Traditional fiddle music is one of the glories of Scotland’s folk music. Its continuing popularity is testament to its importance in our national heritage. With the re-awakening of Scottish nationhood there has been a great resurgence of interest in fiddle music, especially in the North-East. More people than ever are learning. Fiddle music is in the limelight.
Although the fiddle is not, of course, indigenous to Scotland, we have been playing it for a long time. In Melrose Abbey, which was begun in 1136, there is a carving of one of the fiddle’s ancestors - the Rebec. The viol was widely played and when the violin proper arrived the Scots took to it at once. It has since become, with the bagpipe, one of our two national instruments.
There are many styles of fiddle music from different parts of Scotland but undoubtedly the north-east of the country and in particular the Strathspey district which gave the music of that title its name is the unrivalled cradle of fiddle music. In the 18th Century many great players emerged none more so than Niel Gow. In 1745 as Bonnie Prince Charlie was raising his standard to begin his ill-fated campaign, Niel, then only 18 won a competition in Perth and was crowned “Champion of Scotland”. Many other great fiddle players and composers followed - Nathaniel Gow, William Marshall, Robert Mackintosh, Peter Milne, and Scott Skinner included. All have given us a wealth of good Scottish tunes which are still popular today. As a musical son of the North East of Scotland, Buckie born Douglas is a bone fide part of that long and honoured tradition of famous fiddle players and composers whose names echo down the centuries.
In his introduction to my book The Fiddle Music of Scotland, Yehudi Menuhin wrote that “the genuine Scottish fiddler has an infallible sense of rhythm, never plays out of tune and is a master of his distinctive an inimitable style”. That perfectly sums up Douglas Lawrence's unique talent. Listen and enjoy.
Dr. James Hunter
Of the bagpipe marches on this CD, John McColl’s 2/4 John MacFadyen of Melfort is probably the better known and like Irene Meldrum’s Welcome to Bon-Accord is very adaptable to the fiddle. Peter Milne of Tarland 1824-08 was a great composer and player in true North-East style and his Strathspey and Reel compliment the March very well. The airs and dances of J. Scott Skinner, a pupil of Milne, range from the sadness of The Weeping Birches, the darkness of Fyvie Castle and the lighter music especially the Strathspeys for which he was widely acclaimed.
Alexander Edmonstone is the accompanist for the first Marshall (1748-33) air Chapel Keithack. Sandy is an extremely accomplished all-round musician as both pianist and organist as his handling of the harmonies demonstrates. It was he who advised Douglas to pursue a career in music and the two have remained firm friends ever since and have performed together on stage and on television. This track was recorded in May 1989.
Perthshire, home of many well known fiddle players and composers in the 18th century but most notably the Gow family headed by Niel, his fourth son Nathaniel and Robert Mackintosh are featured here. Niel Gow’s Lamentation for James Moray Esq. Of Abercairney is perhaps not so familiar as is his Lament on the Death of His Second Wife but is equally as meritorious. Nathaniel was reckoned by many to be a better musician, gaining a place as musician to the Edinburgh Musical Society and meeting people such as Corelli and Handel as well as the Earl of Kelly. There is also evidence that Mackintosh was very well educated in music, his collection of Airs, Minuets, Gavottes and Reels suggesting he followed a Baroque influence and the third part of his Jig Miss Barbara Hays Favorite would back this up.
One of the most distinctive stylistic players in Aberdeenshire must have been James Fowlie Dickie of New Deer. Unique to himself, he gave rubato a new meaning to the Scottish melodies in particular the Slow Strathspey. Wayward, character, wit, feeling whatever it was always different but full of J.F. style! J. Murdoch Henderson’s compositions try and capture it all.
Captain Simon Fraser b. Ardachie in 1773 was known both as fiddler and collector of tunes although he also wrote some, The Beauty of the North being one. However it was his collection of 1816 where we find Urquart Castle (a possible composition of his) The Banks o’ Loch Ness and The Scolding Wives of Abertarff. He farmed at Errogy until his death in 1852.
Present day composers featured here are James Hunter and Douglas Lawrence. James composed Lord MacFarlane of Bearsden for the work he did in getting the Kelvingrove Art Gallery refurbished to make it now one of Scotland’s best tourist attractions. Douglas’ compositions include Bill Delvin's Farewell for the mine host of a bar, Samuel Dow’s, on Glasgow’s South side, The Findhorn Clerk of Works who can arrange any job from erecting a fence to painting a ceiling or a whole cottage renovation. And on the two tunes written for Mrs. McKie a highly respected and much loved head teacher at Hutchesons’ Primary School on her retirement, he is joined by Leslie MacLeod who also studied music at RSAMD and is director of The Telemann Ensemble. Douglas has been invited to play with them on several occasions.
Finally, the title track “THE FAREWELL” was not Marshall’s last composition as we hope is also the case with Douglas’ CD, but was written when leaving Keithmore to go to Newfield Cottage to be nearer his family where he died in 1833.