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James Scott Skinner
 James Scott Skinner (1843-1927)  Tunes by J S Skinner

James Scott Skinner, the "Strathspey King" was born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His father was a gardener, but after losing three fingers of his left hand, he became a left-handed fiddler [1] and a dancing master.

James was taught cello and fiddle by his older brother Sandy, and later by his mentor the great Peter Milne. In 1855 he joined Dr Mark's 'Little Men' - a children's orchestra - and travelled the theatres with them for six years.

By 1870 Skinner was married and conducting business as a dancing master and solo fiddler, his reputation as the latter growing year by year until 1890s when he was touring the United States.

-Skinner was a prolific composer, over 600 tunes being known. Some players are disdainful of his efforts, Dick Gaughan once having said they were composed with the aid of a slide-rule. However, his tunes are generally loved by Scottish players, and many of them are played in bands and sessions in Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the US.

Some of his recorded output is available on CD, but it doesn't fall easily on our modern ears; Skinner's style was of its time and is difficult to penetrate today [2]. Some of his tunes are listed on the right.

  • [1] = One of Skinner's most popular tunes is "The Left Handed Fiddler", but named for George Taylor rather than his father.
  • [2] = although Stuart Eydmann has been digitally cleaning up some of these recordings and said to me recently that his estimation of Skinner has gone up.

Nigel Gatherer, Crieff, Perthshire |