NEFA - The North East Folklore Archive

Fiddles and Fiddlers

The Musicans
From The Flowers of Scottish Melody, Biographies and Criticisms, 1935.

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NIEL GOW (1727-1807)

Niel Gow was born at Inver, near Dunkeld, Perthshire, on the 22nd March, 1727.

Niel GowViolin playing was almost his sole occupation. Although he was not a player of high culture he displayed in his performances that almost unrestrained abandon which, then as to-day, swayed audiences as much as the music itself. In addition there were undoubtedly certain elements in his playing by which he could give strathspeys and reels an interpretation beyond the powers of any of his contemporaries. Foremost amongst these was his powerful up-bow stroke, vaguely and not always too aptly described as a receding stroke. J. Scott Skinner has suggested that it was acquired through the frequent use of the up-driven bow, certainly a most effective stroke all too little used now, but the latter can scarcely be called a receding stroke and Niel Gow's ablest contemporaries could and would have employed it.

We are almost certain it was his ability to "lift the bow smartly off the strings with a peculiar jerk of the wrist" in the rendering of the semiquavers of a strathspey that gave the dotted quavers that extra length and strength, perhaps more noticeable in the ascending stroke, and the whole strathspey a bolder and more distinctive character. He also made frequent use of the up-bow in the playing of reels. This sometimes involves slurring two notes, the latter a quaver (2/4 time), to add additional power where required, sometimes the slurring of three, though occasionally more, mainly to improve the phrasing.

As a composer of original melody we feel that Niel Gow has been overestimated. He claims or is given the credit of about 90 airs, but too many of these possess more fire than originality. His son, Nathaniel, who arranged the Gow publications, should have written "as played by Niel Gow" instead of the often misconstructed "Niel Gow" after the titles of several of the above airs.

Whatever failings he may have had, Niel Gow may still be considered one of the greatest popularisers of the Duke of Atholl and other members of the nobility throughout the country. Even today strathspey and reel enthusiasts are under a debt of gratitude to the Dunkeld violinist. Niel Gow died at his native Inver on the 1st of April, 1807, and was buried in Little Dunkeld churchyard.

listen hereThe Marquis of Huntly's Snuff Mull, a pastoral from Niel Gow's 4th Collection, arr JMH.

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Biographies of this talented musician, familiarly known as "Red Rob" have been comparatively short, not through lack of appreciation of his great musical gifts but because his life was probably less eventful and is certainly less well known than that of any other Scottish musician of note.

We have it that Robert Mackintosh was born in Tullymet, Perthshire, about 1745. By 1773 he had settled at Skinners' Close, Edinburgh, and advertised himself as a musician. Besides teaching music - Nathaniel Gow is believed to have been one of his pupils - he held concerts from time to time and must have built up for himself an enviable reputation as a violinist. Indeed he and Peter Baillie (c 1774-1843) were considered Niel Gow's most serious rivals as exponents of Scottish dance music. In 1783 Mackintosh published his first music collection. Amongst its 54 airs are 17 reels, 12 of which had previously appeared in parts 7 and 8 of N. Stewart's collection. From about 1785 to 1788 Red Rob resided in Aberdeen and led the band in the Gentleman's Concerts. He then returned to Edinburgh. Included among the 73 airs of his second collection, issued in 1793, are some new reels and the first samples of his strathspey compositions. His third collection, containing 117 airs, appeared in 1796. About 1803 he removed to London and , perhaps the following year, published there his fourth and last collection, which contains 113 airs. According to Wm. Stenhouse (c 1773-1827), Mackintosh died in London in 1807.

As a composer of original Scottish melody Robert Mackintosh occupies an exalted position. His reels, in our estimation, are equal to and more original than those of the Gows, although several of them are so twisted in structure that w question if even their composer could have straightened them out with his dashing bow. His strathspeys, on the other hand, are as a whole not quite up to the same standard, whether in quality, quantity or originality. So, in order that a fair comparison be made between Red Rob and other Scottish composers, we would venture to suggest that the composition of a good strathspey may be considered a greater musical achievement than that of a good reel.

Since Robert Mackintosh's works are not sufficiently well known we shall append the names of some of his best efforts: Book 1: The Diamond Reel - called Miss Steel of Norwich in his Fourth collection, and arranged as a hornpipe in J.S.S.'s Harp and Claymore collection. Book 2: Honourable Mrs. Campbell of Lochnell; Miss Elizabeth (Betty) Robertson - called Miss Jane Fraser in Lowe's collection; Miss Ann Munro's Quickstep. Book 3: Miss Margaret Campbell; Miss Campbell of Saddell; Miss Robertson - one of our special favourites: Miss Mariane Oliphant. Book 4: Honourable Mrs. E. Macleod: Lady Charlotte Campbell's Strathspey and Reel - previously published in Gow's Second Repository, 1802. We prefer the last-mentioned strathspey at a slower speed than H =188. The reel of the same name is at once the finest and the most difficult reel in B flat. In the Fourth Book are also found Lady Charlotte Cadogan and Miss Campbell's Reel which, though claimed by Robert Mackintosh, previously appeared unacknowledged in John and Andrew Gow's collection, London, c 1794, as The Firth of Cromarty and Taymouth respectively. A splendid selection from the above works is found in John Glen's Collection of Scottish Dance Music.

listen hereMiss Campbell of Saddell, a pastoral from Mackintosh's 3rd collection, 1796

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William Marshall was born at Fochabers, Banffshire, on the 27th December 1748.

William MarshallWhen about twelve years of age he entered the service of the Duke of Gordon and soon rose to be butler and house-steward. That he was a great favourite with the members of the Duke's family and with the many distinguished guests, especially ladies, who visited the castle may be gathered from the titles of many of his compositions. No doubt he felt flattered by such recognition of his musical gifts, yet J. MacGregor in his Memoir rather bluntly remarks: "Many, who perhaps imagined at the time that they were conferring honour on the minstrel by giving their names to being remembered at all, after their fleeting pilgrimage of life has passed away."

In addition to composing music Marshall devoted much of his spare time to the study of mechanics, astronomy, architecture and land surveying, and even to the making of clocks. He was a keen sportsman; a dancer and athlete of considerable local repute. He left Gordon Castle in 1790 and, a short time after, settled at Keithmore farm. Soon he was appointed factor to the Duke and continued in that capacity up to 1817. About 1822 he retired to Newfield Cottage, Dandaleith, near Craigellachie Bridge. William Marshall died on the 29th of May, 1833, and was buried in Bellie churchyard.

Of Marshall's earliest efforts 49 were published in two numbers by Neil Steward, Edinburgh, in 1781, while several of the airs written after that date appeared first in other composers' works, particularly those of the Gows. At the request of his many patrons Marshall gathered his scattered compositions and sold their copyright in 1822 to Alexander Robertson, Edinburgh. Robertson issued 176 of them in the same year. A selection containing 81 of his then remaining and subsequent compositions - 2 of them being repetitions - was issued by the same publisher about 1845. The 1822 and 1845 collections contain between them almost all the airs in the 1781 collection with most of their names changed.

Burns proved himself to be a sound judge of Scots music when he dubbed Marshall "The first composer of strathspeys of the age." The Marquis of Huntly's Farewell ("The King of Strathspeys"), The Marquis of Huntly's Strathspey (formerly "Reel"), The Marchioness of Huntly and Craigellachie Bridge have long been recognised as masterpieces. The most popular of his other compositions, especially for orchestras, are The Bog of Gight, The Duke of Gordon's Birthday, Lord Alexander Gordon, Miss Agnes Ross (now called Lasses, look before you), Miss Farquharson of Invercauld (previously called Lady Louisa Gordon, and latterly Miss M'Leod's Favourite), and Newfield Cottage (renamed Mr. Marshall's Strathspey in Gow's second collection and Mr. Marshall's Favourite in Gow's Beauties). Although it is true that few of Marshall's finest strathspeys look their best at H +188, the speed advocated by G.F. Graham J.T. Surenne, J.S. Skinner and others for the dance, it may also be argued that choosing a speed to take the most out of a so-called strathspey is more important form a musical point of view than restricting to a certain arbitrary speed an air which continues to be popular in spite of its gradual dissociation from the dance. We cannot equally commend any of Marshall's 80 reel compositions: several of them appear to be deficient in that combination of buoyancy and easy flow more characteristic of south-country reels, and to have too much of that "deliberateness" to which, strange as it may seem, his strathspeys owe much of their beauty. But he as a wealth of slow and slowish strathspeys which have a repose and charm all their own. It may even be said that inasmuch as Marshall's compositions best reflect the musical outlook of most Scots music enthusiasts they possess a native appeal which even greater brilliancy of effort on the part of another composer can scarcely diminish.

listen hereThe Marquis of Huntly, a strathspey from William Marshall's 1781 collection

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NATHANIEL GOW (1763-1831)

Nathaniel Gow, the fourth son of Niel Gow, was born at Inver on the 28th of May, 1763.

Nathaniel GowHe and his elder brothers, William, John and Andrew, chose music as their profession. His younger brother, Donald, died in infancy. In 1782 Nathaniel received a permanent appointment as one of H.M.'s herald trumpeters for Scotland, and in 1796, in partnership with Wm. Shepherd, he started a very extensive business as music seller with premises at 41 North Bridge, Edinburgh. Soon he rose to eminence as a musician and for many years took a prominent part at the Caledonian Hunt Balls and other important assemblies throughout the country. Like his father, he enjoyed the patronage of the Duke of Atholl's family. Nathaniel Gow died on the 19th of January, 1831, and was buried in Greyfriar's churchyard.

As an arranger and composer of Scottish music Nathaniel Gow displays more culture than perhaps any of his predecessors. His better musical training has helped him to get out of the old, conventional rut in not a few of his musical compositions and to add much needed variety to several of the older melodies. Yet we question if ever he will be forgiven for publishing other composers' airs, particularly those of Wm. Marshall, deliberately changing their names and suppressing their authorship. And in the case of several other airs associated with his name, how much more decorous it would have been for him to mention the original source of each, where known, and add "Arranged by Nathaniel Gow" instead of the too equivocal "Nath. Gow." The public was then and still is easily gulled in such matters. Those who have taken it upon themselves to unravel the tangle of so many strathspeys and reels have perhaps the best grounds for censuring Nathaniel Gow. Yet we consider that few airs have been touched by him that have not been improved. Indeed several airs owe much of their present vogue to his "helping hand." As a creator of original melodic structures, especially strathspeys, we unhesitatingly place him after Wm. Marshall. Few of Nathaniel Gow's strathspey compositions are played by the best musicians of today, and it will probably never be conclusively proved that he composed The Miller o' Drone, one of the finest strathspeys ever written. Of the twenty-odd collections he arranged, the most important are Gow's six Collections of Strathspeys, etc. - containing in all over 560 airs - the first editions of which were published in 1784, 1788, 1792, 1800, 1809-10 and 1822 respectively. These volumes were a distinct advance on the few previous Scots collections and were regarded as the chief standard of reference up to about 1840. Through his publications alone Nathaniel Gow has won for himself a distinguished name in the history of Scottish music.

listen hereLoch Earn, a reel by Nathaniel Gow, from his 2nd collection, 1788

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PETER MILNE (1824-1908)

Peter Milne, the "Tarland Minstrel", was born in Kincardine o' Neil on the 30th of September, 1824.

In his early boyhood he removed with his parents to Tarland and attended school there. While employed on a farm outside the village he often acted as herd on the adjoining Muir o' Gellan. In 1841 he began violin playing in Aberdeen, and though he was self-taught in music his outstanding gifts soon brought him widespread fame. He became a member of The Theatre Royal, Marischal Street, in 1847 and in 1851 succeeded James Young (q.v.) as leader of the band. Later he earned a livelihood teaching the violin and playing at dances throughout the country. By 1852 he had made the acquaintance of the then youthful J. Scott Skinner and engaged the latter as 'cello player.

The close friendship which rapidly sprang up between this illustrious pair was broken in 1855 when J. Scott Skinner joined Dr. Mark; but before he had completed his six years' course the future "Strathspey King" hied back to his mother and Peter. About 1862 the two set off to Edinburgh - J. Scott Skinner to return to Aberdeen in about three months' time after touring the south of Scotland and the north of England with an amateur opera troupe called the New Orleans Company; Peter Milne to rise to be successively leader of M'Gork's Theatre, Leith, The Prince's and Gaiety Theatres, Edinburgh. During his stay in the south Peter made six or seven visits to England as a professional player and there, in Manchester, began to take opium as a cure for rheumatism. He then transferred his activities to the ferry boats plying across the Forth and for many years, in company with a blind musician, Willie Grant, charmed the water and the passengers with his delightful music.

James Hook's Down the Burn Davie and J. Young's Bridge of Dee Strathspey were considered his master-pieces. The building of the Forth Bridge displaced not only the boats but Peter, so by 1890 he had left Burntisland and retraced his steps north. During his short stay with his sister in Tarland he gave a concert in the Cromar Hall on the 24th of April, 1890. Finally he settled in Aberdeen, played for one winter in the Alhambra Theatre, Market Street, and for some years eked out a rather precarious existence teaching the violin and playing at dances. After meeting with an accident in 1898 he was taken to Nelson Street Hospital, there to spend the remaining ten years of his life. He died on the 11th of March, 1908.

At the instigation of Mr. Innes, Tarland, himself a pupil of Peter Milne, funds were raised for the erection to the Tarland Minstrel of a fitting memorial which was unveiled by the late Marquis of Aberdeen and Temair on the 20th of February, 1932. It has often been said, not without good reason, that even the country's best composers allowed too many of their compositions to be published. The same cannot be said of Peter Milne. Indeed only 24 of his airs have previously been printed, whilst about a dozen more are known to us. Peter Milne's style of composition is reminiscent of that of Wm. Christie (q.v.). He evinces a distinct feeling for pleasing melody, but the beauty of one or two of his airs, particularly The Marchioness of Huntly - Aboyne Castle, is considerably marred by their lack of poise. In addition to those printed for the first time in the present volume, we regard as Peter Milne's best efforts The Countess of Crawford, Jas. O. Forbes, John M'Neill's Reel, The Marquis of Huntly's Reel, The Pride of the Dee Waltzes, The pride of the Don Waltzes, and Bonnie Glen Tanar (Sister or Companion to J. Scott Skinner's Bonnie Lass o' Bonaccord). All these airs we consider worthy of a place amongst the country's finest compositions. It may also be noted here that the first and third parts of the last-mentioned air are surprisingly like the corresponding measures of Miss Wellwood's Fancy in M'Glashan's 1786 collection and for this reason, we presume, Peter Milne did not publish it. Nathaniel Gow's The Fallen Hero in his Third Repository is even more a plagiarism of the same air. J. Scott Skinner acknowledged that Peter Milne was one of the finest native musicians that Scotland ever produced.

listen hereRiches Denied, a pastoral by J. Murdoch Henderson in memory of Peter Milne

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J. Scott Skinner, the youngest son of Wm. Skinner and Mary Agnew, was born in Banchory-Ternan on the 5th of August, 1843.

James Scott SkinnerHis father was originally a gardener but, after losing three of the fingers of his left hand, he became a left-handed fiddler and a prominent dancing master on Deeside. His mother was bereaved when J. Scott Skinner was only eighteen months old, but remarried. When the future "Strathspey King" was about seven years of age his brother, Sandy, apprenticed him to the violin and 'cello, and within two or three years he had gained sufficient proficiency in vamping on the latter instrument to accompany his bigger brother at the local dances. Soon afterwards he came under the influence of Peter Milne and shared some of the latter's joys and sorrows while playing in and around the district. In 1855, after being in irregular attendance at Connell's School, Princes Street, Aberdeen, for about three years, he enlisted in Dr. Mark's celebrated troupe of "Little Men", at that time in the Granite City, and accompanied them to their headquarters in Manchester, there to start a six years' course in intensive musical training, and a tour of the four countries.

J. S. S. was in this juvenile orchestra when it gave its command performance before Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace on the 10th of February, 1858. Fortunately he met Charles Rougier in Manchester, and to that celebrated French violinist's schooling in Kreutzer studies, etc., he attributed much of his future success. Three months before completing his apprenticeship under the German "Professor" he escaped from Glasgow to his mother's new home in Aberdeen, there to rejoin Peter Milne. With almost a year's training in dancing, from Wm. Scott, "Professor" of Elocution, Stoneywood, J. Scott Skinner now held dancing classes in the district as far out as Alford. He actually beat the renowned John M'Neill of Edinburgh in a sword-dance competition in Ireland in 1862 and the following year played The Marquis of Huntly's Farewell and The Marquis of Tullybardine at the grand strathspey and reel competition in Inverness, thereby gaining the first prize and ousting perhaps the best players, Joseph Lowe's Edinburgh Band. When he subsequently extended his field of activities to the Ballater district his reputation soon reached the ears of the Queen, who requested him to teach the tenantry at Balmoral callisthenics and dancing. In 1868 he claimed to have 125 pupils there.

By 1870 Scott Skinner had married and settled in Aberlour, with his wife to assist him in his duties. He then removed to 2, South College Street, Elgin, and for some twelve years continued in the double role of dancing master and solo violinist. As a concert artiste his name was now on everyone's lips. In 1879 he held a long series of concerts throughout the north and east of Scotland and, to judge from his programmes, including De Beriot's 7th Air in E Major and First Concerto, Op. 16 Mozart's Figaro Overture (as a Trio) and P. Rode's Air Varie, Op, 10, he must then have been a virtuoso of some standing. By 1880 his adopted daughter, Jeanie Skinner (later Mrs. Frank Sutherland), was figuring prominently as his pianist. His partnership with his wife seems to have terminated rather abruptly about 1881, when the latter was taken to Elgin Hospital, there to spend the remainder of her days. About 1883 J. Scott Skinner took up residence at 4, Dee Street, Aberdeen, and advertised his Dancing Academy at 9, Silver Street, but in 1884 he was alternately at 95, High Street, Elgin, and 22, Union Terrace, Aberdeen. Not long after the death of his brother, Sandy, the latter's widow, Madame de Lenglee, became his partner and continued in that capacity for several years. His concert advertisements during this period show that his various abodes were not fixed for many years. In 1893 he toured the U.S.A. with Willie MacLennan, the celebrated piper and dancer, but the rather sudden death of the latter upset the Strathspey King's calculations, so within eight months he was back in his native Scotland. He practically gave up dancing now and concentrated on his Andrea Guarnarius. While staying in Union Grove, Aberdeen, he met his second wife and by 1897 he had married her and settled at Monikie, near Dundee. There he wrote some of his best compositions and devoted much of his time to amateur gardening. In 1899 he went on a concert tour.

About 1909 his wife "resigned" and went to Rhodesia, leaving the "king" once more on his own. For alternate periods during the next thirteen years his headquarters were principally at Alexr. M'Pherson's, Kirriemuir; Wm. F. M'Hardy's, Drumblair House, Forgue; Glencoe House, Carnoustie; Darling's and The County Hotels, Edinburgh. His concert engagements, many of which were organised by J. C. Lumsden, Edinburgh, were at this period very numerous. In 1922 J. Scott Skinner came to reside at 25, Victoria Street, Aberdeen, and up to 1925 was the leading artiste in five different tours, his last public performance in Britain being given at Oldmeldrum on the 25th of April, 1925. The following year, after having been an invalid for some considerable time, he was unwisely tempted to go to a reel and jig competition in USA There he encountered his pet aversion, an unsuitable pianist, and marched off the platform before finishing his test pieces. Nevertheless he was given a royal reception and later demonstrated that he was still, in spite of his years, the "Strathspey King." He returned home to spend most of his remaining days in bed and died on the 17th of March, 1927. The pipe band of the Aberdeen City Police led the funeral procession to Allenvale Cemetery and George S. MacLeannan, the famous piper, played Lochaber No More over the Strathspey King's last resting place.

listen hereLochaber No More, played by David Low

In assessing J. Scott Skinner's contribution to Scottish music more than one factor must be considered. There is little need to stress the fact that he, like most of his predecessors, had only a rudimentary knowledge of harmony. He made very full use of what gifts and training he did have and, unlike several, even skilled harmonists who have ventured to write accompaniments to Scottish dance music, he never lost sight of the native message of the strathspey. He has almost exactly 600 different compositions in print, 200 of which died at birth. Many of his airs are more a reflex of his own nature than of what might be called the traditional Scots mentality. He alone of the great Scottish violinist-composers has made some noteworthy contributions to bagpipe music. As a strathspey and reel composer his reputation has depended too much on the popularity of such airs as The Laird o' Drumblair which definitely are not his finest compositions. By means of his better training and his unrivalled excellence as an exponent of strathspeys and reels he has founded a school of Scottish composition more brilliant in its effect, further-reaching in its scope and wider in its conception of music as an art than any of the schools of the past. Too many of his best compositions are not at all well known and too few of the Scots players of to-day are sufficiently competent to render them with that bold, characteristic accent and masterly turn of phrase which has made J. Scott Skinner's name a household word. Those interested in the Strathspey King's Memoirs may be referred to "The People's Journal," 3rd February - 21st April, 1923.

One of J. Scott Skinner's finest musical efforts to gain popularity was his Ettrick Vale Quadrille, arranged about 1861 on popular melodies. This was soon followed by numerous valses, polkas, etc. His first collection, Twelve New Strathspeys and Reels, was published about 1865. In 1868 appeared his Thirty New Strathspeys and Reels, containing the previous 12 and 20 more. A second edition of this collection was issued in 1874. In 1881 he published his Miller o' Hirn Collection. This fine work contains the 32 airs previously issued and a further 90, and is thus, as stated in the inside title-page, a "Fourth Edition [of his first collection] Greatly Enlarged." His Beauties of the Ballroom - 59 airs - first appeared c. 1882. His Elgin Collection (Part I only), also containing 59 airs, was issued in 1884. In 1888, when residing at Inverurie, J. Scott Skinner published his Logie Collection. Of its 190 airs several are songs - scarcely "deathless lays." In 1900 appeared The Scottish Violinist, perhaps the most popular, certainly the most instructive violin collection of Scots music ever published. In the third edition, 1904, three new airs were added, making the new total 148. His magnum opus, The Harp and Claymore Collection, containing 233 airs, appeared in 1904. His Monikie Series - not all written at Monikie - contains 16 airs. Nine numbers of his Cairngorm Series - 27 airs - were published in 1922. His last published composition, Johnnie Walker, 1924, does not appear to be meant as a compliment to the dedicate. In all a truly marvellous record!

listen hereJ. Scott Skinner, The Strathspey King, a reel by J. Murdoch Henderson, 1933

*The University of Aberdeen has a web site dedicated to the music of James Scott Skinner featuring sound and video clips.

A Grand Evening Concert - In Memory of Scott Skinner

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JAMES DAVIE (1783-1857)

James Davie was born in Aberdeen on the 6th of October, 1783.

Whether or not he was a shoemaker in early life, certain it is that by 1813 he had become an established music seller in Aberdeen. He published a Collection of Psalmody about 1820 and by 1829 had issued the First Series of his Caledonian Repository, the first book of which may have been completed before the latter date. Although he had avowed intentions of publishing another four books, also arranged for the violin, to form a Second Series, only two appeared, one in 1850 and the other in 1855. These six books form an outstanding work, comprising 802 airs and thus, in the number of airs, second only by 69 to the Athole Collection. The Athole Collection, 1883-84, we may mention, was compiled by James Stewart Robertson (1823-1896), Edradynate, the first president of The Edinburgh Highland Reel and Strathspey Society, instituted in 1881. The material for Davie's big undertaking was culled from his own very extensive library, supplemented mainly by that belonging to Andrew J. Wigton (1804-1866) and later presented to Dundee. The first four books were republished by Wood & Co., Edinburgh, in 1848. James Davie issued his Caledonian Flautist about 1842. During his life as a music seller his premises, known as "Davie's Musical Repository," were successively removed to at least six different addresses, most of them in Castle Street and Union Street. In addition, he played for some time in the theatre orchestra and taught vocal and instrumental music. Most of his family, eight in number, died very early in life. James Davie, himself, died at 16, Huxter Road on the 19th of November, 1857, and was buried in Old Machar churchyard.

In his Caledonian Repository in particular, James Davie has displayed elegant taste and distinct musical ability in revising hackneyed sets of several airs, but, we are afraid, he has carried his improvements too far by introducing into some of the reels "strings" of triplets which perhaps he, as a flautist, could negotiate with facility. Of the airs published when in business on his own account and after having taken as partner a pianoforte maker, Michael Morris, we may mention Mrs. Tulloch, Earnhill's Strathspey and Reel by "Mr." MacKenzie and "The St. Andrew's Lodge of Glenkindy" (instituted in 1814), Strathspey and Reel by Alex. Strachan, Drumnagarry. Davie's own compositions include Mrs. Young of Cornhill's Strathspey and Reel, Mr. And Mrs. Gordon of Cairness' Waltzes, The Beaver Hunt, The air Caledonian and The Gordon's Strathspey - the first measure of the last-mentioned air being taken from an old Highland Song of one part called My Dear Highland Laddie O'.

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James Fowlie Dickie "Master of the Slow Strathspey" (1886-1983)

The following article was written by Kenneth Kemp a short while after Dickie's death in 1983 and is reproduced here by kind permission of The Evening Express, Aberdeen:

"The Man Who Loved Life"

Scottish fiddler James F. Dickie, a lifelong pacifist and a passionate animal lover, died earlier this year aged 96. For the last twenty years of his life he was unable to let the world hear his unique gift for music because of multiple sclerosis. Next week friends, family and musicians will gather in his home town of New Deer to play his music and pay tribute to this deeply loved man.

In the early summer of 1923 James Scott Skinner sent a scrawled letter from his Victoria Street residence to a master slater in New Deer. The letter was a touching accolade which gave a remarkable insight into the life of one of the North East's finest men, James Fowlie Dickie of New Deer. Skinner, then an old man in his eighties, was sufficiently moved to say in his letter that "you are one of nature's gentlemen and I shall be a friend all my days."

James Fowlie DickieAt that time Skinner and Jim Dickie shared commercial interests with Jim happily acting as a part time agent for Skinner's vast output of popular sheet music, signed mementoes and photographic portraits which were part of the exciting ephemera of the Twenties.

But the fine praise in the letter expressed sentiments outwith the commercial sphere. Skinner's glowing words were from one inspired musician to another. Jim Dickie himself was the genius who became known as the "Master of the Slow Strathspey" that hauntingly beautiful style of music found only in Scotland and nurtured in the North East. Buchan's rich tapestry of music and song must have been woven into Jim Dickie's character.

"Jim is a player of great taste and polish. In the rendering of slow strathspeys and E flat airs his style is inimitable." JMH, 1935.

listen hereJ. F. Dickie's Delight. A strathspey from Henderson's Flowers of Scottish Melody, written by Henderson in Dickie's honour and performed here by Duncan Wood.

Born in Cartlehaugh, Old Deer, in 1886, his father, himself a slater, was well known for his concertina playing and his brother often shared the bill at village hall engagements playing the penny whistle. As the twentieth century approached his reputation spread throughout the North East. At an early age he took lessons from one of Skinner's best pupils, Bill Duguid of Fyvie, and he distinguished himself before his 24th birthday by being the gold medal fiddler at a large national contest in Dundee. There was little doubt that his playing was quite exceptional and his slow style - although influenced by Skinner - was original and fresh.

The Ideal
Yet in other aspects of life Dickie showed his love and compassion for his fellow human being and his regard for animals. If Lewis Grassic Gibbon in his novel "Sunset Song" was in need of a real life character to base his egalitarian thinker Long Rob of the Mill then Jim Dickie could have been ideal. In Grassic Gibbon's book Long Rob is the conscientious objector from the Mearns who refuses to fight during World War I. He was a respected miller who stuck steadfastly to his humanitarian beliefs. James Dickie was a person of similar persuasion in real life. When war broke out he refused to fight and was thrown into the "No Courage" brigade. This was the Non Combatant's Corps, set up in 1916, for those whose only objection was to the taking of human life. This white feather squad were frog-marched around Aberdeenshire ridiculed by the patriotic public and beaten up for being "cowards."

It was not an easy decision to opt out of World War I when a generation were being slaughtered in France, but Jim Dickie remained strongly opposed to the killing. After the Great War the memories in rural Buchan died very hard and even very recently an old retired farm hand still remembered the fiddle genius as the "conshy" from New Deer. Dickie returned to New Deer to his business of slating and work with concrete. His office note paper proudly boasted that he was the patentee and manufacturer of the "Dickie Ventilator" and a specialist in everything to do with reinforced concrete. In March 1927 he submitted a patent for the improvement of ventilation for byres and other buildings which prevented rain and snow falling through the vent and allowed air out.

According to Jim Dickie's son-in-law, James Duncan, himself a fine fiddler and expert on Dickie's music, another tradesman in the area stole the idea before the final patent was through and made a lot of money from it. It was one of the few times in Jim Dickie's life when he was visibly annoyed! His specialist interest in cement was ingenuously put to use in another of his loves - beekeeping. As an expert apiarist he successfully kept 1.5 million bees in modern hives which he designed as weatherproof and rat-proof and this earned him national reputation in the 1920s and 1930s. He employed many other revolutionary ideas to tomato growing and the vegetable garden but he also held some very revolutionary political ideas.

The rise of fascism between the wars and Sir Oswald Mosely's black shirted British fascists converted Jim Dickie to communism. He openly stated his admiration for the peoples of Russia and their simple way of life but he abhorred Stalin's cruelty and later political purges. For many years a familiar sight around New Deer was Jim Dickie selling the "Daily Worker" newspaper to farm hands and his good humoured banter and argument with the locals.

As age crept up on him so too did the crippling and debilitating illness multiple sclerosis and as his fiddle playing suffered he made the conscious decision to put down his favourite Jameson violin and never play again.

Being a vegetarian and an animal lover he would not allow any treatment which involved experimentation on his animals and so relief from some of his pain was denied. For the last twenty years of his long and eventful life - which included a spell in a nursing home in Stonehaven where he had regular visitors bringing him music - his gift of music was lost.

Perhaps Dickie's greatest admirer was the Aberdeen composer John Murdoch Henderson who composed much of the music in his masterpiece "Flowers of Scottish Melody." Murdoch Henderson dubbed him the "Master of the Slow Strathspey" and wrote the tune "James F. Dickie's Delight," a slow strathspey still very popular with fiddlers today. When his friends gather in New Deer village hall on Friday, June 17, it will be at the scene of many of Dickie's finest performances. There will be a packed house with people travelling from all over Scotland to play and sing and talk about Jim Dickie. Appropriately enough all the proceeds from the concert go to the James F. Dickie Animal Welfare Fund - which will go solely to any charity which helps protect animals. Certainly that thought would be music to Jim Dickie's ears.

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DUNCAN WOOD - Musician, artist and author. (1955-)

Duncan Wood was born in Banff on the 18th August, 1955, and raised in Cullen.

Duncan WoodThe son of a fisherman, he followed in the footsteps of his great-uncle, Bob Wood, when he took up the fiddle and taught himself to play in his early 'teens.
Though he did not know it until later on in life, his grandfather's sister was Jessie Murray, a singer of great repute and one of the sizeable company of singers who contributed to Hamish Henderson's famous collection in the early 1950's, songs that are now a part of the vast collection held by The School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

Duncan left his home town as a young man to pursue a career in traditional music. He travelled south to Eastbourne where he met up with a band of like-minded musicians who performed Scottish and English folk music around the south of England before heading for Norway where he continued to develop his career in the folk band Vandrene, playing throughout Norway and touring extensively in mainland Europe and the USA.

In addition to his interest in music, Duncan excelled as an artist from an early age and his paintings of his favourite subjects, Scottish landscapes and seascapes, are regarded by many as some of the finest by a contemporary painter. His interest in his routes and homeland have also led to the publication of numerous books on the history of Cullen and the surrounding district.

Duncan's knowledge of the Scottish fiddle and the traditional music of the North East is second to none and when he offered the North East Folklore Archive his services as a musician and author for the Murdoch Henderson project, we, of course, were delighted to accept.

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