Jimmy Shand

JIMMY Shand was a Celtic music superstar in the days long before either the terms Celtic music or superstar had been coined.

During the heyday of Scottish country dance music on the radio in the Fifties and Sixties, for many Jimmy Shand was Scottish music, his irresistibly toe -tapping renditions of signature tunes such as Kate Dalrymple and The Bluebell Polka working their way into the national psyche.

Shand was born in the Fife mining village of East Wemyss, the sixth of the nine children of Erskine and Mary Shand. His father was a farm-hand turned mine-worker, and an amateur musician with a love for colliery brass band music which his son would inherit. In both the farm bothies and the miners' rows of the day, the melodeon was the ubiquitous instrument, although the man who would become the king of the button-key accordion spent his earliest musical hours tootling on the humble "moothie".

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Leaving school at 14, in 1922, Shand followed most of his peers down the Lochhead pit, working there until the General Strike, after which he found employment as and when he could, including building-site work and a spell making concrete blocks in a badly-ventilated shed, arduous and unpleasant work to which he later attributed the ill-health that would plague him throughout his life. During this period he developed both his obvious skills on the melodeon and a liking for fast motorcycles that would become increasingly powerful as his means allowed.

His career as a musician was launched when he walked into a music shop in Dundee, to try out a button-key accordion which, being unemployed, he couldn't possibly afford. The proprietor, Charlie Forbes, was so impressed with the young man's playing that he offered him a job on the spot as an instrument salesman and demonstrator, Forbes would also later offer to underwrite the expense of Shand's first recording, in 1933, and it was also while with Forbes that Shand started utilising his expertise by advising the German accordion -maker, Hohner on developing a new accordion for dance-band playing, which was eventuall marketed as the Shand Morino.

Right from the offset, Shand's ability on the button-key accordion - a development of the melodeon - attracted attention. "He was playing very fast - but disciplined, regimented and with a fresh, bright, crisp sound," Shand's former fiddling colleague and fellow dance -band leader, Ian Powrie, once recalled. Shand himself spoke with typical candour about listening to his first recording, on the Regal-Zonophone label: "I knew right away I had a different style. In fact it lifted ma hert quite a bit that day, just tae hear it."

Despite an inauspicious start to his broadcasting career - he failed his first audition with the BBC for having the temerity to tap his foot - "Jimmy Shand and his band" became a byword for Scottish music on radio and television and established for themselves an extensive touring circuit in Britain that, as his fame spread, eventually extended to riotously-received tours in North America, Australia and New Zealand. As his record sales brought him gold discs, years before the phenomenon of Beatlemania, Shand's concerts were causing mayhem: in Aberdeen an appearance attracted a crowd of 20,000, bringing traffic to a halt, while on a visit to Ireland, a concert in Cork drew some 4,000. Even in retirement, the old magic continued to cast its spell: when, at the age of 86, Jimmy made a rare live appearance with his son's band in a Fife village hall, the resulting video, Dancing With the Shands, immediately shot to number nine in Music Week's video chart.

The band's gruelling touring circuit became legendary as Shand, by then well settled with his young family in his beloved Auchtermuchty, determined to get back home as much as possible - Manchester was considered a "local" booking, while the band's most extraordinary "doon and up" as he called them, was to Southsea near Portsmouth, involving a drive of some 550 miles each way. Shand described the feat with typically laconic brevity: "We arrived at Southsea, did the dancin', cam' back up tae 'Muchty."

Despite his worldwide fame, the accordion maestro remained essentially a quiet, reserved man, deploying a pawky, laconic wit in broad Fife tones and maintaining an uneasy relationship with the limelight. During the Fifties, he was hospitalised on various occasions because of ulcers and told by doctors to take things easy. Newspaper headlines speculated that the famous Shand "nerves" would force him to retire, but the show stayed on the road, although, in a recent interview with The Scotsman, the man who brought the button-key box to New York's Carnegie Hall stated: "I never was meant to be an entertainer."

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If he found his success making demands on his health, his music proved to be more than just a tonic for some listeners: Shand use to tell with a mixture of pride and amazement the story of the young nurse who was seriously injured on the way back from one of his concerts and who was revived from coma by being played one of his records. Miracles apart, stories abound of the man's innumerable quiet acts of kindness, from charity concerts played in the public eye to slipping into a hospital or an individual's home with that revivifying accordion.

Shand's services to Scottish music have been widely recognised, by his knighthood last year, by his MBE appointment and by numerous doctorates and other honours. His portrait hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and he has had pubs, racehorses, even locomotives named after him. And just six months before his knighthood, the "Laird of 'Muchty" had been made the first ever Freeman of the Kingdom of Fife, having previously been granted the freedom of both his beloved Auchtermuchy and of North-East Fife (the presentation of which, in the district council buildings at Cupar, reminded him, he said, of earlier visits - "paying ten-bob fines for motorcycle offences").

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As the Scottish folk revival started looking seriously at Scottish music, there was perhaps a revisionist tendency in some circles to relegate Shand and his peers to the "white heather" sector of Scottish culture. However, his true status as a Scottish musician and tradition-bearer was recognised some years ago by the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland, which awarded him honorary membership, while the affection with which he was held across the generations is reflected in humorous tributes such as folk-rock guitarist Richard Thompson's famous Don't Sit on My Jimmy Shands or in one of the current "new wave" ceilidh bands, going by the name of The Jimmy Shandrix Experience.

Renowned musicians from a younger generation of Scots music-makers such as the accordionist Phil Cunningham have readily paid tribute to Shand's ability and legacy. Dave Francis, folk musician, ceilidh-band player and currently the Scottish Arts Council's traditional music co-ordinator, has said that it was only after he became involved in dance bands that he began to understand "just what Shand and his cohorts were all about, and that was absolute, consummate understanding of what the dancer's needs were".

Jimmy Shand's abilities were widely appreciated throughout showbusiness: the late George Chisholm, trombonist extraordinaire, once said: "When someone asks 'What's your three favourite bands?', I say Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Jimmy Shand. Listen to Jimmy Shand ... and you will find your feet going and there's a swing to it."

The "Jimmy Shand dunt", as it was known, was all about impeccable lift that could drive dancers all night long. "I just follow the feet o' the best dancer on the floor," was how the master of strict tempo himself explained it.

Broadcaster and Scottish country dance compere Robbie Shepherd has equated Shand's impact on Scottish music this century with that of the great fiddler Niel Gow during the 18th.

Jimmy Shand is survived by his wife, Anne, his sons Erskine ("Jimmy Shand Junior") and David and a granddaughter Diane and by an immense legacy of music. The British Library National Sound Archive contains some 3,000 references to the master of strict tempo.

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During an interview with The Scotsman at the time of his 90th birthday, Jimmy proudly produced a poem written for him by an old acquaintance, Jock Turpie, shortly after he started broadcasting in the Thirties. It was, said the maestro softly, his epitaph. It concludes: "So tak yer pairtners an God Bless the Wemyss for gien us Jimmy Shand."