19th February 2018
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Downing hails ‘fantastic’ week of music action

Fiddle Frenzy participant Angus Downing described his time in Shetland at Fiddle Frenzy as “fantastic”.

The Australian, who was here as part of the Melbourne Scottish Fiddle Club’s inaugural Travelling Fiddlership exchange, said: “It was an incredibly full week of new tunes, parties, field-trips, dances, detective-work [spent] tracking down the John Anderson fiddles, and hanging out with new friends from all over the world.”

Aside from taking part in Fiddle Frenzy and as reported in The Shetland Times of 6th August, Mr Downing had a perhaps unenviable task of tracking down a fiddle made by a Shetland ex-pat John Anderson, who moved to Melbourne in 1912.

Given Shetland’s size, however, and the interest in the story, it turned out to be not too difficult to track the fiddle down.

The instrument is now looked after by Graham Jamieson from Sandwick. Numbered “16”, the fiddle was bought by Mr Jamieson for his son around 25 years ago, for £35.

Mr Jamieson, 67, plays the fiddle with the Shetland Fiddlers Society and has been playing since he was about 10 years old. He said it was “fine” to meet with Mr Downing and learn a bit about the fiddle’s past.

He said: “I didn’t know anything about the fiddle when I bought it, other than it was a handmade fiddle.”

Mr Jamieson bought the instrument, which according to its label was made in Melbourne in 1940, from a man named William Murray who lived in Lerwick’s Prince Alfred Street.

He said: “It had been his friend’s fiddle and he’d passed away, and it had lain for a while and he thought it would be better for someone to be playing it.”

Mr Downing said he bumped into Mr Jamieson at the Hillswick Fiddle Frenzy concert, where he was playing with the Shetland Fiddle Society, before meeting again at the weekend.

Mr Downing said of the other John Anderson fiddle: “Although it does not get played very often these days, it is a very beautiful instrument with a powerful yet smooth sound – like many of the nips of Scotch that I had in the festival club and at the lounge, and a similar colour too.

“It was very similar in sound and appearance to the number 10 fiddle which I had with me on loan from Bill Sides.

“On my last full day in Shetland, I had lunch with Graham and his wife Rosie at their house in Sandwick. There, as well as having another ex­cellent meal in great company, I had the oppor­tunity to play the instrument again, photograph it, and then Graham and I played a few tunes together.”

Over the course of the week, Mr Downing was also put in touch with Sydney and Alison Sinclair, whose family is related to John Anderson’s wife Mary Sinclair, and who also own a piece of John Anderson instrument heritage in the form of a fiddle that is labelled as being revoiced by him.

Mr Downing said: “It was a lovely instrument, as was the family. I love how people in Shetland have a way of making you feel like you’ve known them forever – their genuine openness and friendliness makes Shetland feel like home, even after being there for less than 10 days, and made it very hard to leave the place.”

He was also helped in his mission to track down the fiddle by Marion Young, also a des­cendant of the instrument maker, and who could tell him about John Anderson’s birthplace in Yell. While in the isle for the Cullivoe concert, Mr Downing visited John Anderson’s birthplace and learned about where he grew up, before visiting the graveyard where the Anderson family are buried.

He managed to get a few tunes in with people he met along the way, including Billy Arthur, the current owner of the former school house in Yell where John Anderson was educated.

Mr Downing said: “It was a moving experience and gave me a deeper appreciation for the fiddles he made.”

Another of Mr Downing’s tasks while in Shetland was to drum up interest in the MSFC’s Travelling Fiddlership exchange programme.

Perhaps unsurprisingly this wasn’t very difficult, but Mr Downing said that anyone who would like to know more can email him at angusdowning@gmail.com.

He said of his time in Shetland: “From the word go, this trip was fantastic. Everyone was so friendly and happy to share their immense know­ledge of the place. It seems that every person, rock, hill and building has both a story and tune associated with it. It’s awesome.”

About Louise Thomason

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