Falkirk folk who are always on the fiddle

Wherever you go in Scotland this New Year you will probably hear a fiddle being played whether it’s on the telly, radio or at a ceilidh or Hogmanay bash.

Much like the bagpipes, the fiddle is synonymous with Scottish music, an integral part of the sounds we associate with our heritage and traditions.

Falkirk Fiddle Workshop meets every Tuesday evening in Larbert's 'Station Hotel teaching the young and old the art

Falkirk Fiddle Workshop meets every Tuesday evening in Larbert's 'Station Hotel teaching the young and old the art

Father-of-two Ian McDougall from Polmont, a transport worker at Asda CDC in Bainsford, is certainly one man you’d like at your New Year party. He can play an array of instruments, including the guitar and bass, and isn’t short of a story or two to keep the revelry going.

The 57-year-old, who also plays in the St Francis Xavier’s music group in Falkirk, decided to take up the fiddle a year ago and went to the Falkirk Fiddle Workshop, which meets in Larbert’s Station Hotel every Tuesday evening, thinking it would be “nice” to add another string to his bow.

He said: “I thought it would be nice to learn another instrument. I’m 57 now, I know I don’t look it, but you’re never too old to learn.

“I love the fiddle. I wish I had done it earlier. I used to play guitar at folk sessions and listening to the fiddlers made me think I wished I could play it too.

“At a Linlithgow Rose game I saw something about the folk week they have so I came back from Linlithgow and asked where I could learn. I turned up the first week and I’ve been here ever since. I’m first in and last out every week. I love it.”

The fiddle workshop was founded by Sandy Harvey from Camelon. Sandy is also part of a ceilidh band which does corporate gigs, weddings, ceilidhs and functions, but not enough for the 53-year-old to give up his day job as a gallery assistant at the Riverside Mueseum in Glasgow.

He formed the group with other members Lorna Swan and Elenor MacDonald – all respected fiddlers who are still teaching classes with Sandy at the workshop.

The group teaches the instrument “by ear” – a controversial method depending on who you ask – which means learners do it without reading music which some say is more difficult. Again, that depends who you ask.

Sandy said: “It came initially from the Doune and Dunblane Fling in 1996 where there was a fiddle workshop and there was a feeling that there was something needed in the Central area. There’s a lot more happening now but at the time there wasn’t.

“There was a good response despite this being an area that is not particularly renowned for fiddle players. There was a question as to whether it would take off, but it’s 17 years on and we’re still here. I’d say we have about 15 to 20 who regularly come along.

“Myself, I was quite a late starter when I was about 16. I first got interested at a couple of fiddlers’ rallies in the Albert Halls in Stirling during my mid-teens through my family. They always used to go to the annual shows. I didn’t think I’d like it but I did. It was kind of like being dragged along by the relatives, but it was good.

“From there, I just thought ‘maybe I could do that’ and got started. Between teaching and playing I can earn half my income, so it’s got that benefit too. There is more scope now to earn part of a living.

“It’s important to attract young people to take up the fiddle but there’s no reason why older people can’t do it as well. That facility should be there for them too.”

There is a recurring theme of older people in the workshop getting back in touch with their musical roots as a few members have came back to learning the instrument after years of not playing.

Retired GP Gillian Bellingham from Larbert, who worked in Denny, hadn’t played violin or fiddle for the best part of 50 years before plucking up the courage to take it up again last year.

She said: “I played and read classical music at school so that’s why I find it quite difficult to do it by ear.

“My sister had my fiddle when she left school and still had it and I wondered if I could take it up again. She had been at a fiddle workshop with John who told her the workshop was here, really close by for me.

“So I took my fiddle and courage in both hands and came along. It was quite daunting at first but it’s really good now, I’m definitely improving and feeling a lot more confident with it. It comes back, surprisingly, after 50 years. I picked it up again easier than I thought.”

Bill Craigie, a 68-year-old retired chemical engineer has “scraped or played” on a fiddle on and off since he was a boy and loves attending the workshop to hone his skills – much to his family’s appreciation, he believes, after years with no tutoring.

He said: “Occasionally I played in front of friends in the house or at the local bowling club, but mostly at home by myself in a back room.

“Fifteen years ago one of my close friends suggested I should join the workshop, but it took me 12 years before I finally got the courage to come along.

“I now wish I had responded quicker to my friend’s suggestion and so do my wife and friends as they say my standard of play and repertoire of tunes has improved immensely.

“In retirement it has also given me a great interest. It is said that if you take up an instrument or improve your playing of an instrument it is very good for the ageing brain.”

It can take two to three years to learn the fiddle and get up to a decent standard and that would also mean practising every days so the younger you start the better chance you have of mastering the art.

While it takes a lot of commitment, the dedicated tutors of the Falkirk Fiddle Workshop will be with you every stroke of the way.