Pete Shepheard and Jimmy Nagle introduce the music of Border fiddler Tom Hughes.

Pete Shepheard [left] with Jimmy Nagle

“I first heard [the Border fiddler] Tom Hughes play at Newcastleton in 1978, I think it was; his fiddle playing was unusual, he was playing with styles that I didn’t recognise - he played a lot of double-stops and interesting goings - I’m not a fiddle player but I could recognize they were different from most people’s.  I got talking to him and it turned out that he’d never been recorded … and when I said to him ‘I like the way you play that tune’  he says ‘Oh I don’t play it right’ - he’d joined the Border Strathpsey and Reel Society but he was made to sit at the back because he didn’t play the tunes right. So I said ‘Tom, let’s not talk about not playing the tunes right, you’re playing them your way and I’m really interested in the way you’re playing them’. So I then made a trip down to record him playing. He played at that time with Watty Robson , a young player from Jedburgh and they had a great time, traveling all over the place, taking part in competitions - they didn’t usually win - the judges would often say ‘interesting traditional style’ or ‘he doesn’t play the tune right’. All these things to me were positives, not negatives. The fact was that Tom was an ‘aural’ musician as was his father and grandfather, they didn’t read music, their tunes were as learnt by ear - the tunes would thus change over time, they wouldn’t be the same as someone wrote them down a hundred years ago up in Perthshire.
When I heard his playing I thought this was too good not to do something with. I recorded many, many hours of music [using  1/4 inch tape at 15ips on a Revox A77 recorder].  At the time Tom was just 70 years of age – the recordings were made 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.”
 Pete then handed out sheet music [a page from the book that accompanied the record] for the tune Lady Mary Ramsay, as he had transcribed it from Tom’s playing, and went on to discuss the particular characteristics of Tom’s playing - his distinctive bowing and use of double-stopping, playing on more than one string at a time, something which he and other border fiddlers achieved by flattening the bridge and loosening the bow hairs. Pete went on to describe how he transcribed Tom’s playing using a software programme called Transcribe!1 Pete finished his talk with stories of how Tom had begun playing:
“When Tom was about seven years old his present on Christmas Day was a small-size fiddle that his grandfather had made for him - in a bag- since they had no cases at that time. By the time he was 12 Tom played his first kirn with his father. From then on he and his father would get on their bikes, having done a day’s work, put the horses to bed [Tom was a ‘twa horse plooman’], and head off to play, often to a wedding or a ‘kirn’ - a harvest-home - where dancing was done in tackity boots or Sunday shoes and the sound of feet was the norm ‘before the RSCDS came along and told you how you should be doing it’.
Pete and Jimmy concluded with a recording of Tom playing ‘the old’ tune of the Morpeth Rant- “I don’t know why a new version was created” Pete said, “Tom first heard the ‘new version’ in the 1930’s. This is the version that was played in the Borders - and he plays it with some unusual bowing as well, but that’s another matter.”

1 Ed: Which I have, in fact, used to transcribe his talk, though that is a minimal use of this powerful programme.  ‘The Transcribe! application is an assistant for people who want to work out a piece of music from a recording, in order to write it out, or play it themselves, or both. It doesn't do the transcribing for you, but it is essentially a specialised player program which is optimised for the purpose of transcription. [From the website where you can find full details and downloads at Pete and Jimmy also recommended an audio editing software called ‘Reaper’ [