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James Scott Skinner

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Skinner photo (JPEG)Born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His father was a gardener, but after losing three fingers of his left hand, he became a left-handed fiddler [1] and a dancing master.

James was taught cello and fiddle by his older brother Sandy, and later by his mentor the great Peter Milne [2]. In 1855 he joined Dr Mark's 'Little Men' - a children's orchestra - and travelled the theatres with them for six years.

By 1870 Skinner was married and conducting business as a dancing master and solo fiddler, his reputation as the latter growing year by year until 1890s when he was touring the United States.

Skinner was a prolific composer, some 600 tunes being known. Some players are disdainful of his efforts, Dick Gaughan once having said they were composed with the aid of a slide-rule. However, his tunes are generally loved by Scottish players, and many of them are played in bands and sessions in Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the US. A list of his most popular tunes might include "The Laird of Drumblair" [3], "The Bonnie Lass O' Bon Accord", "The Spey In Spate", "Carnie's Canter" [4], "Duke of Fife's Welcome to Deeside", "Tulchan Lodge", "The Miller o' Hirn", "Dargai" [5], and many others.

A book that is still available (I think) is 'The Scottish Violinist' which contains a selection of Skinner's compositions from the many collections he published, as well as his versions of older Scots tunes. To my mind it's the perfect introduction to Skinner's work.

Some of his recorded output is available (I have a Topic LP, 'The Strathspey King' - not sure if it's on CD yet), but it doesn't fall easily on our modern ears; Skinner's style was of its time and is difficult to penetrate today [6].

I'm a fan of Scott Skinner's compositions, and I hope you discover the pleasure of playing them too.

[1] = One of Skinner's most popular tunes is "The Left Handed Fiddler".
[2] = Milne's composition "John McNeill's Reel", or "Big John McNeill" is played throughout the world.
[3] = Recorded by The Bothy Band and many others
[4] = Recorded by Nomos
[5] = Recorded by Richard Thompson, among others
[6] = although Stuart Eydmann has been digitally cleaning up some of these recordings and said to me recently that his estimation of Skinner has gone up.

There is an excellent article about Scott Skinner at the Musical Traditions Website click here to go straight there.

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