Obituary: Alex Green, man with traditional music at his fingertips

Alex Green
Alex Green
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Alex Green, tin whistle player and master of traditional Scottish music. Born: 1 May, 1930, in Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire. Died: 22 December, 2017, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, aged 87.

Playing traditional Scottish music on the tin whistle is a skill most commonly associated with people with nimble fingers.

It appeared there was no chance then that Alex Green, who has died, aged 87, would ever become a musician, never mind a master whistler.

At just five years old, the miller’s son lost two fingers when his hand was caught in machinery at the Mill of Minnes, Udny, Aberdeenshire.

Alex Green, who in October last year was inducted with luminaries Sir Billy Connolly and Kenneth McKellar into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame, was one of four children born to ­oatmeal ­miller Adam Green and his wife Helen Castle in the farming community of Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire. His siblings were Allan, Elizabeth and Joey.

When he returned home from Aberdeen Children’s Hospital in 1935 with the top half of both the fore and index fingers missing from his right hand, no one envisaged Alex Green would play an ­instrument – and certainly not the tin whistle.

Alex went to school at ­Cultercullen and Foveran, both in Aberdeenshire, and began to take an interest in music. He took up the tin whistle and was playing tunes by the age of nine.

He developed his skills while playing and practising in sessions at night and working in the daytime as a ­diesel mechanic and later as a ­college lecturer in motor vehicle engineering at Aberdeen Technical College.

A chance meeting at the ­Torryburn Hotel in Kintore with BBC Scotland radio and television personality ­Robbie Shepherd, who was looking for a whistle player to join his concert party, led to Alex ­taking a serious interest in the musical entertainment industry.

He played at the Keith, Kirriemuir and Auchtermuchty festivals and even appeared with Hughie Green in television’s Opportunity Knocks in the early 1970s. He toured in France, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France and Brazil.

Alex also played regularly with the Jack Sinclair Showband and with his second wife, Madeline Miller of Dufftown (they called themselves Airs and Graces), whom he ­married in 1985. His first ­marriage, which ended in divorce, was in 1958 to the late Molly Robertson, of Menie, Balmedie.

Green performed from time to time with fiddler Aly Bain, Robbie Shepherd and Isla St Clair, the Scottish singer and television presenter.

He featured on a number of records and albums and produced his own CD (Whistle O’er the Lave O’t) in 2001.

Robbie Shepherd said: “I had known Alex for some 60 years and my wife Esma and I became firm friends, sharing our music in so many ways.

“We will miss the ready wit, the honesty but above all the great playing on the humble tin whistle.”

Aly Bain said: “Alex and I became great friends during the early days of the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland.

“Scottish whistle players were far and few between. In fact, back then in the early 70s, there weren’t many young players of any instruments.

“Alex never missed a festival and inspired a new generation of players. His enthusiasm was never ending and he would play anywhere at the drop of a hat.

“We would play into the early hours at the Kinross and Keith festivals.

“He had great knowledge of our traditional music, especially from his native East-Coast, and I would often hear ‘Ats nay richt’.

“We remained friends and played together at his 80th birthday.

“People tend to forget that our music almost died out post World War Two. Alex played his part in making sure it didn’t.

“Alex will be sadly missed among traditional players young and old.”

Author and BBC Today ­programme presenter, James Naughtie, who is from rural Aberdeenshire, said: “A night when Alex Green was on his tin whistle was always memorable. A musician, a crusader for the music of his own place, a friend.

“Instantly, the pictures and sounds come back – racing through strathspeys and reels with Aly Bain, keeping up with Peerie Willie Johnson with his guitar.

“I can hear him now, in the early hours in some front room or a village hall, with a collection of good folk around him and a good dram waiting. A grand man.”

Green’s son, Alex, said: “My father met all the greats of the Scottish traditional and folk music scene.

“His proudest moment as a musician was being ­recognised by his peers on the traditional music scene through his induction into the hall of fame.

“He was a polymath – a mechanic who taught motor engineering, thermodynamics and mathematics and understood physics.

“He learned and practised oatmeal milling while growing up; spoke Doric, but was extremely articulate in ­spoken English and great at crosswords.”

He added that the main things in his life were his music and his family.

Alex Green is survived by his wife Madeline, son and daughter Alex and Alison, stepsons Stephen and Andrew, stepdaughters Caroline, Judith, and Ellen and many grandchildren.