Border Fiddle Notes

by Lori Watson

My self-education in Border fiddle playing began with the music of Tom Hughes. Tom passed away in 1986. He is a well-remembered character among his contemporaries. Pete Shepheard's recordings of Tom are an invaluable document to Border music as are the memories of those musicians who played with Tom. Tom came from a line of fiddle players. Self-taught, he used a fair bit of double stringing in his playing. This is something that Jimmy Nagle, Tom's grandson, also uses to great effect. It has become one of my favourite sounds in fiddle playing. It is especially effective in a group of fiddle players when the combined melody, harmony and often rhythmic, drone notes produce warm, sincere, welcoming music.

There is a history of Border fiddle players enjoying their own and each other's company. It is a special sound when fiddle players of individual voice can share a common music and a common bond.

Bob Hobkirk was a big influence in the years leading to this recording. I spent some time with him talking about his life, his music and his adventures. Bob was very open and generous, sharing his knowledge and stories. When he told me about his early development as a player, I saw some of myself in it. Bob did not take to public performance immediately - he played for his own enjoyment. His most favourite tunes were the slow airs. He felt uncertain about performing these, especially because it felt "like I was giving my soul away". Fortunately, playing to others grew on Bob and he came to be recognised as one of the best Scottish fiddle players of his generation, winning the national championships for solo playing three times.

Bob's musical influences perhaps ranged a bit further than those of Tom Hughes. His father was a piper and Highland pipe music was a significant part of Bob's repertoire, along with popular Scottish tunes and dance music. Bob's decision to compete pushed him to develop his technique and learn from the fiddle players of the West Highlands and the North East of Scotland as well as from classical violinists.

The range of musical influence on Borders fiddlers is growing every day. I think it is significant that they still draw from their local culture. Fifty years ago, Scottish dance music and popular tunes of the time (James Skinner and others) were added to Borders repertoire because they were heard on the radio. Today, access to so much music - through a wide range of accessible media, including now the internet - has inevitably made the continuing of local music tradition a conscious act.

Tom Hughes and his Border Fiddle LP/Cassette and Booklet, Springthyme Music

Borders Traditions Vol. 1 Borders Fiddles CD

Bob Hobkirk

by Lori Watson

BYF with Bob HobkirkRobert William Hobkirk was born in 1925 in Westerkirk, near Langholm. Bob's father played Highland Bagpipes and his mother played the melodeon. Bob took up the fiddle at the age of 14. Around the same age he left school to become a shepherd, working first at Colterscleuchshiel near Teviothead, then at Hawklaw near Bonchester.

The first tune Bob learned to play was Bonny Loch Lomond. Bob's first fiddle cost 25 shillings, bought for him by his younger sister who often helped Bob to learn by singing tunes to him. Playing his first dance at the age of 16, Bob played fiddle in the Teviotdale Valley Dance Band and in the Roger Dobson Scottish Dance Band for many years. At one time, Bob would play three dances a week and travel to a festival or an event at the weekend. Bob married Elizabeth - Lily - in 1950.

Bob was a founder member of the Borders Strathspey and Reel Society and was the Society's leader for many years. In 1965, 1967 and 1968 Bob won the Scottish Fiddle Championships held in Perth. In 1985 he was invited to perform at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh with Yehudi Menuhin, Aly Bain, Hector MacAndrew and Alistair Hardie, among others. Bob had a special link with Russia and travelled there several times to play his music. He became a personal friend of Valentina Tereshkova - the first woman in space - something he was very proud of.

Bob gave up his work as a shepherd and took a job as Water Attendant at the Dodburn Filters water works just outside Hawick. This allowed him more free time to play.

Bob was involved in a serious car crash one night on his way to play at Knowes House - a home for the elderly. Bob sustained serious injuries and a year later he suffered a stroke. The stroke limited Bob's use of his left side and should have put an end to his fiddle playing but he worked hard and recovered enough to keep playing. Bob joked that he could probably have been walking much better if he hadn't been so busy exercising his fingers. Anyone who met Bob could see the personal enjoyment that he got from playing music. He didn't play fiddle for fame or fortune. Bob played fiddle because he got so much enjoyment and fun out of it.

In May 2001 at the Border Gaitherin, I invited Bob to join the Borders Young Fiddles at our lunchtime concert. Our programme included some of Bob's own tunes and some other tunes we learned from him. Bob and Lily spent the day with us in Coldstream. A couple of special moments were when he joined in with fiddle workshops being run by Chris Stout and Kathryn Tickell. Chris knew that Bob had spent time in Shetland and was familiar with the Shetland repertoire. Chris had the whole class playing and Bob joining in. It was especially interesting for Bob to see Kathryn Tickell in action - Bob had taught Kathryn when she was 12 years old.

Bob died in November 2002. His memorial was followed by a session in the Horse and Hound in Bonchester and a host of musicians and colleagues came along to celebrate his life and music. They included Jimmy Nagle, Henry Douglas, Roger Dobson, Aly Bain and Bob's daughter-in-law, singer Kathy. A memorial concert was held the following year in the Thorterdykes Roadhouse in Hawick. It was a wonderful night of music and song and laughter. It was exactly the kind of night that Bob would have enjoyed.

The first Borders Young Fiddles CD is dedicated to Bob.


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