Obituary: Ian Hardie, fiddler, composer and solicitor
Born: 11 November, 1952, in Edinburgh. Died: 16 October, 2012, in Nairn, aged 59
HIS dual job description of “fiddling solicitor” may have prompted much ribaldry, but Ian Hardie’s credentials were impeccable, both as a lawyer practising in Kelso then in Nairn, and as a widely respected fiddle player and composer of tunes, in his own right and with such acclaimed folk bands as Jock Tamson’s Bairns and the Occasionals.
Hardie, as one band colleague put it, played music that was “direct, forceful, accurate, yet shimmered with Highland mist”.
Although seriously ill, he was delighted that his first album of his own compositions, A Breath of Fresh Airs, was re-issued earlier this year, 26 years after its original release, and he still managed, recording at home, to overlay his own skeely playing on to the tracks his colleagues in the Occasionals dance band had pre-recorded for their seventh album, Birling.
Hardie and his older sister, Sheila, grew up in Fairmilehead, Edinburgh, with ready access to the fields and the Pentland Hills engendering an enduring love of the outdoors, while visits to his grandparents’ smallholding at Eshiels, outside Peebles, forged an early association with the Border country.
A consummate sportsman (as well as a creative gardener), Hardie took up golf at an early age and continued to play wherever he lived.
He was also a keen rugby player, with his school team at George Watson’s and later for Edinburgh University, where he studied law, and with the Scottish Universities and Law Society teams. He was also an enthusiastic skier, hill-walker, tennis-player and runner, competing in 10k runs and half-marathons.
On his first day at Edinburgh University, he met a girl called Viv, and they celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary in July. Having graduated and served his apprenticeship in Edinburgh, he became a partner with Taits of Kelso, spending 11 years in the Borders before moving north to become a partner in R&R Urquhart, developing the firm’s Nairn office.
He was highly regarded as an efficient lawyer who maintained exacting standards of integrity, both for himself and for everyone else.
Throughout his life, however, music, of all sorts, exerted a powerful fascination. He started playing classical violin at the age of six at George Watsons, and toured the eastern United States with the school orchestra in 1968. Like many others at the time, he was also drawn to the sounds of Cream, the Who and the Beatles, acquiring a bass guitar to play along with Deep Purple, and enlisting in a pub band with the peerless name of Fred McLudgie’s Big Idea.
At the same time, however, emerging folk bands such as the Chieftains, the Bothy band and the Boys of the Lough started to cast their spell, along with the country dance sounds of John Ellis, Jimmy Shand and the Wallochmor Ceilidh band (with two of whose members, Freeland Barbour and Gus Millar, he would later play in theOccasionals).
Hardie honed his craft in the convivial Edinburgh folk howff of Sandy Bell’s, going on to join his fellow sessioneers in Chorda then the legendary and highly influential Jock Tamson’s Bairns.
The Bairns’ limber, swingy approach to Scottish music, at a time when many bands were pursuing Irish influences, established a reputation which long outlasted the two albums they made in the early 1980s before disbanding. Almost two decades on, Hardie would re-unite briefly with them to record another album, the splendidly titled May You Never Lack a Scone.
In the meantime, he had established a name for himself, both as fiddler, with the long-running Occasionals dance band and the Ghillies (with piper Duncan MacGillivray) and Highland Connection. He had also been composing industriously, and in 1986, his debut album of his compositions, A Breath of Fresh Airs, became the first album on the newly established Greentrax label.
These tunes did indeed prove invigorating; played with characteristic snap and swing, their titles frequently name-checked Border landmarks. He also contributed bass, guitar and small pipes to the instrumental mix.
Greentrax founder Ian Green had known Hardie since his early playing days. “When he moved to the Borders,” Green recalls, “he asked me to help distribute his tune book, A Breath of Fresh Airs, and that was when I suggested he record an album of the same title. That became TRAX001 for us.”
Hardie maintained a long relationship with Greentrax, including the follow-up Breath of Fresher Airs and, with pianist Andy Thorburn, the Spider’s Web, as well as albums with the Bairns and the Occasionals.
He was already ill when in 2011, Greentrax decided to re-release his debut album to mark the label’s 25th anniversary. “Ian was absolutely delighted,” adds Green.
Hardie published two further tune books, as well as editing the Nineties Collection, a landmark compendium of the new, traditional-style music being written across Scotland.
Eventually, fiddle triumphed over lawyer’s brief and, as he liked to put it, he “didn’t darken the door of a legal office” after 2001.
An American trip with the Occasionals introduced him to the unfamiliar string tunings of old-time players, and heheaded for the Appalachians to enjoy front-porch sessions with seasoned players.
The result was the album Westringing, in which his newly acquired tunings lent a fresh resonance to established Scottish material.
He remained an integral element of the Occasionals, along with accordionist Freeland Barbour, banjo and mandolin player Kevin MacLeod and drummer Gus Millar.
MacLeod recalls Hardie’s fluidity as a sight-reader: “It was quite superb, and astonishing to a virtual illiterate like me.
“His own music was direct, forceful, accurate, yet shimmered with Highland mist, and was distinctively Ian. He sat easily in any sphere, folk, trad, ceilidh, Appalachian and so on.”
Hardie, who will be posthumously inaugurated into the Traditional Music Hall of Fame at December’s Scots Trad Music Awards, is survived by his wife, Viv, and by their children Andrew and Fiona. Despite his deteriorating condition, his sense of humour and zest never left him: just last month, he and his fellow Occasionals recorded an interview for Radio Scotland’s Take the Floor at his home overlooking the Moray Firth.
Just before signing off, he remarked, characteristically: “Actually, despite the fact that we’ve all been professional musicians for so long, it’s just a bit of fun.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west