by Ian Cruickshanks
Photograph taken from Jimmy Shand by David Phillips
Published in 1976 by D Winter & Son Ltd, Dundee
© David Phillips
Ian Cruickshanks of Kirriemuir knew Jimmy well and tells us the following :-
Jimmy Ritchie played with :-
The Hawthorn SDB
Bobby MacLeod [mid fifties]
Jimmy Shand [late fifties early sixties]
and Jimmy Shand Jnr
He then played solo in the Clubs in Manchester for a number of years, went to visit George Clark [the famous Highland Games heavyweight athlete and Wrestler] at his pub in Bonar Bridge one weekend...and stayed for 7 years !
He came back to Blairgowrie and Glenshee about 1974/5 and started a Sunday afternoon ceilidh at Dalrulzion Hotel, Glenshee. That's where I met him and I then played with him for about 6 years, he then went on to play with Ian Anderson from Perth and they did a few recordings together. While at Bonar Bridge he learnt to play the pipes and was very friendly with most of the Great Pipers, including P/M Donald McLeod, John D. Burgess, John MacDougall and Black Wull of Inveran [Wull MacDonald]
Jimmy was a skilled composer as well, his most famous tunes being Airlie Bobbies [after a night in the cells at Kirrie], Helen Black of Inveran and Bert's Highland Polka (written for accordionist Bert Shorthouse who had also played in the Shand Band).
During his time with Bobby MacLeod he played on all those classic Phillips Yellow Label 78 records including one of the most requested of all time namely 'To the Games' and ‘After the Games'.
Both Jimmy Shand and Bobby MacLeod got Ritchie back to record with them in the early 1980s, so they obviously thought highly of him. He also appeared on the video 'Dancing With The Shands'
The following text on Jimmy Ritchie is taken from the book about Jimmy Shand written by David Phillips of Dundee in 1976 and published by David Winter, Dundee. The copyright is attributed to David Phillips [who died about 25 years ago].
Jim Ritchie was playing the fiddle while still a wee laddie on the farms his dad worked on in Glenshee.
Well, by the age of ten he had come second in the Strathspeys and Reels for under 16s at Perth Musical Festival. The following year – 1938 – he was first in that class.
He played at his first dance in Glenshee Hall at thirteen - a trio, another fiddler, Will Cameron and Jean Fairweather at the piano.
His pal, Donald Ferrier, whose father Geordie ran the Glenisla Hotel, played the box, and by the age of thirteen the two ladies often entertained the guests and got to be in great demand for concerts raising funds for the Red Cross.
They learned the tunes off Geordie’s collection of Jimmy Shand’s records, earnest students for hours at a stretch, whose tuition came lilting and cascading out of a metal horn like a giant bluebell flower.
“And Lord help us if we didna get the tunes richt – auld Geordie wid gie us hell. His ain particular favourites were Battle o’ the Somme, Crags o’ Lundie, Midlothian Pipe Band, Bonnie Dundee………..I wis daein a full days work on the farm by then – seven in the mornin’ tae half-past five at nicht wi’ the orra beast” (spare horse).
“It wisna lang before I wis gie’n a pair o’ horse, an big day as that was, there wis shortly tae be a bigger…………..
“Ye’re jokin’!” I said when Donald, full o’ excitement, gave me the news ; but it wis right enough – Jimmy Shand had been booked by his dad tae come an’ play at Glenisla School!
“Neither o’s slept for a week beforehand………”.
And when the embarrassed looking Shand finally stepped out almost apologetically before the audience……
“I felt the hair on the back o’ ma neck risin’ an’ bristlin’, an that’s the Goad’s truth!”
It would have been easy for the entranced laddie to believe that as the magic notes drifted from the little building into the heather scented air, the stags were drawn lower down the hillsides to listen along with the silenced whaups and other wildlife of the glen – not forgetting the horses, the ‘orra beast’ and the pair, their pricked ears turned to the concert…..and the roosting hens blinking beady eyes.
Surely the day soon would come when Shand would be touring with a full-time band – and Jimmy Ritchie vowed that sooner or later he would play in that band!
When he first heard them broadcast he was a halflin’ (a teenage farm-worker between sixteen and seventeen) working along with his parents on Wester Bleaton Farm ; and he was ploughing in front of the house ; and Shand came on a 5pm and he was supposed to work until 5.30……….
But, tae hell wi’ it!
“Jimmy” from his mother at the window. as arranged.
The reins were secured ; he vaulted the fence ; and stuck his head in the window to be greeted by a matchless rendering of Auchmountain’s Bonnie Glen. Ah, to be a member of that most select of groups!
Eventually Jimmy Ritchie was to play fiddle in the band, but not for ten years of so, during which time he was with the Hawthorn Band for four years and more than five with Bobby MacLeod – with whom he also made records, and who named a composition after him, the strathspey Jim Ritchie’s Lilt (Jim himself has composed many tunes, six of which have been recorded).
He acknowledges three great masters of Scottish music ; Neil Gow, Scott Skinner and Jimmy Shand “and I learned mair during those four years I wis wi’ Jimmy than I had ever done fae onybody else”.
In 1956 Jimmy Ritchie was in his fifth year playing with Bobby MacLeod. The band was touring with Robert Wilson’s White Heather Group ; their contract with the group was nearing its end.
“How about staying with the group as soloist” Robert asked him.
Ritchie had in fact already decided to rest for a while ; had in fact given Bobby MacLeod a month’s notice ; but this was a tempting offer.
They had been appearing in London, where they now met the Shand Band, down to make records.
“An’ are ye gaein’ wi’ Robert?” asked Jimmy.
“Haven’t really decided. Felt like layin’ aff fur a while ; been pretty busy these past few years”.
“Aye..Well..pity ; I could’ve done wi’ ye…..”
“And for the next five years I was to be busier than I had ever been before. As a matter of fact the first job wi’ Shand was wi’ Robert Wilson in his White Heather Club TV Show. We appeared on it every twa or three weeks, oh, for years.
“There were plenty ither jobs in between, by heavens there were! “Talk about farm-workers days aince bein’ fae dawn tae dusk – my hours were not likelier tae be dawn tae dawn awa’ fae the ferm.
“For ins’nce, I’d hae tae be awa’ fae Wester Bleaton in Glenshee by 6 a.m. tae meet the band bus at Perth at seven, tae get tae the BBC at Glasgow by half-past nine. We’d rehearse a’ day for the show gaein oot at around half-past six that nicht. Ah but we were only startin’ ! We’d be awa’ then tae play at a dance, maybe Lanark, until aboot twa in the mornin’. It’d be six or seven a.m. when I got back tae the glen. Except of course if we’d been playin’ doon sooth, then it weel micht be eleven next forenoon before I’d see the farm again. I’ve seen me getting hame fae, say, London ; gaein’ tae bed at midday, tae be up and awa’ again three oors later.
“Oh, aye, since the band was in great demand a’ place there were local jobs now an’ then…………Kirkmichael Boolin’ Club. They wanted us for their annual dance, but it would hae tae be on a Friday tae ensure a guid turnout. Well, Jimmy couldna’ gie them a Friday an’ my, ye’ve nae idea how dubious the Committee was aboot advisability o’ bookin’ any other nicht!
“Speak aboot a prophet haein’ nae honour in his ain country! Whit a job I had persuadin’ them they could hardly lose wi’ Shand’s Band on whatever nicht. Finally they kind o’ reluctantly agreed tae a Tuesday nicht – then nae sooner wis this settled than we learned that another organisation had booked anither band for their dance on the Friday!
“Of course, the Boolin’ Committee need never have worried – a sell-oot ; they were turnin’ fowk awa’, had tae shut the doors.
“A somewhat different local jobbie was the Gillies Ball at Balmoral. They got a fell guid crowd there an’ a’, incidentally.
“A right swell affair. The band were up on a balcony at one end o’ the ballroom ; at the ither end anither balcony where the Royal party would appear.
“Did they dance? Aye. The Queen Mother requested the Dashing White Sergeant and went through it gracefully wi’ her twa dochters. The same thing happened at Windsor Castle later on”.
Jimmy Ritchie will always remember a particular one of the many sessions of record-making he had with Jimmy Shand. In 1958 Parlophone wanted their services but the band had too many commitments to be able to get to London at a suitable time. So, Parlophone came to them – at Leeds where they were to play at a University dance. The recordings were actually made during the dance, which might suggest a better-than-no-recordings-at-all result at best.
Yet this produced a best seller. And in 1976 O’er the Border is still selling. (The first of his L.P’s giving the correct number of bars for each dance was an innovation).
A pal of Jim Ritchie’s who thought he knew something about the brief commercial life of most records found this hard to believe –
“Well just you ask at any record shop”.
“I’ll take you up on that Jim. Sixteen years and still going strong? Hard to credit”.
Eventually he did go into a little shop that sold records –
“Don’t suppose you’ve heard of the record O’er the Border -?
“Yes sir; Jimmy Shand’s Band……………Here we are sir!”
Nor will Jim readily forget another event in ’58, the Royal Command Scottish Variety Performance at the Glasgow Alhambra, for the tremendous reception the band got.
Obviously, the bill was a compilation of outstanding acts, but next day at an outside broadcast they were doing from Dalbeattie, BBC Producer Iain McFadyen, who had been recording the Command Performance, told them that the instruments had registered the greatest audience applause for their turn.
By 1961 the farm-lad fiddler from Glenshee was finding it a wearingly hectic life. His car would break down in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. In winter Glenshee was likely to become inaccessible under heavy falls of snow – on one occasion he had to lodge with the Shand’s for a week. He left the band and Sid Chalmers took his place again.
Jim free-lanced after that, which left him more time to learn the bagpipes, fish, throw the hammer, put the shot, compose – and sleep! And, of course, to listen to Jimmy Shand records.
(an article from Box and Fiddle magazine)
The circumstances surrounding my meeting with Jimmy Ritchie, the composer of the above tune, were unusual to say the least.
I cannot remember the exact year, but it must have been during the mid or late 1960’s although it was certainly on a Friday evening during the summer months. Along with P.C. Milne I was patrolling the Kaims of Airlie when I saw a motor car on the south verge, head-first into a tree. Acting on information received from a passing motorist I traced the driver of the car, arrested him, and took him to Kirriemuir Police Station where he was certified as being unfit to drive a motor vehicle.
At that time every person arrested for this offence spent at least one night in custody, so I prepared to lock Jimmy into a cell. However he stated that he suffered from claustrophobia and asked me not to shut the cell door, so I locked him in the cell passage, which was secure. A short time later he called through to say that he was worried about his personal possessions which were still in the car – particularly his violin since he was a professional musician. I returned to the car, retrieved his effect, then gave him his fiddle and bow. He then said he would write a tune and call it The Kirriemuir Bobbies but I told him that I was in fact the Airlie Bobby so he said the title would be altered accordingly.
About a week or ten days late, again with P.C. Milne, I called at Newlands, Glenisla, where Jimmy resided with his parents. Mrs Ritchie provided us with tea then, after I had given him the Statutory Notice detailing the results of the analysis of his blood sample, Jimmy entertained us to a session on the violin on which, even to the untrained ear, he was a maestro.
I saw Jimmy only occasionally during the following years – usually when he called at Airlie Police Station to show me the cheque which he had received as payment following performances of The Airlie Bobbies. A few years ago, after he had moved to New Alyth, I saw him quite often in Kirriemuir and he stopped his car to greet me with the following “Man you’re famous now”.
I am vexed at losing the original manuscript for The Airlie Bobbies which Jimmy gave me but hope but hope that you find my narrative of my few minutes of fame interesting.
David Grimmond (Kirriemuir)
By Tom Clark
When I called at Jimmy’s home and was ushered into the front room, I immediately noted the fiddle case on the table alongside a bagpipe case with the chanter sitting on top. Various bits and pieces of music lay around including a recent composition by Jimmy. I was unaware at that stage that I was to be treated to a minor pipe recital as Jimmy demonstrated a point he was making.
Jimmy’s playing career has spanned more than 45 years to date and has included lengthy spells with MacLeod and Shand during the period when Scottish Dance Band music reached its peak. Apart from being one of the country’s finest fiddlers , Jimmy has earned a considerable reputation as a composer, and as we shall see, as a leader of fiddle playing. Add to this his ability as a piper and it becomes easy to appreciate that this man is a dedicated musician.
Jimmy hailed originally from Cranley Farm at Meiklour. At the age of 8 he started fiddle lessons under James Ogilvie of Blairgowrie, walking 10 miles every Saturday with his fiddle. Later Jimmy travelled to Dundee by bus for lessons from Harry Ogilvie (James’s son). Involvement in competition playing didn’t take long and at 11½ years of age he was Junior Fiddle Champion at Perth (with honours) out of 16 competitors. “About this time I started practicing with a button key player called Donald Ferrier. We practiced a lot and used to listen keenly to Shand records. We started playing together at local concerts.” From there Jimmy progressed to his first dance band experience with Wull Cameron of Blackwater in the Glenshee Hall.
“Then came Army service” said Jimmy “Captain Davidson was responsible for organising Scottish and Highland dancing for the officers. I was the fiddler, with a pianist from Oban called Ian Stewart.”
On leaving the army in 1947, Jimmy then became involved with the Hawthorne Scottish Dance Band. Two fiddles, three accordions, piano and drums (even Shand didn’t have a bass player in those days!) “I had a great time with the Hawthorne” said Jimmy “I stayed there for three years before joining Bobby MacLeod in 1951. This was a marvellous experience. Bobby’s interpretation of pipe music on the accordion was something entirely new and set the standard for the future.” By 1956 Jimmy felt that he was unable to continue with the travelling from Blairgowrie and decided to leave the MacLeod Band. “I was intending to retire from the business for a while, but was invited to join the Shand Band and soon found myself doing more travelling than ever before. Jimmy Shand’s sound was absolute magic and the quality of the work was top class.”
Jimmy stayed with Shand until 1962 when he decided to have a rest at home for a year. Always on the lookout for new musical experience, Jimmy headed for Manchester to try his luck in Club performances. “I took a job for security in 1963 in the Grand Hotel, doing the clubs in the evening on solo fiddle. This was a happy spell during which I met up with people like Dusty Springfield, Carl Denver and many others.” Jimmy related an amusing experience in one show where he was told he was sharing a dressing room with Carl. An artiste duly arrived in the room and introduced himself to Jimmy as Jock MacKenzie from Bellshill. “I thought I was sharing with Carl Denver” said Jimmy, “that’s right” said Jock “that’s me!”
Itchy feet for Jimmy in 1967 led him to visit his old friend George Clark at Bonar Bridge. “I intended to pay a short visit” said Jimmy “but stayed until 1973!” It was during this time that Jimmy developed his love of the pipes and came under the influence of Angus McPherson “the great old man of piping.” Angus was, of course, husband to Mrs McPherson of Inveran. Jimmy also met G.S. McLennan’s son at that time. “I’ll tell you something about one of his tunes” said Jimmy “the Little Cascade was composed after listening to a leaking rhone pipe all night and was meant to sound like the slowish ripple of the water cascading down the pipe. Today young players don’t seem to appreciate this – they play the tune far too fast!” The discussion ranged over interpretation of pipe music and it was here that Jimmy demonstrated the chanter.
At this stage I tried to move Jimmy on to the question of composition. “I enjoy composing” he replied “I always attempt to compose tunes that I think musicians will enjoy playing and listeners will want to hear again. So far it seems to have worked out well for me. “Helen Black of Inveran” was a great success, as was “Bert’s Highland Polka” and many others.”
Jimmy returned to Blairgowrie in 1973 and once again started playing with Shand and MacLeod. I was interested in Jimmy’s views on the age old controversy of the difference between East and West Coast styles, since he had had long spells with the different styles and proved that he was compatible with both. “Well I think the difference was probably more pointed in the early days of Shand and MacLeod” Jimmy replied “but the gap has closed a great deal now. All the up-and-coming youngsters have been listening carefully and I would agree now that the difference is less pronounced. Mind you, even in these early days I managed to play successfully with both styles so there must have been a lot more in common than people thought.”
For a while Jimmy moved onto teaching and met with a great deal of success. In a period of 5 year his pupils won 50 major prizes including awards at the Perth Music Festival.
What of the present? Jimmy is still very much involved, as his recent performance on the Shand recording ‘Echoes of the Glen’ indicates.
And what of today’s bands and musicians? “There are many fine young musicians on the scene today. I listen regularly, of course, to the bands on the air and am convinced that the future is in good hands”.
As I was about to leave, Jimmy started looking through some manuscripts and I finished up with original copies of ‘Helen Black of Inveran’, ‘Irene Craig Morrison’ and ‘Mr and Mrs George Smith’s Pearl Wedding’. Keep the tunes coming Jimmy.
Hopefully we will be hearing more of Jimmy for many years to come.
Box and Fiddle