This personal blog is concerned with the practice of Scottish fiddle music. It records a self-indulgent project which may lead to nowhere but might just be of some value and interest to others. Posts are published in alphabetical rather than chronological or reverse chronological order so that subsequent related subjects remain together and can be easily located and cited. However, the archive list to the right groups the entries by month of posting. Happy reading!
This blog has now been incorporated into my other fiddle site at Edinburgh University where there are regular new postings:
Previous posts published here are mirrored in the page Old Rosin:
I will take down the postings below in due course.
Well, now I have two blogs on fiddle music! The second, new one is the project site associated with my research on the fiddle in the folk revival at Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh. I hope you’ll visit there too, particularly when things are up and running.
This extended play record arrived in the post the other day. What a super cover – and music! – the first Scottish fiddle EP?
The term ‘country fiddle’ is interesting as an alternative to ‘traditional’ or ‘folk’ as a means of qualifying the use of the word fiddle. There are parallels in this in Ulster where there is talk of and writing on ‘country fiddling’ to distinguish music from ‘Irish traditional. Complex stuff, and more on this later.
The Bill Dean-Myatt Scottish vernacular discography tells us:
(Aberdeen, 1916 – 1965). “Bill Hardie, violin with John Junner, piano”
Recorded Glasgow, Wednesday, 13th. & Thursday, 14th. July 1956
M-3564 Scotland the brave (trad); The Laird o’ Drumblair (J. Scott
Skinner); Speed the plough (trad) Bel SEP-46(EP)
M-3565 The bonnie lass o’ bonnie accord (J. Scott Skinner);
The Marquis of Huntley’s farewell (William Marshall);
The £10 fiddle (trad) Bel SEP-46(EP)
M-3566 The De’il amang the tailors (trad); The Balkan Hills (J. Gillan);
Lady Mary Ramsay (Nathaniel Gow); Pretty Peggy
(J. Scott Skinner) Bel SEP-46(EP)
M-3567 Bluebell polka (Frank Stanley); Peterhead polka (trad) Bel SEP-46(EP)
Krimmel, after Wilkie
The banner for this site is an extract from an engraved version Scottish artist David Wilkie’s well known painting The Blind Fiddler about which a separate post will follow later. The subject of bling fiddlers in the Scottish musical tradition has been introduced by Dr Katherine Campbell in a chapter in her book The Fiddle in Scottish Culture. Aspects of the Tradition (Edinburgh, 2007). Continue reading
I was looking at images of paintings of musicians by Frans Hals and in particular his portraits of fiddlers. Two of these feature young male players, and in both the subjects have a similar pose and, in particular, eye position, with the head thrown back. This is quite different from other Hals’ paintings where the musician often looks directly towards and engages with the viewer:
Could these ‘boy playing a violin’ paintings depict blind fiddlers, something which would have been quite clear to the contemporary viewer but something now lost to us?
Copyright prevents me from reproducing the images here, but I recently stumbled on two superb photographs of a fiddler, Blind Benjie Finlayson, taken at Cromarty around 1910 by William John Smith.
One is a street scene in which the musician is seated on a chair while life goes on around him. The other Benjie sits on a box playing while his father baits a line.
The www.scran.ac.uk site is full of gems like this and I’ll post more links in due course. Higher education and library users should have free access but for others the cost is well worth it for the treasures it contains.
The literature on fiddle music in Scotland makes little, other than passing, reference to the world of competitions. Competitions were a major outlet for traditional music performance in the late nineteenth and first decades of the twentieth centuries and served as a form of popular entertainment. They fitted into the ethos of rational recreation and self-improvement and could even involve a prize such as a violin, a cup or a medal like this one from the Perthshire Musical Festival 1928 which was ‘presented’ to me the other day:
As in piping, competitions must have had musical consequences such as setting standrads and standardising style and repertory. I wonder what happened to Alastair B. Kerr, junior soloist in Reel and Strathspey and recipient of the medal.
Its Edinburgh Festival time and last night I attended an outstanding concert of compositions, for soloists and duets, by Eddie McGuire of Glasgow. I was delighted to hear his Rant played live after nearly thirty years (I think I saw Edna Arthur play it at the Queens Hall) although I have heard other performances on tape. I remain of the view, from my lowly position, that this is a great, and seminal, piece of writing for violin which is both Scottish and international in outlook – a bit like the composer himself. This work won the prize donated by Carl F. Flesch for the composition of a test piece to be used at the Carl Flesch International Violin Competition (London, July 1978). It combines the 12-tone note row with the Scottish traditional music idiom. It should be better known and I was delighted by Feargus Hetherington‘s interpretation and announcement “this piece was written two years before I was born”! I hope he records it.
The concert opened with a haunting , and no less Scottish (Celtic? Near Eastern?) Prelude 21 by Josie Robertson. I would certainly like to hear that work again. It was written in 2002.
There was other super music on brass, accordion and guitar but that has no place in ane fiddleblog.
The specific words and language used to talk and write about music can tell us much about attitudes to fiddlers and fiddling, both now and in the past. Ronnie Gibson has written on the implications of the terms “fiddler” and “violinist” and this has, in turn been taken up by David McGuinness on the Bass Culture project blog. I hope to add some thoughts to that thread in due course but meanwhile offer the first of a number of brief posts of my own on the language of fiddle music.
The language we use in talking and writing about music can often tell us much about our values and attitudes to the subject at hand. This is particularly true of so-called folk musics, including fiddling. In academia we try to adopt value free approaches, using terms such as tradition bearer or source singer, but here too, there are issues. More popular usage, including music journalism and promotional writing, is less constrained but perhaps more influential and telling.
One expression that seems to have attached itself particularly to Scottish fiddle music is that of the fiddler as “exponent”. Here is a short selection harvested from the internet with the musicians’ names removed: Continue reading