A Tribute to J. Scott Skinner

James Scott Skinner (1843-1927), “The Strathspey King” was born in Banchory.

He started his young musical career playing violincello for his elder brother, Sandy, and later for the celebrated Aberdeen fiddler and teacher Peter Milne.

At a still early age, he became part of a young group – “Dr Mark’s Little Men” – in which he received a most thorough classical training during tours throughout the United Kingdom.

On his return to the north east, whilst still in his late teens, he embarked upon a career in music.

Skinner was known as a dancing master, concert performer on violin and prolific composer.

He wrote some of the most beautiful airs, marches, lively Strathspeys and exciting reels ever composed in this idiom – music which has maintained its influence and popularity since his death in 1927.

In programme notes written by the SFO’s original Musical Director, John Mason, John described the March, Strathspey and Reel set of “Compliments to Dr. MacDonald”, “The Laird o’ Drumblair” and “Davie Work” as “probably the most powerful and popular of Skinner’s tunes”.

  • The first is dedicated to Dr. MacDonald the Collector of so much Scottish music.
  • The second (and arguably the most famous Strathspey ever composed) to William F. McHardy who owned the estate of Drumblair and who accorded Skinner one of his cottages during a particularly difficult time in Skinner’s life. (Incidentally, Skinner also dedicated his other great Strathspey “The Iron Man” – and other compositions – to McHardy who had made his fortune in railroads).
  • Davie Work was an Orcadian fiddler who settled in Glasgow and became the founder of the Glasgow Caledonian Strathspey and Reel Society over 100 years ago.

The short video below features clips from each of the three tunes.

SFO concerts generally feature at least one March, Strathspey and Reel set. Often, it is a celebration of the music of J. Scott Skinner, who is arguably the most important composer in the history of Scottish Fiddle Music.

P.S. Please consider making a donation to the SFO’s Just Giving Appeal.

John Mason’s Salute to Cape Breton

The SFO is set to tour the north eastern seaboard of the USA and Canada in March and April 2020.

The tour will include a concert in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Tartan Day 2020, 06 April 2020.

To quote Wikipedia:

“Cape Breton fiddling is a regional violin style which falls within the Celtic music idiom. Cape Breton Island’s fiddle music was brought to North America by Scottish immigrants during the Highland Clearances. These Scottish immigrants were primarily from Gaelic-speaking regions in the Scottish Highlands and the Outer Hebrides. Although fiddling has changed considerably since this time in Scotland, it is widely held that the tradition of Scottish fiddle music has been better preserved in Cape Breton.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Breton_fiddling

This article is a personal tribute to the fiddle music of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, via a set of tunes played by the legendary group of fiddlers, the Cape Breton Symphony Fiddle.

The set of tunes features compositions by giants of both the Scottish and Cape Breton fiddle traditions.

One of the composers is John Mason, the leading light in the foundation and formation of the SFO in 1980.

[Read more…]

When you discover you have a personal connection to a historic fiddle tune

Mansion House Hotel (formerly The Haugh), Elgin, Moray, viewed across the River Lossie

(SFO Member, Peter Brash, explains how he discovered he had a surprising “personal” connection to a tune by Scottish Fiddle Music legend, James Scott Skinner).

Though it’s a few years since it featured in the SFO’s regular programme, Scott Skinner’s Cradle Song has often been played at SFO concerts.

Here’s what one concert programme said about the melody:

“James Scott Skinner was arguably the greatest Scottish Violinist / composer of all time.

Classically trained from an early age, he was conscious of the wealth of Scottish music and its popularity. He taught violin and dance throughout the north-east of Scotland and as a performer shared the stage with our greatest entertainers. Both he and Sir Harry Lauder took part in the opening of the London Pavilion Theatre.

His excellent compositions are a lasting testimony to his creative abilities.

Whilst teaching in Forres and staying in the local hotel he was returning to his room when he heard and saw a lovely young lady endeavouring to console to sleep her young child. The experience so moved him to write this simple and yet beautifully formed melody which has been used not only by performers but also as the music for more than one set of charming lyrics.”

When John Mason used to introduce the Cradle Song to audiences, he told an interesting story about it.

He would explain that the “young child” in the story had grown up to have a child of her own and he now played in the First Violin section of the orchestra – retired SFO member, Gordon MacGregor.

Gordon provides an interesting link back to a Scott Skinner tune which was first published in his Logie Collection of 1888.

Another of Skinner’s over-600 published tunes is Talisker, named after the distillery on the Isle of Skye.

Of course, the vast majority of fiddle tunes are named after people, places and events.

The tune, Talisker, appears as a reel and then a Strathspey, both published around 1882.  The link here is to the wonderfully stereotypical artwork which accompanied one published version of the tune. [Read more…]

The Niel Gow Scottish Fiddle Awards 2017

Fiddle - "F" hole, bridge and strings

Niel Gow is arguably the father of Scottish fiddle music.

The first Niel Gow Scottish Fiddle Awards will take place at Blair Castle, Blair Atholl, on Sunday, 26 March 2017 from 10am until 5pm.

As a worthy successor to the Glenfiddich Fiddle Championship, for the first time, the occasion will also feature a junior competition.

The junior competition is open to young people aged 15 and under. The requirement is to play a Slow Air, March, Strathspey and Reel.

The afternoon session from 2pm until 5pm (including an interval) features the senior competition. The requirements are rather more demanding for the seniors. They must each play 3 selections: [Read more…]

Scottish Fiddle Music versus Irish Fiddle Music (a non-competitive duel)

Window sign - "Unicorn this way" - at Blarney Castle, Co. Cork, Ireland

In one of several well-known online variations on a theme, words attributed to the 16th President of the USA, Abraham Lincoln (who died in 1865), have him commenting that “The thing about quotes from the internet is that it’s hard to verify their authenticity.”

One music-related quote you can find on the internet has been variously linked to Laurie Anderson, Steve Martin, Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello and Thelonius Monk. It is:

“Talking (or writing) about music is like dancing about architecture.”

An analysis on quoteinvestigator.com, suggests it was the humorist, Martin Mull, who originated that version of the statement. An alternative has it that it is “like singing about economics”.

The problem highlighted seems to be that talking about music is pointless because it is its own language. [Read more…]

How Willafjord Was Found

Icy Landscape, Greenland - Jan Erik Waider - Unsplash.com

From the time that Columbus found the land mass of America barring his way westwards in 1492, many explorers braved the bleak Arctic regions in search of the elusive Northwest Passage.

It was believed that a navigable channel must exist which connected the North Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean.

Though this indeed turned out to be true, the search was lengthy. For hundreds of years, all expeditions ended in failure and some in tragedy – usually due to ships becoming trapped in the ice.

It was the mid-19th century before a feasible route for the Northwest Passage was identified.

This was in the wake of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated British expedition in 1845, all of whose members perished on the ice.

The Passage was not successfully navigated until the 20th century. It was future South Pole discoverer, Roald Amundsen, who made the first full transit by sea between 1903 and 1906. A link had finally been made between a name – ‘Northwest Passage’ – and a physical place (or, in this case, route), allowing it to be plotted on maps.

Fiddle music has a recent instance of a name finally finding a connection to a physical place in chilly climes. It is perhaps more a case of the rediscovery of a link which had become lost by the passage of time but considerable detective work was required nonetheless. [Read more…]

It’s Bill and Aly!

Aly Bain being presented with a tune composed by Bill Cook of the SFO, Findhorn, 25 May 2016

The SFO’s Bill Cook caught up with Aly Bain at Phil and Aly’s Findhorn Concert on 25 May 2016.

Bill took the opportunity at half time to present Aly with a framed copy of Bill’s tune “The SFO’s Compliments to Aly Bain”, composed for the occasion of Aly’s 70th birthday.

Referring to the SFO’s recording of the tune on YouTube / Facebook, which he had seen, Aly said he was “over the moon” that we should think about him for his birthday and that there was a tune recording the occasion.

We would like to express our thanks to Universal Hall, Findhorn, for their permission in allowing us to use their photo of Bill and Aly – and the tune.

The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra’s Compliments To Aly Bain

To wish Aly Bain a happy 70th birthday (15 May 2016), our Leader and President, Bill Cook, has composed a Highland Barndance – ‘The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra’s Compliments to Aly Bain’ – and here is a recording of it from the SFO’s rehearsal before our Nottingham concert on 09 April 2016.

Aly is currently on his ‘Le Grand Anniversaire’ tour of Scotland with Phil Cunningham.

Happy Birthday to you, Aly! We wish you many more years of music-making and laughs.

Aly Bain – Take a Bow

Boys of the Lough Concert Ticket - 1984

Aly Bain helped get me through my Highers.

A cassette recording of the album “Open Road” by Boys of the Lough was the soundtrack to much of my revision.

At that time, the Boys were a four-piece band, featuring Irishman Cathal McConnell and Northumbrian brothers, Dave and Tich Richardson, alongside Aly.

Though Aly’s Shetland music certainly featured, the bulk of the Boys’ repertoire was (and still is, today) Irish music. The album includes sets of driving reels and jigs, including the first recording of Dave Richardson’s ‘Calliope House’ (first and last tune in the set), these days a staple of sessions all over the world – and part of a set of jigs in this year’s SFO programme. [Read more…]

Macpherson’s Farewell

Fiddle

One of the highlights of this year’s SFO programme is “Macpherson’s Farewell” (also known as “Macpherson’s Rant”), which our conductor and musical director, Blair Parham, has arranged for orchestra and bagpipes.

This famous air was written by the infamous James Macpherson (1675 – 1700), freebooter (pirate) and fiddler, in the final hours before his death, by hanging, at the Market Cross of Banff on 16 November 1700. Macpherson reputedly played the melody at the scaffold, before offering his fiddle to anyone in the crowd who would take it. [Read more…]