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Orkney Fiddle Music


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Orkney, like Shetland, has a long history of fiddle music, but without champions such as Tom Anderson or Aly Bain, Orkney music is not as well known as that of its Northern neighbours. However, there are a number of fiddlers and composers who are worth noting.

James Barnett (1847-98) was a fiddler from Kirkwall and a captain in the local Volunteers [biography]. The tune The New Brig o' Dee is attributed to him. Another Kirkwall fiddler, Peter Lennie (1846-1912) is said to have "had a hand in framing Barnett's air" (J Murdoch Henderson, Flowers of Scottish Melody, 1930). Lennie may have composed The Deerness Reel.

Jimmy Johnstone from Deerness composed several tunes, and recorded 78s for the Parlophone label. A fuller description of Johnstone can be found here. Some of Johnstone's compositions are well known in Orkney, such as The Deerness Jig, Scapa Flow and The Mirlands Polka.

David Eunson of Colster, Deerness was a fiddler, and he also composed fiddle tunes, and was a fiddle maker. His cousin, David Horne, was known as Cubbie Roo, and toured Australia with his Scottish Dance Band. He played some of Eunson's tunes. A special collection of songs, tunes & poems was compiled to celebrate David Eunson's 80th birthday. This has been published by The Orcadian as "A Breath of Orkney". From this book, it would appear that Eunson may have recorded with Attic Records in the early 1980s (this information from Allan Jackson).

The Orkney Strathspey and Reel Society was formed in 1948 with a membership of 28. Its first president was John Silver and its first leader George Stuart. Over the years many fiddlers have been involved with the society, and their 1976 LP 'Orkney Fiddle Music' included fiddlers Jock Halcro (whose waltz Jock Halcro has been recorded by The Boys of the Lough), Hugh Inkster and Pat Shearer; these last two have been recorded by the School of Scottish Studies, and feature on the CD 'The Fiddler and His Art' (Greentrax Records). Although the tunes they play on that CD are not credited, in fact they're fairly recent compositions. The Stronsay Waltz is by someone called Chalmers, while a march called Inganess is by Hugh Inkster.

A name which looms large in 20th century Orcadian fiddle music is Ronnie Aim, who was leader of the Strathspey and Reel Society during the 1970s, and has published at least one collection of Orkney fiddle tunes. Aim has also composed many tunes, including Graemshall Bay.

In more recent times, the standard of Orkney fiddle music has been carried by Jennifer Wrigley (born 1974) who, with sister Hazel, have been delighting audiences around the world with their music. Jennifer is also a very fine and prolific composer of fiddle tunes. As well as playing in a duo with Hazel, they both play in the band Seelyhoo, while Jennifer has also played with Birlin' Fiddles. One of Jennifer's students, Sara McFadyen, has recorded a CD with fellow Orcadian Kris Drever.

Fiona Driver released a CD in 1997 called 'The Orkney Fiddler' (Newton Hill Records), while other recent CDs include 'Leave the Land Behind' by Hullion and 'Just a Few Tunes' featuring fiddler Kenneth Ritch.