The Banff and Buchan Collection

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Tape 1994.022 transcription

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On the first of March the cra's starts biggin
On the second o March the hares start jiggin
And borealis loupin high, warns o win and sna forbye.

Did you follow that?

[TM] Yes I did.

[NF] Ye did. At's an old saying....
    And anither old saying for next month, well it is next month is year, when is Easter? And this is an old saying.

First comes candlemas and syne the new meen
And the first Sunday efter at is fastern's even.
That meen daen, and the next meen new
And the first Sunday efter at is Easter true.

Have ye heard at een before?

[TM] Well I've heard a version of that.

[NF] Hiv ye?

[TM] Its eh,

First comes candlemas and syne the new meen
And the next Tyesday efter at, at's fastern's even.
That meen oot and the next meen at's heicht
And the next Sunday after that, that's pace richt

[NF] At's richt. At's right, at's anither one. Aye. At's paseday right, at's right.

[TM] Where did you hear that one.

[NF] Oh it's an old, old one that. In fact I've just written to the Press and Journal today, and there's a Robbie Shepherd writes Doric in the Press and Journal and I've written that two sayins for him, might be useful ye see. Yes. [Laughs.]

[TM] Very good.

[NF] 'The Ballad o Bennachie,' it's really part of ma own life story; Ah wis born at the foot o Bennachie, you know, away back in 1907. Ah'm now eighty-seven, on the twenty-eighth of February.

[TM] I wouldn't believe it to look at you.

[NF] [laughs] Thank you, but that's, that's the case. And the reason Ah wrote the ballad wis, as Ah probly explaint t'you when Ah sent it in tae you, wis 'at there wis so much o our lovely old Doric words being lost. There's a big influx o English people, what we call Sassenachs, which we've nothing against at all, bit they change the language. An it's sad because, I din' know whether you could trace some of that Doric words, they might be Vikin,' they might be Gaelic, they might be Irish, wherever they originate. But some of them are exceptionally descriptive, as ye'd probably discovered in 'The Ballad o Bennachie'. So 'at wis the reason 'at I wrote it.
       And ah, there wis a competition come up, by the poets, the great Hugh McDiarmid, I don' know if you heard o him or not, and other two and eh, an this competition away back, I says, 'Ach, Ah'll send in 'The Ballad o Bennachie'.' My goodness, I was knocked out when I got twenty-fifth equal, out of a total of about five and a half thousand [as] you prob'ly saw on the certificate I got. [laughs] ([TM] That's right, yes.) So I says, well there's something in it after all, eh?

[TM] Well done.

[NF] Without being boastful. Then the same wi the Bailies o Bennachie, that's uh...the Inverurie group, it's very fond o that hill. It's a very romantic hill. Have ye see Bennachie?

[TM] No I haven't.

[NF] You haven't? Oh you must see it this summer. It's not much o a mountain, as I mentioned in the poem, but nevertheless there's something about it, there's jist a, that the, the locals are very fond of. So I sent it in to their competition and I got a highly commended fae them, which I copied the certificate. So that's really the story o Bennachie.

[TM] Well done.

[NF] And is there anything in the narrative that you would want to know or anything?

[TM] Well, first I wanted to ask you about a tune for it, do you have a tune for it?

[NF] Yes I sent ye in a tune.

[TM] Well, there was the Faithly Four Hundred

[NF] Aye and I sent in a tune….

[TM] That, and there's a tune. Do you sing it?

[NF] Did ye nae get a tune for the Ballad o Bennachie in too?

[TM] I don't think so?

[NF] You didn't? I'm sure I sent it in tae ye, the two.

[TM] Well, I'm not sure because….

[NF] Let's see, I have it in two keys, I have it in one key's in B Flat, which is mair for instrumental, and arrangements, at least we got a friend o mine, a Tom Fowler at arranged it and he put into G as well, ken, Major G 1 sharp. So this would be aboot G I think.


There's a hill in the Garioch that's aye dear tae me
Now the hill that I'm thinkin is auld Bennachie
It wis doon at hill-fit that I first sa the licht
And the win howling sna driftin Februar nicht
Though the hoose is noo doon but a fit o the wa
The yow trees aye staundin gaein lithe fae the bla
And the yalla most rosies aye bloomin sae fair
Bringing thochties in plenty, some sweet and some sair

Bennachie, Bennachie, wi the bald heid abeen
And the auld Mither Tap staunin oot a aleen
A' the glory of fame hine away and at hame
Aye the pride and the croon o the Garioch.

Though never a mountain, but jist wir ain heap
The sicht o her broo maks yer hairt miss a beat
Chargin up by Craigshannoch, on a guid summer day
Took at teet at the cave comin doon Herthill brae
Soochin back ower the auld days, aye, in mony a kirn
Fan we quealt wir het taes in wir ain Gadie burn
Pu'd a green bourtrie shooker tae mak a bla gun
Come the hairst wi'd get roddens and hae plaffer fun.

Oh the whap and the ??? baith wheeple their call
Ye'll hear ony mornin abeen Hosie's wall
And the mavis he trochs his song sae gran melody
Jist some o the great souns o auld Bennachie
But fie that's nae athing, there's big grunted wid
The baldwin, the boodwin, the big maidens's stane
So deep doon in oor hairst sma wonner it be
It's Bennachie, Bennachie, Bennachie.

Bennachie, Bennachie, wi the bald heid abeen
And the auld Mither Tap staunin oot a aleen
A' the glory of fame hine away and at hame
Aye the pride and the croon o the Garioch.

Now when I wis a little un, and at's nae thestreen
It wis grandma's guid word brought the joy to ma een
Wi her fit on the cradle at the even doon far
And the shoud keepin time tae the wag at the wa
She could sing like a lintie, wi voice true and sweet
And her 'Fair Maid o Fyvie' would aye make ye greet
But there's een that she sung I will min till I die
And she ca'd it The Ballad o Auld Bennachie.

[NF] Is that enough for you now?

[TM] That's great, yes, thank you. Very good.

[More on melody.]

[NF] You like 'e melody?

[TM] Mhm.

[NF] It suits, it's simple but it suits the theme....

[TM] Did you make the melody yourself?

[NF] Yes. Yes....[getting music]

[TM] First of all, when did you make the song?

[NF] 19, excuse me, I think it's, I'll make sure, 19 something.

[TM] ....

[NF] The date o the contest wis it? ([TM] Ah I see, 1976, ah hah.) Bit it probably had been workin at it since 1974. It took me some get, well change here and there, to get the right expression and got it tae, tae rhyme of course, sensibly, nae jist puttin in words tae make it rhyme, but make it all sense, ye see. So 'at'd been prob'ly 1974.

[TM] And did you decide, 'I'm going to make a song'? Or did it just start coming?

[NF] Well I didnae decide to make a song, a ballad first but eh, suddenly thocht, I wis toyin about wi some melodies and I tried is three/four melody I wis workin at and I says, yes at'll fit in. So the phrasin fitted in so I decided tae put this certain melody and ca'd it the Ballad o Bennachie. And B flat was the original one that I wrote. But B Flat's more orchestral, it's nae good for, B Flat is a difficult key sometimes to sing in, unless you have a high, unless a tenor might make it, but a baritone like me which was a bittie high. So I thought oh well, I'll get it changed, so my good friend Tom he made, he made that arrangement and put it into the key of G too. So he'll be fine pleased that you've come doon here, because, you'll have to meet him some time.

[TM] I'd like to him yes.

[NF] He's now gone through his Bachelor of Music degree at Glasgow University.

[TM] Very good.

[NF] So that was the melody for it.

[TM] Have you made other songs.

[NF] Yes, aye I made a lot of songs in the past, more popular songs, I played in a dance band for many years ye see, and, made quite a lot of songs. But didn't get much success, because it was very difficult away back before the war to break into the musical scene, it was practically controlled by a certain group and at wis it ye see. And I remember one melody I wrote and there was a gentleman here at used to play with me, a Steve Spalding, and he could confirm this, at he was very taken with this foxtrot that I wrote. So about, way back in nineteen what, nineteen thirty four mebbe, and in aboot nineteen thirty six one o ither band lads came in and says 'Hey Norman, yer melody wis ower the radio the day'. I says, 'No'. 'Yes', he says, sic and sic a band had played it. So I had a listen again at it, and this was my melody wi different words. So this soured me. I says, well well, that's what they do. So, that was it. (Laughs)

[TM] So did you play round the district with your band.

[NF] Oh yes, aye, played all over.

[TM] Buchan, and over to Banff as well.

[NF] Beg pardon?

[TM] Did you go, travel afar with the band.

[NF] Oh yes, oh aye, quite a few, awa round about. The band I was latterly with wis ca'd Presley's Band and they were runners up in the East of Scotland Championship, which was pretty good for semi-professionals. We were just semi-professionals ye see, we hid full time jobs. And we were delighted tae get a, jist aboot half a point I think it wis in those days, behind the winners o the East of Scotland Dance Band Championships. So it was pretty good.

[TM] Where was that held?

[NF] Pardon?

[TM] Where was that held?

[NF] At wis held in Aberdeen, at the Palais de Dance in Aberdeen. And eh, some o the big band names used to come up and judge the contest. But eh the war come along o course, 1939 and that wis put the end o that. There's only one member left o that band now, one o the original Presley, Jack Presley he still stays in Fraserburgh. His brother Charlie died two years ago, and his brother David died three years ago. So they're all away. But we were very lucky here in your young days. I used to play the violin a lot ye know. And bein allowed tae try out wir humble efforts on some really fine instruments. And there's an old farmer here, Charlie Sutherland, and he was actually a pupil of the great James Scott Skinner, have ye heard o him?

[TM] Oh yes.

[NF] The Scottish fiddler, he was actually a pupil of Skinner's. And this gentleman had a Stradivarius violin, a genuine Stradivarius violin. And he bought it aboot 1932, and I think then he paid just over £3000 in 1932 which was an absolute fortune then. And on his death his widow sold it for £10,000. Now I think it's in America, I'm not sure and it was called the Goddard Strad because it was in an English family in Northumberland for many years, in fact Strad had mebbe made it for that Goddard family, we dinnae know. Because Strad had sent a lot o fiddles ower here and got a guinea for them, 21 shillings! My goodness I sa one in the paper the other day and the upside price was turned down, £225,000! And he hid this Strad, is Strad, and I'll never forget the first shot I hid o it. (Knock at door - come in). Very fine instruments to play.


[NF] That same Charlie Sutherland, hid a, they said it was a real Matthew Hardie, have ye heard o him? At's the great Scottish maker you know, Matthew Hardie. I thought it might have been a genuine Matthew Hardie, but some o the other fiddlers says no, they think it was a copy, why I dinnae know. Because there used to be a very good violin maker used tae be in Fraserburgh, we hid a man ca'd Joe Campbell, oh a really fine artist. And I think he said it, and no he didn't think it wis the genuine thing. But at wis two very fine fiddles, I liket at Matthew Hardie, oh my goodness, and the Strad, oh my goodness.

[TM] There was a noticeable difference?

[NF] Oh my goodness, really wonderful. It was kinda equal on all the four strings ye see, otherwise our fiddles you'd know the difference when you changed the string, it was like a different character instrument so to speak. And then there wis is Presley, at I'm tellin ye aboot, their band, their father Chae they ca'd him, Charlie Presley. He'd a fine collection of fiddles. Oh nreally good. Ib those days you know you'd to be very versatile in the local band, because you'd tae play the square dances, you know, you would know ?? abroad and no doubt in America you know them: quadrilles, lancers, sir cashens' circle, eightsome reels. And they, they hid a french fiddle, a magatelle and oh my goodness it was a great fiddle. It was a bittie dour tae begin, but afore ye wis through the first ? o the quadrille she was almost speakin hersel and I always wonder what happened tae that fiddle, cause Charlie had it and now he's dead, and it was amazin how it would heat up, and in those days we'd no mikes, no electric gadgets whatsoever. Ye'd tae play yer fiddle and fill the hall wi the biggest crowd or old Charlie Presley would hae booted ye off the stage. [laughs] It wis practise, practise, practise in those days. We didnae get cash you know, we maistly got for wir jaunts 10 shillings, ye know what that is, 50pence today. At's what we'd a gotten then probably. And we'd tae appear, if it wis evening dress, we'd tae be in evening dress. There was no ragged appearance in the band, ye'd tae be immaculate. However, at's….

[TM] So how many nights a week would you play out.

[NF] Well it depends on the demand. Nae much in the summer months but in the winter time you could be fairly busy ye see. Ye'd hae a Torry, whistdrive mebbe at Mintlaw or Peterhead or Ellon or Banff or roundabout. Then ye'd hae the Friday dance. And I remember one ball at we used to play, wi ma own band, we used tae play at eh, in the Drill Hall here in Grantown Place in Fraserburgh at the annual Local Artillery annual ball. Very fine. And in those days the gentleman had to hae on his white gloves cause he might hae been an engineer for instance, and the sweat at the dance would mebbe soil the lady's dress ye see, and on white gloves and what they called dancin pumps, dancin shoes. And the MC's there, two, three usually on duty and if hadna that you didn't get in. You'd to be very mannerful and go across and say 'may I have the pleasure' and 'thank you very much', and take her back. It was lovely to see you know. Of course that's all gone now. (Laughs) Sad.

[TM] Yes I would like to see those revived.

[NF] Oh so would I it was beautiful. And to see the Grand March in at days, they'd mebbe have a visiting officer, two or three with the kilt you know and the sporran and the gentlemen wi their uniform in at days the buttons a shinin, sometimes led by the Provost of the town. Ye see. It was beautiful for us up on the band stage, looking down and keeping time, it was lovely. We'd be playin a march mebbe, ca'd 'Sons o the Brave' and at, you know, some o your American marchers, the great march writer, or 'Blaze Away' or something like at, get a good step. And then get the original local Scottish tunes for the, for the, the Sir Cashen's Circle which would follow. Aye, it was very enjoyable looking back. Memories, but eh. And then that Charlie Presley oh he'd some fine fiddles. He'd a Gough[?] fiddle, which is shaped exactly like a guitar, no F holes and ?? beside them. At a rare deep, deep tone. A very fine fiddle. And then we'd a Jim Donald here, it was a fiddler a his life and he'd quite a collection. And his widow stays out in Rosehearty, I'm gan oot tae see her shortly. And he's a fine collection of fiddles too, I just wonder what happened to the fiddles.


[NF] Funny thing, I wis talkin till a lady here at come fae Yarmouth, jist yesterday, and I said the last time we wis in Yarmouth we stayed with a very nice lady bed and breakfast and she took out an old book where there was a lot o the local Banff, Buchan, Rosehearty, Stonehaven fishin girls at had travelled down there for the seasonal fishing. And there were some o their names you know, Buchans and so on and so on. And in the morning we come awa for breakfast, a look at this very fine old dresser, you call it a sideboard, you know, lovely, I mean a hand made thing, but beautiful ornamented. And up on the top I see this two cases, and I says, excuse me is that fiddles you've got up there. She says, pardon? I says, violins? She says, oh yes she says, there's someone coming up from London next week to give me ten pound each for them. I says, Oh could I have a look at them. She says, certainly. So I had a look at them. My goodness I said, don't you let at fiddles away for ten pounds each. They were very fine instruments. There was one made, there's a great English maker called Hesketh. You've heard o him?

[TM] Mm hmm.

[NF] Hesketh, and I think is would be one o his apprentices at had made this fiddle and probably Hesketh had a hand in't. A beautiful-made copy of a Guarneri. At wis Stradivarius' star pupil, you know, Guarneri. They called him Joseph ?? and this was one fiddle. And there was another fiddle, a very, very good fiddle. Might have been Italian, there was no name or anything in it, but it was a beautiful fiddle. So I says, now don't let at fiddles away for ten pounds each. I says, you write to Hill and Sons, and I gave her the address in London, and somebody'll come up and value them for you. I says, you'd mebbe tae pay a sum for valuein' but it'll pay ye, so don't let them away at ten pound each. Now if I'd been a cruel, wicked person I could have offered her fifty pound for that two fiddles and, but I would never do that at all, no never. I can sleep in ma bed at nicht sound. So that wis the twa fiddles. Beautiful fiddles. I could see by the case that there's something in here, old fashioned padded cases you know, which would cost quite a bit nowadays. So the old lady thanked me for it. And I often wonder how she got on. I hope she didn't sell them for ten pound each! Oh aye. [Laughs.]

[TM] Oh dear.


[NF] And of course in the old days we were Honeyman fiddlers. We trained on a Honeyman violin tutor. William C Honeyman. You never heard o that book? No? Aye, it wis a famous book then, William C Honeyman, and it started the fiddlers off in the key of A, which they frown at now the key of A. That's the key of three sharps. Because on the violin, it was supposed to be the natural key for the violin to start, but they found it wasn't because on the E string of the violin you'd to play it E, F sharp, ye see, tae play on it in the scale of three sharps. And then when we played on the key of C major which has no sharps, or the key of F, which has one flat, or B flat, two flats, so on and so on, it was very difficult to get your finger in the correct position to play F natural.

[TM] Because you were used to the F sharp.

[NF] Because you were used to F sharp and it was real difficult. And we'd a big philharmonic here, orchestra here at one time before the war. In fact there's a photograph of the orchestra in the library and I was eh, appointed as leader of the second fiddles, and believe me I think I musta made a lot o enemies, tryin tae them tae get, some older players an me, that woulda said, oh I wis playin the fiddle afore ye wis born. But they were still playin what we called in the 'cracks' when they came intae the natural key ye see. But the position at were Honeyman fiddlers they were called. Honeymans fiddlers because they started in the key of A major, it was great fun. However we got round at. And I think there's only two members left o that orchestra. This same Steve Spalding at I wis tellin ye aboot, a very fine musician and a Frank Wallace. Both old men. Both 87 or 88, I'm 87 myself. And I think they're all away. Sad. But eh, it was lovely, it was music then and it was a means of bringin the music to the people. And back in the dance band days ye see there wis no radio. Well the radios were comin in, what they called the cat's whisker, I suppose ye've heard o them hiv ye? You know the crystal and puttin yer ear tae the earphones. There wis no tv or naething like at, nor amplification or anything. And we were means of introducing the new tunes to the public.


[TM] Where did you get the new tunes, if they weren't your own ones.

[NF] We joined a musical club then, and we got the club's, you'd to pay so much into this club. Like for instance, Lawrence Wright was one of the famous clubs, and Campbell Cannelli, he wis anither famous club and agents they were for the lovely American hits at were comin in then, especially Irving Berlin's waltzes for instance, you know them de ye? And they would be comin in ye see, and great favourites. And some o them would had probably heard it wi their cat whisker wi some o the dance bands then at wis makin a broadcast noo and again. So we were the means o introducing the new tune ye see. And the words would be typewritten and put up the pillars o the hall, and we wouldnae hae tae play a tune two three times, mebbe six times over jist till they learned the tune and liked it. Oh aye. some lovely tunes come out across from America. Of course we were lucky we were living as youths in the golden age of melody I'd say, and the golden age of jazz was just comin in. My goodness. We were hearing Bing for instance and Jack T Garden and Hoagy Carmichael. [End of side one.]
     [Django Reinhardt], the great guitarist, ever heard o him hiv ye?

[TM] I have yes.

[NF] Was sad when he died. I think it was appendicitis. Nowadays he'd been saved probably ye see. And Joe Venuti, ye heard o him, the fiddler. Oh that wis a our heroes a that boys ye see. And Bing of course was a great favourite. When he was quite a young lad, even when he was with Paul Whiteman's orchestra, he was singin wi the Rhythm Boys wis it they called that four lads or something? You could hear his voice you know it was…. it was beautiful. He wisnae a trained singer but I think at he wis a natural voice and it was very very pleasing to the ear. Do you like Bing yourself?

[TM] Yes it's a very full tone.

[NF] Aye, aye. He's so expressive in his songs.

[TM] Did any of those big names ever come up here, up to Aberdeen?

[NF] Oh yes, Duke Ellington used to come up to Glasgow. And of course the trombone player went missin in the Channel, eh…

[TM] Glen…

[NF] Glen Miller. He played in Glasgow. And then there's quite some good o the top English bands used to come to Scotland up to the Palais de Dance in Aberdeen. Sometimes to the Palais de Dance, there was a Palais de Dance in Peterhead, but it was burned down. But sometimes they come up there. And of course we would flock through tae hear the big shots ye see. And aul Charlie Presley he was a very fine fiddler himsel. And they went doon tae hear Chrysler, hiv ye heard o Chrysler? ?? Chrysler. And I min he went down tae Glasgow I think or wis it Edinburgh, tae hear Chrysler. He was tellin me this story. And he said eh, I wonder how long Mr Chrysler practices in a day for instance ye see. So he'd said tae one o the attendants. And I don't think Mr Chrysler was a very good English, he was mebbe broken English. However, one o the attendants come back and Charlie says, well Mr Chrysler has practised eight hours today! And here was him gan away on to play a concert. So the top marks wis no easy road eh! It was hard work all the way. I aye min him tellin that story, that Mr Chrysler had practised eight hours that day, and he was away tae play at concert. So he'd be admired eh?


[TM] Yes indeed. So were you born and brought up in Fraserburgh?

[NF] No, I was born at the foot of Bennachie, where I write aboot the poem. Then I went doon tae Port Elphinstone and ma grandmother. And when my grandmother died I moved up to stay in Inverurie. And then in 1926 I came down to Fraserburgh here as a late teenager to work for the summer herrin fishin. For a firm called Lawrence in Broad Street, but they seemed tae be pleased wi me and kept me on. So I was on there, and of course I met my wife, she was here, a bonny girl and that was it, I was trapped! (Laughs). Now am I boring you with this?

[TM] No, no, this is very interesting.

[NF] Pardon?

[TM] This is very interesting. You mentioned that your mother who used to sing 'The Fit of Auld Bennachie'?

[NF] My grandma.

[TM] Your grandma.

[NF] Yes.

[TM] Do you min that song?

[NF] Well I put this name to the Ballad o Bennachie ye see. But at wisnae the song, the melody at she woulda sang.

[TM] No, no, she would have had, it was an older song.

[NF] She, it would be an older song, aye, oh yes aye. Like eh

'Gadie wi yer waters sweet, Ury wi its waters deep
They hae trysted aye tae meet among the wids o Logie'

At wis an old song at she used to sing at sticks in my mind.

[TM] Do you remember more of it?

[NF] Pardon?

[TM] Do you remember more of it?

[NF] No I dinna remember all of it, I wis jist as a bairn then you know, to hear it. It was a nice lilting melody. I think at was supposed to be written by a William Thom at wis a local poem. There's quite a lot of his very fine, in the Doric you know. But I don't know who wrote the melody there, it might have been him, I don't know. But at wis some o the things that they used to sing. And then of course eh, The Bonnie Lass of Fyvie, ye've heard o it hiv ye?

[TM] Yes, do you sing that yourself?

[NF] I used tae sing that aye. Or the, and Mormin Braes, which was local here and some o that bothy ballads which is quite common. And it's sad at some o them, they mix up the words and the meaning gets lots ye see, there's so many. Ye see its so far back in the mists o antiquity that they dinna know who actually wrote the melody. But it wis the song would hae been based on the raidcoats, at wis the English soldiers when they had control after the '45 rebellion at eh, Culloden. No doubt ye've heard aboot at.

[TM] Oh yes.

[NF] Oh yes. And no doubt that there'd be some truth in it ye see, aboot eh, the soldier fallin in love wi the bonny girl. The bonny lass o Fyvie. And eh, she musta been quite a beauty, she said

'There's mony a bonnie lass in the howe o Auchterless
There's mony a bonnie lass in the Garioch
There's mony a bonnie Jean in the toon o Aiberdeen
But the pride o them a is in Fyvie-o

[NF] She's the girl got that wrote for her, so she musta been quite a beauty in her day. And the story goes that the dad wouldnae let her go wi the soldier ye see.

[TM] So that's the around the time of the '45 then or '46?

[NF] That'd be after the '45 I woulda say, I'd be '46 or '47, at my guess, I would think?

[TM] I didn't realise that it dated from then.

[NF] Aye, ye see, they're comin on, you know these Burns suppers they have and the addressin the haggis and the tartan. And some say why the tartan? But my goodness Rabbie Burns defied the English and wore the tartan, and he wis caught and sentenced tae be deported and he escaped by wearing the tartan. The great Neil Gow, you ever heard o him, the fiddler, he wore the tartan continually and he wis very near, he'd tae escape as well. And that's the reason that you wear the tartan, to honour Scotland. It's both Burns, great men like the poet Burns and the fiddler Gow, wore tartan, Scott Skinner played, never played one concert without the tartan. So that's why the tartan is in display and it should be in display. I addressed the Burns Supper here in the home here, and of course I'd on my kilt tae give it all full, the beastie full honour! [Laughs.] Ye've heard aboot the beastie hiv ye, the haggis!

[TM] Oh yes.

[NF] Well, what you saying now, what do you say?


[TM] Well I was wondering em, where you born, it was a farm was it?

[NF] No, my grandfather had been a farm servant and it would have been what they call a cotter house just on the banks o the Gadie, and as I say the last time I was past, there's just about a foot o the wall left, as I mention there.

[TM] In the song?

[NF] So there's some truth in that, have I written ye see. And the yellow most rose was still blooming there, and the yow tree, that's the yew in English, Y E W, the yow tree, was standing there which had been planted to give some lithe as I put in the poem, which gives shelter. So it wis there. On the banks o the Gadie.


[TM] So your father would have gone to the feein markets?

[NF] Pardon?

[TM] Your father would have gone to the feein markets.

[NF] My grandfather.

[TM] Your grandfather.

[NF] My grandfather aye, my grandfather.

[TM] Did you ever see feein markets yourself?

[NF] Oh my goodness yes, my goodness yes, feein markets. I served my apprenticeship in the shop, served my apprenticeship in a shop in Inverurie, and afore the feein market we wis busy makin up half pounds and pounds o pandrops and pints o whisky. Poor lads, what a shame when I think on't now. And this was for the farm servants comin in ye see. And it was quite a day the feein market, eh, military band would be out, the Gordon Highlanders usually in full regimental dress, wi the pipes and drums and playin stirrin tunes like 'Cock o the North' and so on, and tryin tae offer the shillin tae the lads and there you are, get them 'listed'. You ken fit listed means, called up.

[TM] So they would be recruiting at the feeing markets?

[NF] Recruitin, oh at the feein market they were recruitin, oh definitely oh yes. Oh yes, definitely. And eh, in at days the bicycle wis the main means o transport ye know and we used tae admire their beautiful bikes, mostly Raleigh, the Raleigh make you know. And in that days they'd a gas lamp, you know, acetylene gas wi a little cylinder below the lamp and a little tubbie o water attached tae the lamp. And you put in a drop o water onto the acetylene, little lumps, horrible smellin stuff, and it would, there wis a gas at come off it ye see, and it would vaporise, and this is the gas that flowed up a little tube. Ye'd a brilliant light. And some o the bad lads, would hae, if the bicycles had been parked somewhere they turned on the water, of course that finished the whole lot. You drowned this gas and it didnae operate. It was a horrible smell, it wis a shame. We used tae admire their lovely bikes, green bikes, blue bikes, mostly Raleighs, three speed, we wis lookin at the three speed, at wis a new innovation to us ye see. And some o the gear case was a new innovation where the whole chain wis encased inside the gearbox, oh beautiful bikes. Very few cars in those days. the doctor probably hid a car, usually a Ford, an old Ford ye know.

[TM] So what went on, what else went on at the feeing fairs?

[NF] Ah well, there's all the stalls, a the fairs o the day woulda been there ye see. There'd been the fat lady, pay so much tae get intae see her. There'd been a juggler, there'd be a man, a sword swallower, sometime be a circus, if it wis the summer feein market in May. Or used tae be a firm called Biddles used tae come wi amusements, you know, hobby horses and swing boats in at days, there wisnae chair o planes in at days then they'd been inventin, but there wis swing boats and things like at. And eh, at had been… now in the winter time now, there hidnae been sae much stalls in the winter, there mighta been a few. And there's always the cheap John lad that would swik them ye know be a the watches and a this kinda carry on ye know. And he'd show a lovely watch for instance, mebbe and say how much! Five bob, five bob for this watch ye see, but wi sleight o hand, he'd pick ye a half crown watch probably for yer five bob, and cheat the poor lads, but if there wis ony report he'd be whisked away, but nevertheless it went on ye see. Aye, what a change. But they were hard workin lads the farm people, very hard workin. My goodness they get very little for their efforts. Six months workin fae daylight tae dark, it was terrible, terrible job.

[TM] How would the hiring go about?

[NF] The hiring, oh well, they used tae put their cap in a certain, the old saying, I dinna ken if it wis true, there musta been some truth in't, if they put their cap in a certain angle, they a wore caps in that days you know, wi a cane inside the cap to make it fluff out the cap. Ye ken there wis a bamboo cane inside the cap, fitted. And they said, if they put their cap at a certain angle, they would be wantin a fee. And anither story wis that they wore a green handkerchief in their, tunic, their jackets were tunics, buttoned tunics up here on the breast, they'd a green round the button o the tunic, and had a ?? over here. And something that they did wi the hankies they used tae tell us, that the farmer knew that they were wantin a fee, mebbe call them in about.

[TM] Did you ever hear of a wee piece of straw?

[NF] Yes, somethin o that nature too, same as the angle o the bonnet. So I don't know, mebbe each area had a different means o lettin the farmer know that they were open for… And it was a hard life because the farm chap if he changed his job, my goodness he'd tae get a box cairt and a horse, and transport a his little bits and pieces a few miles mebbe tae find the hoose, mebbe damp or needin repairs if he's a greedy fairmer and so on ye see. Ye've heard the song 'The Barnyards o Delgaty' hivn't ye see, well at wis the, at wis the sample o the auld work.


[TM] Did you ever hear of the Horseman's Word?

[NF] The Horseman's Word? No.

[TM] It was like the Free Masons, but for horsemen. Similar sort of …

[NF] Oh I see, oh aye, the Horseman's Union, oh aye, the Horseman's Word, yes it coulda been. But it didnae get much cut I dinna think ye see, because the fairmer'd said are you a member o that, yer nae for ye ye see. So they could work the poor lads jist however they wanted which was sad. But they're the salt of the earth these people. And at's the, many of them went to America, your place, rose to fame many of them as you know, and eh, oh aye, good workers. And of course during the clearances, no doubt you've heard about that, when they were wantin more ground for sheep ye see, they were chased away, a lot o them settled in Nova Scotia and eh our melodies and songs went with them. And no doubt ye've heard o the Cape Breton Fiddlers hiv ye.

[TM] Yes.

[NF] Oh marvellous players. A lot of the old melodies are Scottish and strange to be, jist be honest where honesty's needed, a lot o that melodies are really English at crossed the border, many o them are really English because there's old, old books wi the melody note for note practically some o the tunes at we call different names really originated away back there ye see. But the great mystery is why and how did the fiddle come to Scotland, that's what I've been trying to find out. I wonder if Mary Queen of Scots was the means wi ere. This favourite fiddler that brocht it across.

[TM] Maybe.

[NF] Maybe.

[TM] What about the Cape Breton style?

[NF] Oh great, great. Different style fae Scottish. But it's a new, a new rhythm and a new drive, and their bowin is terrific. Oh great, oh great.

[TM] Do you think it might be the way fiddle music used to be here, two, three hundred years ago?

[NF] I doubt it, ye see the older fiddlers werenae sae good players ye see away back, because the first thing they hidnae the time and their hands were rough, so they were marvellous players wi the big rough thick fingers, how they could finger some of the flats, keys for instance was absolutely amazing. And it's a pity we hidnae some recordin o the old players, Gow for instance or Skinner.

[TM] There are some recordings of Skinner.

[NF] There are some recordings of Skinner, but then very very poor recordings, away back. How they recorded it I dinna think, it wis the hard needle probably or something, or metal recordin or wax I dinna know, but very, very poor. I never heard Skinner play, but I saw him once going till a concert. And he come out a Peter Laing's printer shop in Inverurie, and of course in his book the Scottish Fiddler he's got 'Peter Laing Strathspey' and I think he musta written in honour o that. Because Skinner, a his tunes it means something, every tune. It was either a person or a scene, for instance. He wis very eh, impressed wi the disaster wi the old traction engine and the threshin mill that went down the hill you know. And he says the 'weepin birches o Kilmorack' ye see where the fireman and the driver were killed, and he wis very very impressed wi that and he wrote that lovely tune ca'd 'The Weepin birches o Kilmorack'. No doubt ye've heard it.

[TM] When was that?

[NF] Oh it was away back, when about 18? 1883 or 1884 somewhere back ere. Aye, and lost two fine fiddlers here in Scotland, Ron Gonella and Willie Hunter, the Shetland player. Lost both them, very fine players.

[TM] Yes.

[NF] Shetland again, different style, but again very expressive.


[TM] Did you ever meet Hector McAndrew?

[NF] Yes, very fine player. In fact at one time Hector McAndrew stayed with an aunt o mine, his wife at wis in hospital and Hector stayed with an aunt o mine and a cousin hid lessons fae Hector, and Hector's famous tune of course, eh, in G major, eh, oh come on……. [hums the tune]… Hiv ye heard it? [Hums.] It's eh….. Auld Robin Grey, at's the name o that tune. And we used tae hae a fine fiddler here in the Broch, George Anderson, and they ca'd him the nickname, by ???, and that wis a favourite piece, and he used tae play sometimes ootside the pub and the tears rollin doon his eyes and he'd play a beautiful very, very sentimental solo, Auld Robin Grey. Beautiful. Aye, he was a very, very fine player. Much in the style of Hector, oh aye, I liket Hector playin at solo, Auld Robin Grey.

[TM] Did you every have formal lessons or??

[NF] Oh yes, aye, I had lessons fae the Charlie Presley that I telt ye aboot earlier on. And I'd lessons from a Mr Alec Nicol who actually belonged to Buckie and who at one time wis leader o His Majesty's Theatre in Aberdeen. Very fine player. He'd been trained out on the continent. He wis in the music conservatoire at Prague at one time under all the fine teachers you know, as wis of course wis Scott Skinner of course. You know he was trained away out in wi eh, French music masters orchestra, he was trained away there. So this Alec Nicol was a very fine player and he used tae come tae Fraserburgh and give lessons, so I had some lessons wi him. Great help. Because we were eh, sort of set in oor playin ye see wi this Honeyman who'd play in mebbe the first and third position. But he says ye'll never get oot o the bit, ye must hae the various positions up on the keyboard. We wis playin up a bittie on the keyboard we'd tae jump away down, ye see which was very difficult to do, instead of just crossin across ye see, learning tae ???
      Spikkin aboot Kreisler, he used tae play Kreisler's melodies beautiful, ??? for instance wi thon, my goodness wis beautiful, expressive. Fiddle's like the human voice ye see. Ye see I nivver like tae see a singer standing wi a ticketie in his hands readin the words. Ye canna get your heart in, you must learn the words, get behind the words and expression then put your own personality, if ye've any personality intae the song, and put it across.

[TM] That's right.


[NF] Some fine old Irish tunes ye ken. Lovely tunes, great favourites, that I ..

'I'll take you home again, Kathleen
Across the ocean wild and wide
To where your heart has ever been
Since first you were my blushing bride

The roses long have left your cheek
I've watched them fade away and die
Your voice is sad when e'er you speak
And tears bedim your lovin eye

I'll take you back again Kathleen
To where your heart will feel no pain
And when the fields are fresh and green
I will take you home again, Kathleen.

[NF] I'm an old man now, I used tae reach that up high! (Laughs) How wis that!

[TM] Very good.

[NF] That's a lovely song isn't it. You know it?

[TM] Yes.

[NF] Uh huh. It's a great favourite in America. In fact I think it was written in America.

[TM] Possibly.

[NF] The story aboot it wis, at I heard, I dinna know if it wis true, wis it wis a lovely Irish Colleen at married the American soldier in the first world war, and he took her across to Saskatchewan or somewhere, down through into the States mebbe, but she was abroad anyway, and of course she wis bitten wi the homesick bug, and, at's the story. It's a beautiful thing. Now that's a song that ye've tae, ye canna stand up and read it, ye wid hae tae get in behind the words and feel a the feelin aboot it ye see.


[TM] That's right yes. What other songs can you min your granny singin?

[NF] … Sing tae me the auld Scots Sangs. And fit else, 'Annie Laurie' which isnae Burns by the by, a lot o folk think Annie Laurie wis by Burns, but it wisnae composed by Burns. Eh…. 'Flow gently sweet Afton among they green braes'. .. that een, which is very expressive. Do you know it? You do! Oh, you're a very informed man! [Laughs.] You'd be able to sing 'Yankee Doodle' wouldn't ye!

[TM] Not very well.

[NF] No? And eh 'When you and I were young Maggie', 'The Old Rustic Bridge by the Mill' and some o that tunes. You know some o them de ye? Very simple tunes, but eh, oh aye, America his got the, they did great things for the world o music you people across the water. Irving Berlin for instance. My goodness. The expression that he put intae some o that songs.

Remember the night, the night you said I love you.
Remember, remember you vowed by all the stars above you
Remember, remember you found a lonely spot
And after I learned to care a lot
You promised that you'd forget me not but
You forgot to remember

Fit a lovely melody.

[TM] That is a nice one …

[NF] You know that one before ye?

[TM] No.

[NF] No. Now, ye couldnae stand up wi a paper and sing at I dinna think could ye. Ye'd tae find whit it wis aboot. The girlfriend at turned him doon, or he'd turned doon the girlfriend and at's singin ??? .. And eh, there's a girl at used tae sing that very, very nice, I'd a tape and a record o her, whit wis her name again, she played the accordion too. She was badly attacked in a hotel this girl, you mebbe know who I mean. Francis, eh, something Francis. What's the rest o her name, dinna remember. And on her record she says, this is the songs that dad used to sing to her you know, and it was real lovely, she had a lovely expression that girlie. Wis it Kay Francis??


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