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Dr Tom Anderson (1910-1991)

Were his talents confined only to fiddle-playing and composing Tom would find a very respected place in this list, yet for his other achievements Tom stands head and shoulders above the others as the most prominent personality by far, in the entire history of Shetland fiddle-playing.

Tom AndersonTom Anderson

A talented fiddler from childhood in Eshaness and a composer of tunes from his teenage years, he was inspired to broaden his repertoire by meeting the blind fiddler George Stark from Dundee, who visited Shetland every summer from 1904 to 1957. Tom thus became an accomplished player in contemporary pre-war dance bands in Lerwick.

From 1945 onwards his efforts were mainly directed towards preserving the traditional fiddle music of Shetland, by means of recording old exponents of the tunes, and performing as leader of Shetland Folk Society's Traditional Band. In 1960 he was instrumental in the formation of Shetland Fiddlers' Society, and became a prominent member of the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland later in the decade. At this time he also became a teacher of the fiddle, to Aly Bain in particular.

Through the 1970s he campaigned to have traditional fiddle taught in Shetland schools - and became the first fiddle tutor when his campaign finally succeeded. In 1980 he formed Shetland's Young Heritage from among his young pupils, and took a summer school in traditional Shetland fiddling at Stirling University for over a decade. He was awarded his M.B.E., and an honourary doctorate from Stirling University, for his outstanding services to traditional music in Scotland.

Fifteen years or so after his death, several fiddle tutors in schools around Shetland continue the work he began, and only now are the extent of his achievements being fully understood, for Tom's influence on the fiddle scene encouraged developments in other cultural directions. He helped create the first Shetland Folk Festival in 1981, and the Young Fiddler of the Year competition in 1982. Having introduced fiddle tuition, it was only a matter of time before tuition in other instruments followed over the years, such as brass, woodwind, string, percussion and accordion, while the Folk Festival was the inspiration for other musical festivals now firmly fixed in Shetland's musical calendar.

Tom composed over five hundred tunes, many published during his lifetime in three collections. Those remaining at the time of his death are being published in conjunction with Shetland Musical Heritage Trust, which holds Tom's musical assets for the benefit of the Shetland community. Two volumes are in print, with the third and last due shortly.

Tom Anderson's tunes are today played worldwide, with perhaps the slow airs Da Restin Chair and Da Slokkit Light the most popular, while the jig Peter's Peerie Boat and the march Mangaster Voe come closely behind.

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