"What a treasure trove! And what wonderful and exhaustive work you have undertaken, continuing in a great tradition, whether it be SMM (Scots Musical Museum) or Glen (Early Scottish Melodies) or whomsoever. What's more, it’s full of fun, splendid illustrations and is not like any other music book that ever was in its superb blend of scholarship and day-to-day usage. It is quite simply a truly inspiring and noble achievement. Many many congratulations!"
John Purser, Composer, Broadcaster, Author “Scotland’s Music”
on Geordie Syme's Paircel o Tunes
I was born in Margate, Kent in 1951. After leaving school I lived in Oxford, London and Brighton, with interludes in Palma de Mallorca and Charles Town, West Virginia. In 1984 I moved to Northumberland and in 1998 to the Scottish Borders. Since 2007 I’ve lived in Hawick, Deep Hairt o the Borderland.
I grew up surrounded by music. Mum had been a professional dance band singer and had toured with Nat Gonella’s band. She continued to do local gigs and sing at home while my Sister and I were growing up. Dad, who was chief photographer for the local newspaper, played guitar, sang, wrote songs and accompanied Mum.
I took up the guitar when I was thirteen, initially inspired by the Beatles. I would also find it a great instrument for exploring other genres of music – rock, blues, folk, flamenco, classical, jazz. Increasingly fascinated by traditional music, I took up the fiddle in my early thirties and a few years later, intrigued by the nascent revival of interest in Lowland and Border piping traditions, the Scottish smallpipes and a little later the Border pipes.
Since 1991 my focus has increasingly been on the repertoire, styles and techniques of the Border pipes. Along with friends and co-conspirators including Chris Ormston, Gordon Mooney and Pete Stewart I’ve explored historical repertoire as a foundation for present-day practice, and my editions (1995, 2002, 2011) of the 1733 William Dixon manuscript, published as The Master Piper, have established beyond doubt that a sophisticated tradition of piping, with an æsthetic quite distinct from that of the Highlands, flourished in the Border regions (both sides) in the 18th century.
In 2011 I began work on Geordie Syme’s Paircel o Tunes, the imagined repertoire of the renowned Toun Piper of Dalkeith and piper to the Buccleuch family. Published in 2016, the collection takes its lead from manuscripts in the Buccleuch archives as well as consolidating some of the collecting and arranging work I’d done previously.
2018 saw publication of Ower the Dunion, a selection of my compositions from across the years and, with no chance of public performance in 2020 owing to the pandemic, I began composing as if my sanity depended on it, resulting my newest book, On Ruberslaw.
Recordings, delayed by the pandemic, are in the pipeline, and I'm currently working on a new collection of older tunes for Border pipes.