John Cuthbert, who lived just outside Crieff, Perthshire, was born 21st
June 1778. After hearing another local fiddler, Colin McAinsh, the young John became
determined to be a fiddler, but without money for an instrument, he
fashioned a fiddle out of a horse's skull and four strings. he managed
to play tunes on this, and having attracted the attention of those with
the ability to help, he studied with "Messrs Bowie" at Huntingtower.
There is a report of him playing at a hall in Crieff at which Niel Gow
also played; indeed he elicited high praise on that occasion, and Gow
often employed him whenever he returned to the Crieff area. Later he
also played with the younger Gows in Edinburgh.
Cuthbert seemed to have been employed regularly around the country at a
time when music and dancing was a huge craze. As it says in 'Crieff:
Its Traditions and Characters' (Edinburgh 1881):
The "sound of revelry by night" was the fashion, and births,
birthdays, christenings, marriages, and visits were all
celebrated by the necessary rounds of feasting and dancing. The
lairds mingled with the tenantry, and did not disdain a hulichan
John Cuthbert came into contact with Sir William Murray of Ochtertyre
whose daughter, I believe - Miss Murray - was a fairly successful
composer of tunes, having had several published in the Gow collections.
Murray employed Cuthbert for as long as he could play, which turned out
to be a considerable length of time (he died in his late 70s).