Niel Gow "The Father of Strathspey and Reel Players"

Neil Gow

Neil Gow

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Niel Gow 1727 - 1807, the son of a weaver was born at Strathband in Perthshire and died at Inver near Dunkeld. He took up the fiddle at the age of 9 and was largely self taught. It is estimated that he wrote around 70 tunes and his influence on Scottish music continued through his four sons Andrew, John, William and Nathaniel who were also practicing musicians, and grandson Neil. Nathaniel apart form being a notable fiddler and teacher was also a gifted composer and founded in 1796 an Edinburgh music publishing business. Of the Gow publications, the first four 'Collections of Strathspey Reels (1784, 1788, 1792 & 1800) were the work of "Neil Gow at Dunkeld". The fifth and sixth collections (1809 & 1822) and the four 'Repositories' (1799, 1802, 1806 & 1817), on the other hand were by "Neil Gow and Sons".
Of old Neil, Robert Burns in 1787 gives the following graphic description:-"A short, stout-built honest Highland figure, with his greyish hair shed on his honest social brow; an interesting face, marking strong sense, kind open-heartedness, mixed with unmistrusting simplicity". T Garnett in his "Observations on a tour through the Highlands, &c., of Scotland" also helps bring a description of the fiddler:- "We are favoured with a visit from Neil Gow, a singular and well known character, and a celebrated performer on the violin. His only music is that of his native country which he has acquired chiefly by the ear, being entirely self taught; but he plays the Scotch airs with a spirit and enthusiasm peculiar to himself. . .He excels most in the strathspeys, which are jigs played with a peculiar spirit and life; but he executes the laments or funeral music, with a great deal of pathos."

 

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Sources:

The Caledonian Companion, A J Hardie. Pub EMI Music (1981)

Scots Minstrelsie. John Greig