The music sessions he hosted at home with his family were a true joy! A full creative life and a quiet, funny, loving, giant of a man. Stan Reeves
Derek was an early inspiration to me, back in Bells in the early 70s when, as a Banjo rattler, I took up the Fiddle. My own favourite Scottish Fiddle player, for nearly 40 years, his Bowing style alone has always been the inspiration for my own bow arm. The last time I played music with him was in the Harbour Bar, Portrush, Co Antrim, when he came over here to Derry on business, but of course, he had the Fiddle with him. Dick Glasgow
My favourite memory of Derek is the day that I met him, shortly after I landed in Edinburgh in 1996. Having been introduced to the brilliant music of Jock Tamson’s Bairns by Duncan Moore, I was amazed when Kenny Fraser – with whom I was about to have a wee afternoon tune and pint in the back of Sandy Bell’s – suggested that we just phone him up and see if he was free. Well, Derek came down and we had a brilliant wee tune, just the three of us. His modesty, friendliness, sense of humour and musicality impressed me so much. Whether or not it was a long session I can’t remember, because it seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. But it is one of my most treasured musical memories. A lot of musicians spend all their time thinking about the dots – putting all of their weight into them and trying to impress people with their technicality, speed, inventiveness or whatever. I think that Derek thought more than most musicians about the space between the dots. He was unhurried, lyrical and complete. I didn’t know him very well as a person, but I think that these same traits were there in his personal life as well. They are certainly there in Sarah, who is one of my favourite people. Will Lamb
Stuart Eydmann delivered this tribute and recollection at Derek’s funeral on 17 November 2012:
I would like to suggest that the quality which made Derek so successful with learners, popular at informal sessions, sought out for recordings, literary and theatrical projects and, of course, saw him as a core member of bands such as the Bairns and the Bellas was the supremely ‘sympathetic’ approach he took in every aspect of his art. Now, I suspect ‘sympathetic’ is not a word commonly applied to individual musicality and by it I don’t just mean the common sense of entering into another’s feelings or thoughts nor the expression of emotional support and compassion, like we are all sharing today, but something more, musical as well as extra-musical.
It is to do with affinity or correlation whereby one thing or person responds to the action of another – about inter-personal resonance, just as a plucked string can induce sympathetic vibrations in another instrument across the room. Truly sympathetic musicians like Derek are rare. However, play with one and they immediately bring out the best in you and, in return, they pick up and respond to your signals to bring out the best in their playing too. Music therefore becomes a virtuous circle which is more like a conversation than a performance and where there is little room for ego.
The sympathetic musician has a sensitivity to the musical material and an ability to recognise and unlock the intrinsic poetry inherent in the tunes. They borrow rather than take from tradition and pass on the music enriched. Thus, in Derek’s hands, old standards as well as long-ignored airs from dusty volumes, would be nurtured and transplanted. He could make great music, imbued with emotion and traditional sensibility from melodies dismissed by others as too simple, trivial or old fashioned and the playing of the more technically complex tunes he made appear easy. His playing of military derived marches, for example, which by others might be given a blood and thunder swagger, might be rendered at once both lyrical and poignant.
Then there was his sympathy for setting and context. His ability to always play the right thing, in the right place, in the right way and at the right time. This was demonstrated over and over again in Shetland, Ireland and Scandinavia where he could speak the musical language without loosing his own.
His was always music of someone totally at ease and comfortable with what it had to say, it was delivered with quiet confidence, in an unhurried, under stated, non-competitive way, as if there was nothing to prove. What he only half-jokingly termed his own ‘Edinburgh style’, was many miles away from the fashionable ‘hey look-at-me, in yer face, kick ass, foot stompin, I can play louder and faster, frantic fiddling’ associated with a different kind of personality and another time and place.
In his slow strathspeys and airs he was peerless and he made no excuses for playing them.
“We all need a bit gravity to bring us down to earth!” …he once said.
Reflecting on Derek these past few days I remembered and dug out an old cassette tape recording I made when he came on a visit to our house many years, indeed decades, ago.
Our families had gone out for the afternoon leaving us to our own devices and, bribing him with some fine Italian red, I persuaded him to play some tunes in the forlorn hope that by recording them I might learn some.
Listening to the music on that old tape tape and remembering the scene it was the slow tunes which struck me most. That afternoon he became totally engrossed in the music and as the wine and tunes went down then so did the sun. In time, a slightly tipsy Derek had moved onto playing his favourite slow airs, one after the other, in a kind of Scottish evening raga, each piece marked by his special lonesome touch.
The trance was broken only when our families returned and found us sitting in the fading light, too busy to have put on the lamp, while outside the window was one of those rare dramatic crimson sunsets that occasionally blesses the west of Edinburgh in winter.
Remembering that balance of music, time and light brought also to mind the words of the French poet Baudelaire:
This is the time o day each trem’lin flooer
Wi’ petalled incensee burns the gloamin air;
Minglin its sounds an smells, the gloamin hoor.
Maks tipsy tunes ye scent as well as hear!
The petalled incense burns the gloamin air.
The moanin fiddle, kissed bi her nervous wooer
Maks tipsy tunes ye scent as well as hear.
The sky’s a gret cathedral fur the poor.
The moanin fiddle kissed by its nervous wooer,
A tender soul who loathes the night’s black lair
The sky’s a gret cathedral fur the poor;
The sun in martyred blood’s a window there.
A tender soul wha loathes the night’s black lair,
Must clasp each ray o passin radiance tae ’er!
The sun in martyred blood’s a window there.
Your face recalled lights up my dyin hoor.
Harmonie du soir tanslated by Tom Scott as Music o the gloamin hoor
Derek Hoy your moanin fiddle’s tipsy tunes ring on…
Where ere you bide, May you never, ever, lack a scone!