Celebrated American Scottish fiddler Bonnie Rideout shares her memories of the inspirational fiddler and composer Bert Murray "The Auld Fiddler" 1913-2003.
One cold January morning, I remember the phone startling me out of my sleep at 5:00 a.m. The broad Scots voice on the other end announced, "This is your boyfriend here and you haven't phoned yet to wish me a happy 85th birthday!"
The familiar laugh that followed was unmistakable; a laugh as distinctive as his fiddling, and both so entirely full of life and love. I'm sure I was one of many calls Bert Murray was making that morning. "Engaging" should have been his middle name. At the time of writing, five more precious birthdays have passed since then. Sadly, on June 23rd 2003, the laugh, the music, and the brilliant man who generated it, passed away.
Burt Murray was born in Aberdeen on January 26, 1913. By the age of nine, Bert began to carry the torch of fiddling passed to him by his grandfather. By age fifteen he was already performing with dance bands and as a soloist. It wasn't long before his skill as a composer was equally recognized.
In his later years, Bert gave up the fiddle for several years to take care of his ailing wife. When he was free to continue his passion, his drive and enthusiasm was greater than ever. Over the past decade, he traveled extensively. Across the ocean, he won a place in the hearts of fiddlers from coast to coast not only in America, but in Cape Breton as well.
Out of seventeen books (almost 800 tunes) he wrote many for friends and family. (Within the past year he wrote two for me although he emphatically stated that "Rideout was out" so he named the tunes "A Reel for Bonnie" and "Medrano Rant" since he preferred my married name.)
As I write this tribute to Bert, he is smiling down from his picture over my desk. He is playing the fiddle and wearing what he was most proud of: his WW II medals he received while a sergeant with the Royal Artillery and the Gordon Highlanders, and his MBE (Member of the British Empire) medal presented to him by the Queen in 2001.
Sadly, he was the last living fiddler in my row of photos of musicians whom I spent many a happy time with. Some others beside him include Ron Gonnella, Angus Cameron, and Arthur Scott Robertson. These men were fiddlers of the post-war era. I think of them as the big-band fiddlers. Both happy and sentimental, their fiddling was friendly with the accordion, bass and snare as well as piano.
They loved the dance halls and the music of J. Scott Skinner. They brought me into the world of vast fiddle orchestras and lively ceilidhs. This year, I released a recording entitled Scottish Inheritance. Highlighted are some original compositions by Gonnella, Robertson, and Murray. Bert was my favorite of his generation and I'm glad he heard the set I put together for him. The warmth of his personality will always shine through in his music.
I'm certain that Bert's compositions will join the anonymous "traditional" category of tunes played in sessions for years to come. Thank you, Bert, for our friendship and your generosity with so many others like me. Most importantly, thank you for your love of life and music which were one in the same.
Note: Harpstring House is publishing the complete works of Bert Murray.