Tom Hughes’ music to raise profile of Borders fiddle heritage

The late Tom Hughes

The late Tom Hughes

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THE distinctive style of Jedburgh musician Tom Hughes will be remembered at Fiddle 2015

Among the many fiddle traditions – Scots or otherwise – which will be showcased during Edinburgh’s annual celebration of ringing strings, Fiddle 2015, that of the Scottish Border country is probably one of the least widely heard these days, compared to, say, West Highland, Shetland or North-East styles.

It’s encouraging, therefore, that as well as its higher-profile concerts and recitals, the weekend festival will include, on Saturday 21 November, a talk at Summerhall from ballad singer and collector Pete Shepheard on the fiddle music of the late Tom Hughes of Jedburgh. The talk, which will be illustrated by music from Tom’s grandson, Jimmy Nagle, and the Border Fiddle group, will launch Shepheard’s invaluable new book of the tunes played by Hughes, Traditional Fiddle Music of the Scottish Borders. Featuring 60 of Tom’s tunes, the book is published by Shepheard’s Springthyme label and complements a CD of 35 tracks recorded from Hughes between 1978 and 1980, some of them solo and others accompanied by the likes of Brian Miller and Sid Cairns on guitar and fellow Border fiddlers Bob Hopkirk, Wattie Robson and Tom Scott.

Hughes, who died in 1986, was a kenspeckle figure at events such as the Newcastleton Traditional Music Festival in Liddesdale, where I first came across him in the mid-Seventies, a genial, pipe-smoking figure stooped to his fiddle, sitting amid musical cronies in the session-loud yard of the Grapes Hotel. As Shepheard points out, “Tom’s old Border style is clearly traditional but distinct from other Scottish styles. 
His bowings and use of ringing strings and double stops are characteristic of older but now rare styles, although still found in Scandinavian fiddle styles, in the older Shetland styles and in American ‘old time’ fiddle music.

“Through Tom’s playing we are able to gain an insight into an old, traditional, fiddle style stretching back through Tom’s family well into the 1800s.”

As Tom himself put it in an interview: “I play a lot o double string work – which is considered a fault wi some [people]. I’ve heard twa or three say they dinna ken how I got the double string action. It juist comes natural. That’s the way ma faither an ma grandfaither din it, it’s comin back in now [into fashion], although in competition I’ve been faulted for too many stops where they ‘werenae needed.’”

There will be “string work” a-plenty during Fiddle 2015, which runs from 20-22 November, based at the Queen’s Hall and Summerhall. Concert headliners include the Wrigley Sisters from Orkney, Highland fiddle and harp duo Iain MacFarlane and Ingrid Henderson, Tyneside’s Bottle Bank Band, Danish contemporary folk big band Habadekuk and the Scots-Swedish-Norwegian collaboration of The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, while Greg Lawson and Pete Garnett of Moishe’s Bagel will appear in their new duo format, Caper, playing music from Europe, the Balkans and beyond.

As ever, the weekend also includes a multitude of other recitals, workshops, ceilidhs and sessions.

In the meantime, Edinburgh Folk Club’s annual Carrying Stream Festival is in full fling until 11 November, celebrating the legacy of poet, songwriter and folklorist Hamish Henderson. Events today include the Hamish Henderson Lecture (Lothian Chambers , 12:30pm), given this year by Raymond Ross and entitled Different Gods and Quite a Few Heroes, while the Canadian-based Scottish guitar virtuoso Tony McManus plays the Pleasance Cabaret Bar tonight. Other events include a “Western Song” presentation by Sara Gray and Kieron Means, while we return to fiddles, as well as pipes and much else with the band Barluath, which closes the festival on a suitably high-spirited note on Wednesday night.

• For full programmes of the Fiddle 2015 and Carrying Stream festivals, see www.scotsfiddlefestival.com and www.carryingstreamfestival.co.uk; for details of the Tom Hughes book and album, see www.springthyme.co.uk/1044_book/

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