Tom Hughes

Tom Hughes and his Border Fiddle

Originally issued as an LP now out of stock.

Tom Hughes Tune Book: sprb 1005 £4.00
(Book from the original LP with full tune transciptions)
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Tom Hughes of Jedburgh, recorded this album of his music when he was just 70 years of age -- in live sessions along with other local musicians Wattie Robson of Denholm, Tom Scott and Jack Carruthers of Canonbie, Sid Cairns of Hawick and Brian Miller of Penicuik. Tom had been playing fiddle since the age of seven. His father, Thomas Hughes, grandfather Henry Hughes, and uncles all played fiddle and other instruments such as tambourine, melodeon and tin whistle, and his grandfather was a fiddle and tambourine maker. Like many traditional musicians in days gone by, Tom learned his music by ear within the family circle, and Tom's style and many of his tunes were learned from family tradition. Tunes include a number of local tunes such as The Redesdale Hornpipe and Faudenside Polka, a Scottish border version of The Morpeth Rant, several old favourites such as Auld Robin Gray and Farewell to Whisky and some classic Scottish traditional fiddle tunes such as Flowers of Edinburgh and Lady Mary Ramsay all played in Tom's unique, old traditional style.

PROJECT: The original recordings of Tom Hughes were made between 1978 and 1980 during a Border Fiddle Project and a selection of 24 tunes with full music transcriptions in a tune booklet were included with the 45 minute LP issued by Springthme Records in 1981. A project is now in hand to publish a Tom Hughes/ Border Fiddle tune book with the reformatted 24 tunes from the original CD collection plus another similar number of tunes from the unpublished archive of Tom Hughes recordings held by Springthyme here in Balmalcolm. We are making arrangements for the book to published by Taigh na Teud/ Scotland's Music in association with Springthyme (with CD included) and Springthyme will also issue the collection as a separate CD of Tom Hughes and his Border Fiddle - an expanded version of the original LP edition. Grants are at present being applied for towards the cost of music transcription, book publishing and CD production.

During the Border Fiddle project of 1978/80 over 100 sets of tunes were recorded including sets from Bob Hobkirk of Hawick, Albie Tedham of Canonbie and the Northumberland shepherd Willie Taylor. We plan to include some of these additional tunes in the book/CD for which space did not allow in the 1981 LP production. Proposed deadline: October 2013.

Here is a PDF sample of the new transcriptions that will need to be done: Tom Hughes: Millicent's Favourite

Artistes: Tom Hughes, Wattie Robson, Bob Hobkirk, Tom Scott: Fiddles; Jack Carruthers: Whistle; Brian Miller, Sid Cairns: Guitar.

'Packed with tradition ... much, much more than a record of good traditional music ... worthy of pride of place in any collection.' BOX & FIDDLE
'A facinating collection ... an important historical work.' THE SCOTSMAN

Notes from the Tom Hughes Tune Book:

TOM HUGHES of Jedburgh, recorded this album of his music when he was just 70 years of age. He had been playing fiddle since the age of seven. His father, Thomas Hughes, grandfather Henry Hughes, and uncles all played fiddle and other instruments such as tambourine, melodeon and tin whistle, and his grandfather was a fiddle and tambourine maker. Like many traditional musicians in days gone by, Tom learned his music by ear within the family circle, and Tom's style and many of his tunes were learned from family tradition. Although Tom's style is distinctively Scottish, it is quite different from the dominant fiddle styles of the North East. Tom's liberal use of double stopping (or double string work as Tom referred to it) follows in the tradition of Border fiddlers such as Pate Baillie of Liberton who, in the late 1700s was renowned for this characteristic.

Like his father and grandfather before him, Tom spent his working life as a ploughman on farms in the Border countryside around Jedburgh. As a seven year old at Nisbetmill, a farm on the Teviot north of Jedburgh, Tom remembers being given his first fiddle.

Tom: I had watched ma grandfaither makin a fiddle but I never thought he wis buildin the instrument for me, an it wis the biggest surprise o ma life when on Christmas mornin I found the instrument in a bag on the mantelpiece.

Tom's father and grandfather would often play fiddle together in the house:

Tom: I juist listened tae them playin an gradually taught masel tae play.

As was the custom in those days, farm workers were fee'd to a farm for only a year at a time and in the spring usually went to the local hiring fair in search of a farmer who would offer better wages and conditions. By the time Tom left school in 1921 the family were at 'The Orchard' near Hawick and Tom was playing fiddle with his father, travelling by bicycle to play at all the important rural events in the area such as village dances, weddings, kirns and hiring fairs After moving on to 'Nether Raw' near Lilliesleaf (1925) they played in Adam Irvine's Band, and at Whitton near Morebattle (1927) they joined Jim Kerse the farm steward who also played fiddle. Later, after Tom married, he formed bands of his own -- 'The Kalewater Band' when he was ploughman at Chatto from 1933, and 'The Rulewater Band' when farm steward at Ruletownhead after the war. The traditional music revival of the 1970s gave Tom's playing a new lease of life. In 1970 Tom met fiddler Wattie Robson of Denholm and they were soon playing in their distinctive style at festivals, clubs and competitions throughout Scotland. Tom's grandson Jimmy Nagle has taken on the mantle of the family tradition after learning the fiddle while he was still at school in Jedburgh and he now runs workshops in his grandfather's 'Border Fiddle' style. It is fortunate that through Tom's playing we are able to gain an insight into a fiddle style stretching back through Tom's family well into the last century.

Tom: I wis born on a farm (by) the name of Butchercote in the Mertoun estate near St. Boswells in 1907 (10th October). Ma faither (Thomas Hughes) wis fee'd tae the farm as a plooman When I started tae go tae school we were livin at Nisbetmill down Crailing five miles frae Jedburgh. Ma grandfaither (Henry Hughes) lived next door an that's where he made ma violin.

MUSIC AT NISBETMILL: Tom's father and grandfather both played fiddle, melodeon, tin whistle and tambourine and there was often music in the house.

Tom: When we moved tae Nisbetmill (around 1912) I ken ma grandfaither wis already retired. I had two aunts unmarried an they were fee'd on the farm, an they had the house (next door) an ma grandfaither wis retired livin wi them. He sometimes worked, for I remember him sayin some afternoons that he'd hae tae gan an help wi the hay. His fiddle always hung on the wall an whiles he'd bring it intae ma faither tae hae a tune (together). I can remember him playin. He had been a good fiddler in his day, but when I knew him he juist had a few tunes - simple kind o things mostly, very uncommon.


Tom: He (grandfather) had a workshop outside. He spent (most of his time makin anything - violins, wheelbarrows, tambourines, sticks, stools, salmon fishing rods - everything. An he had a lathe which he drove wi his foot - for turnin the ribs an pegs (for the fiddles). But makin the backs an bellies wis aa just be hand. He had a block o wood juist the dimensions o the fiddle an after he'd boilt the ribs an got them hot he shaped around the block an put clamps on tae hold them. He made three sizes o fiddle, the first size, the one I got when I wis seven wis juist the half size - long shaped an narrow wi very long bouts* (waist) - his own dimensions I think. Then he had another size - the three quarter, an the full size. He made a lot before I knew him but he made a good few after - mostly for friends an relatives. They werenae like ma (present) violin (a Joseph Guarnerius 1735) but they had a grand tone some o them mind. I've played them at kirns, white - never varnished - a fair ringer! They'll be up an doon the country somewhere.

[* perhaps this is boucht = bend

Several other fiddle makers lived within a few miles of Nisbetmill - John Tait, station master at Crailing who also taught fiddle, and Jim Landells, hedger on the Mertoun estate.

THE FAMILY BAND: At one time Tom's grandfather had led a family band that played for dances at kirns and weddings in the area.

Tom: I never played wi ma grandfaither (for dances) as I wis too young an he wis past playin, but (at one time) ma faither an his two brothers Bob and Henry did. Ma grandfaither, faither an Bob Hughes played fiddles, an Henry played the tambourine (or the fiddle). It wis mostly kirns an weddings - there werenae sae many dances (in halls) in those days. Ma faither played the pipes as well, an the old fashioned melodeon an the tin whistle. But mostly it wis three fiddles an tambourine.

Tom's father continued playing for dances with his brothers and other local musicians after the grandfather could no longer play.


Tom: There were competitions too, now and again. There wis singin - an anybody who could play anything whistle or tell a story - juist a social evening. Ma faither yince won it an aa - playin a melodeon. An he got the melodeon as a prize, a melodeon wi yon teaspoon basses. I wisnae at it but I can remember the melodeon well enough.


Tom: I wis never taught music. I can read tae a certain extent (now), but ma faither an grandfaither they never read music. (After) ma grandfaither made us the fiddle, I juist scraped an scratched away till I could play a tune an that wis it. I learnt wi aa ma fingers lyin on the strings an liftin them off as I didnae need them. That's how I got the chording (double stops). The first tune that ever I played wis The High Road to Linton. It has words to it -

Betsy is the bed made,
The bed made, the bed made,
Betsy is the bed made,
An is the supper ready?


Tom: Ma faither wis one o thae kind o folk (who) would move for a shillin. If he wanted a rise o a shillin an the boss wouldnae gie him't, he would juist move off. He wis a plooman at Nisbetmill. Then (we moved to) Morebattle up the Kale Water (around 1916) an after that we moved tae Howden a couple of miles out o Jedburgh (May Term 1917), an I cam intae Jedburgh tae the Grammar School.

THE KIRN AT HOWDEN: After the harvest was in, it was the custom to hold a feast-cum-dance for all the workers on the farm. The event was known as a 'kirn' or 'harvest home' in the Scottish Borders but further North it was often called a 'maiden' from the custom of dressing up the last sheaf of corn as a young maiden.

Tom: There were no kirns during the war. The first kirn I wis at wis at Howden (in 1919). It wis in what we ca'd the grainary - the part o the steedin where they kept the grain. The (new) sheaves wis built intae round stacks outside and thatched, an (by that time) the grainary wis empty. Mebbe there were a wee pickle o the year before's tae clean out before it got started. The cobwebs in the place were swept out an sheaves o corn hung up, an paraffin lamps hangin frae the couples - or hangin frae the beams - the old Scotch word wis the couples. Everybody wis preparing for the kirn. We aa killed pigs aboot that time an made the potted meat. An you got the potted meat - potted heid. An bread, mostly baked in the old ovens - round bread what they ca'd the fadge, wi flour on the top. That wis the home made bread in those days. Aa sliced wi cheese an butter - home made again. An then the farmer supplied the drink - 'twas a barrel o beer. They were all invited around from one farm tae another, an I suppose the farmer that wisnae giein a kirn, he would send along a barrel or something like that.

I wisnae playin at that first kirn at Howden I wis still at the school. Ma faither an some other old fiddlers were playin together. It wis quite common to have the tambourine in those days - a couple of fiddlers an a tambourine, sometimes the tin whistle joinin in as well. It started mostly juist wi the dance they ca'd The Triumph. One o the more popular dances wis Drops o Brandy, plenty Eightsome Reels, the Foursome Reel, Polka, Waltzes, the Hielan Schottische, Corn Rigs, Flowers of Edinburgh, Roxburgh Castle, Dashing White Sergeant - juist mostly country dances. An there wis singers an anybody who could tell a story. It wis juist a joyful evenin ye ken, dancin and singin aa the night.


Tom: We moved frae there (Howden) tae Mervin's Law (May Term 1920), an then tae a place ca'd The Orchard at Hawick (May Term 1921) an I went tae Kirkton school. Ma faither wis the head plooman - the plooman steward, he had the first pair o horse, an they had aboot four pair o horse - four ploomen. I finished ma schooling at Kirkton at Christmas (after I was fourteen) an startit work on the farm drivin a one horse wi a cart - for feedin sheep an cartin - leadin in for cattle turnips, an one thing an another. Twelve an sixpence (a week), I can mind that right away.

PLAYING FIDDLE FOR DANCES: Throughout the 20s Tom played fiddle with his father at kirns, village hall dances, hiring fair dances and country weddings, firstly around Hawick and later around Jedburgh, Morebattle and Kelso after they moved on from The Orchard.

Tom: There'd be a school dance (at Kirkton) aboot Christmas (1921) an they got ma faither along tae play - an I played along wi him. It would start aboot eight o'clock an it went on tae aboot one in the mornin. That wis the start o playin dances together. (After that) we went frae The Orchard at Hawick up to Newmill an further up - aa the places up the Teviot, an Roberton up Borthwick Water. Mostly Friday nights, very few on the Saturday night - kirns, village hall dances an weddings - the receptions wis often held in the grainary juist the same as the kirns. Distance wis no object. Ye had yer bicycle, the fiddle tied on yer back in its cloth bag.


Double stops:
Tom: I play a lot o double string work - which is considered a fault wi some (people). I've heard twa or three say they dinna ken how I got the double string action. It juist comes natural. That's the way ma faither an ma grandfaither din it, it's comin back in now (into fashion), although in competition I've been faulted for too many stops where they 'werenae needed.'

Playing in parts:
Tom: The two o us (Tom and his father), we juist got together in the hoose at night an we juist arranged that between us. (One of us) would play one part an one would play the other at the same time. We used tae play together this way at the dances.


Tom: We had a straighter brig. They're more rounded now, but in those days they were nearly flat. Nowadays there's nobody can play (using the flatter bridge) but masel hardly.


Tom: Most bows has the frog and screw. But I've seen one or two wi a cork where the frog is now. I think ma grandfaither had one, ma faither as well. The stick on those old bows wis bent more the other way. Ye held it be the cork ye see, an if ye wanted the bow tighter ye juist worked yer thumb on the cork. Tom still holds the bow that way: I hold the bow wi ma thumb underneath the frog an sometimes I'm touchin the hair wi ma thumb. I do that in the middle o a tune if I feel the bow's no right, (then) I can pit the pinkie in below the stick at the back of the frog an draw ma thumb back again. I've always played wi it on the loose side, I like a springy bow - ye canna get the vibrations wi a tight bow.


Tom: The first time I went tae a hirin fair wis when we left The Orchard. I had worked a single horse till I wis aboot seventeen, then I got a pair. But it wis juist a sort o odd pair. The old farmer, 'Tattie Willie' (Willie Scott), wouldnae pay me for tae drive a pair so we had tae move. If ye needed a pair o buits yer weeks wage wouldnae buy them - ye couldnae get a pair in those days below twenty five shillin (two weeks wages). That's the way we went tae the hirin at Earlston.

I can remember it wis juist a terrible bad snowy day. (We) had tae catch the train aboot eight o'clock There were a good few (people) there, everybody that wis tae hire, an a lot that wisnae tae hire, local workers that got the day off. Ye'd meet in wi one another, have a drink wi yer pals. Then the hirins would start juist whenever ye met in wi the farmers that wis needin workers. An the farmer would say, "Are ye tae hire, or are ye stayin on?" An ye'd say, "No, I'm leavin." Or, "Are ye hired?" "No." "What dae ye want?" "Oh (what ye caa) a double hin (a double plooman)." Ye talked over one thing an another, an if ye come tae any agreement wi a wage an the like o that, he wrote it out and he signed it, (and) he'd gie ye a shillin (to seal the bargain). Then in the afternoon there were always the dance in the town hall - juist a couple of fiddlers an sometimes there could be a pianist.

Ye moved at whit we ca'd the term day - the 28th o May. That's when ye moved tae the place that ye were hired to, but ye wis hired mebbe six weeks before that (at one of the Hiring Fairs in the area). There were three, I think. There were one at Earlston (1st Monday in April), an one in Kelsie (Kelso) a few weeks later (1st Monday in May), an one in Jedburgh (a Tuesday mid May). I've been at all those three. There were (also) one at Hawick but 'twas a very, very small thing.

At the term day (May Term, 1925) we went, the whole family, tae a place the name o Nether Raw at Lilliesleaf. Ma faither wis plooman steward, I had the third pair, I wis a full plooman then, I think it wis twenty one shillin a week!


Tom: I know I wis only two years at Nether Raw, because the boss an me cast oot. It wis bad weather an we were put off stubble. The stubble wis too wet an it had tae be left for a while, an one mornin he says tae me, he says, "I think that stubble be dry Tam," he says, "shift the ploo frae the ley." Well, we had special socks for the ley, an couters for the ley, an when ye gaed on tae stubble, ye used the bigger rougher type. Well, it wis dark in the mornins and I went away doon an I changed ma couters an things an I had went one round or mebbe two. An there were dung it wis aa pit oot, an th'auld boss, Willie Cranston, he cam doon tae spread the dung, an I wis takin ma breakfast ye see. An he says, "If ye're no gaun'a dae ony mair juist haud off hame." I went an tell'd ma faither what the auld boss had said, an there it wis - we wis awa tae Earlston hirin (again) an we hired at Whitton.

[cast oot = fell out


Tom: Ma faither wisnae a plooman at Whitton, he wis hen man. I wis hired for second plooman - there wis aboot eight ploomen, sixteen horses. That's where we met the fiddler, Jim Kerse. He wis the steward an he wis a good fiddler. He wis taught be John Tait the station master at Nisbet, an he played the same sort o style as us. The three of us (often) played together, an we had a pianist frae Morebattle. We played at aa the kirns an hirin fairs in the area at one time or another.

[Notes compiled from recorded interviews with Tom Hughes of Jedburgh by Peter Shepheard between 1978 and 1980 and included in the Tom Hughes Tune Book produced to accompany the LP SPR 1005 issued in July 1981. Tunes were transcribed from the original sound recordings made with 1/4 inch tape at 15ips on Revox A77 recorder and played back at half speed and with the assistance of later video recordings to obtain the bowings. The LP is out of stock but the album is still available in cassette format and the book is also still available. Work is in hand to release the original album in CD format with additional previously unreleased material as a double CD. PS November 2012].


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