Bass Culture Fiddle Books – Niel Gow and all the others

The three-year AHRC-funded Bass Culture project is finished now, and there’s a brand new website where you can find details of over 200 fiddle books and 22 fully digitized and indexed collections.

If you’d like to contact the project, you’ll find a link on the website homepage.  (Comments on this blog may go to researchers no longer connected with the project, so it’s better to contact!) goes live!

OK, it’s still in beta and there are some wrinkles to be ironed out, but we hope you like it! There are 22 fiddle books complete, and the details of about 200 more, compiled by Karen McAulay and me over a year and a half visiting libraries.

Special thanks to our webmaster Luca Guariento who has gone well beyond the call of duty slaving over a hot laptop, to make a vast amount of data into something comprehensible and, we hope, fun to explore. If you see him, buy him a beer or give him a job (depending on your resources).

Get in there and let us know what we can improve – we’ll do the official launch early next year.

Italian Style

In the late 18th and early 19th, paratext in Scottish song and dance collections quite often object to “Italian” influences in music.  There’s the perception that “Italian” is synonymous with fussy, arty, classical music and not quite what the compilers expected in a Scottish music anthology. Things were different in earlier days.  Here’s Francis Barsanti (Francesco) circa 1742, in A Collection of Old Scots Tunes, With the Bass for Violoncello or harpsichord. Set and most humbly Dedicated to the Right Honourable The Lady Erskine.  (Sadly, his successors would probably have dismissed it as just another Italianate, Baroque collection!)


Having discovered, in several ancient Scots tunes, an elegance and variety of harmony equal to the compositions of the most celebrated masters of those times; at the desire of several gentlemen of taste, I applied myself to do justice to those ancient compositions, by a proper and natural bass to each tune, with the strictest regard to the tune itself, and without any alteration of the tune to accommodate it to the bass.  As I flatter myself that this attempt to revive the taste of our ancestors will not be disagreeable, I have submitted the same to the judgment of the Publick, that in case this should have the good fortune to please, I may be encouraged to further attempts of the same kind.

See the music

Time Travel with a Tablet

Shared from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Whittaker Live blog:-

Time Travel with a Tablet? Musick for Allan Ramsay’s Collection 


With some excitement, yesterday, we opened this digital copy of one of Scotland’s earliest song-tune collections.  Allan Ramsay compiled a collection of song texts. Alexander Stuart compiled a tune-book to go with the words, in the mid-1720s. And here’s the digitized work, all the way from the University of South Carolina!

Musick for Allan Ramsay’s Collection of 71 Scots Songs

You can save the whole book to an iPad or tablet, and play the tunes out of it. What could be cooler than that?

Part of the G. Ross Roy Collection of Burnsiana and Scottish Literature) Musick for Allan Ramsay’s collection of 71 Scots songs

A Flurry of Activity

The Bass Culture team has adopted a serious, studious demeanour as the project rolls towards its October web-launch. Not that we weren’t serious and studious before, but we’re even more so now, which goes some way to explaining why there are fewer blogposts these days.

David and Karen are editing the spreadsheet (consistency is our middle name, and qualitative judgements are very carefully weighed up, if they’re allowed to remain at all!).  Luca is building the website.

It’s all the extra things that Karen’s afraid of forgetting!  There is going to be a bibliography of key sources: the following are some of them, but we’ll provide the full bibliographic details on the website itself!

  • Baptie’s Musical Scotland
  • The British Union-Catalogue of early music printed before the year 1801 : a record of the holdings of over one hundred libraries throughout the British Isles (in our database, abbreviated as BUCEM)
  • Douglas, Sheila – The Atholl Collection catalogue: 300 years of Scottish music and poetry (Perth, UK: Perth & Kinross Libraries, 1999)
  • Glen, John – The Glen collection of Scottish dance music : strathspeys, reels, and jigs, selected from the earliest printed sources, or from the composer’s works [2 vols, 1891 and 1895](In our database, in the format: Glen, Collection of Scottish Dance Music)
  • Gore, Charles – Scottish Music Index
  • Johnson, David – Music and Society
  • Kidson, Frank – British music publishers, printers and engravers : London, provincial, Scottish and Irish. From Queen Elizabeth’s reign to George the Fourth’s, with select bibliographical lists of musical works printed and published within that period (1900) (In our database, in the format, Kidson, British Music Publishers
  • National Library of Scotland, Digital Gallery
  • Oxford Music
  •  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  • RISM (Repertoire Internationale des Sources Musicales)
  • Scottish Book Trade Index (In our database, SBTI)
  • Smith and Humphries’ Music Publishing in the British Isles

All the information is there in Karen’s Mendeley and Diigo accounts, but it still needs to be collated and double, treble-checked!

Hold onto your hats, folks – it’s going to be quite a ride!

all coded out

Here in Glasgow we’ve had a visit from Andrew Hankinson of the SIMSSA project at McGill University in Montréal. He’s been helping us implement search functionality and MEI into our web resource, which will live at So Luca and he were coding away behind me for days here in the bass culture office. In fact, it was difficult to get them to stop. On Friday night while we ate dinner, Andrew’s computer was running a script to convert to MEI nearly 2000 Sibelius files of tune incipits that had been carefully transcribed by Karens Marshalsay & McAulay, and this was the scene even outside the pub on Saturday night …

L-R: David McGuinness, Luca Guariento, Andrew Hankinson

L-R: David McGuinness, Luca Guariento, Andrew Hankinson

Here is a sneak preview of our website’s logo, as designed by Ewan MacPherson.

June is recording month

Last week the pibroch team of Bill Taylor (harps, lyre) and Clare Salaman (hurdy-gurdy, medieval fiddle, nyckelharpa) were recording with Barnaby in Huddersfield, and next week the fiddle band will be recording in the wonderful acoustic of Crichton Collegiate Church in Midlothian. But first there’s the little business of a gig to play.

poster for 19 June concertOn 6 June, with the help of Talitha MacKenzie, Alyona Shmakova, and some folks from the Traditional Music Forum of Scotland, we were able to try out some of the late 18th–century fiddle repertoire with its original dance figures, which was enormous fun.

And this Friday, we’ll do the same with the whole band and the audience at the Cottier Chamber Project. Our team of players is pretty formidable, some of them getting to grips with 18th-century setup instruments for the first time, and others with decades of experience of playing them.

pipes, recorder: Callum Armstrong
fiddles: Mairi Campbell, Aaron McGregor, Lauren MacColl, Shona Mooney, Marie Fielding, Alison McGillivray (bass fiddle)
fortepiano: David McGuinness

I won’t be playing piano for the dancing (I might get on the floor and join in instead), but in between the dances we’ll be playing domestic repertoire from the same time, some of which was published as souvenirs of major dancing events, so that you could play the tunes at home with the piano that you’d already danced to at the Assembly Rooms. So, a busy couple of weeks ahead …

After the Napoleonic Wars, a Deluge of Quadrilles

Curious about the quadrilles that David and Talitha have been working on, we decided to see what exactly Nathaniel Gow had been up to.  His first set of Favorite French Quadrilles looked interesting, so maybe there were more to discover …

More? There were dozens of collections compiled after 1815, and not just by Nathaniel Gow!  (Look in, if you’ve got a few minutes to spare.)

The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, after the Battle of Waterloo on18th June, led to a surge of enthusiasm for French dances in Britain.  In London, S. Chappell, James Paine and Edward Payne seem to have kicked off the trend, closely followed by John Gow.  John published six ‘favorite’ sets of quadrilles, ca.1818-23.  They all contained ‘Scotch airs’, as did his ‘First set of favorite Scotch quadrilles’ (1823), and two sets of ‘Caledonian quadrilles’ (published in London by Leoni Lee ca 1844).

John’s brother Nathaniel simultaneously published quadrilles in Edinburgh from 1817.starting with two different ‘First sets’ for assemblies on 20th January and 11th March 1817, and continuing with various similar collections until ca.1828.

This tells us that John and Nathaniel were keen to seize an opportunity, and kept abreast of trends in social dancing.  There’s probably a bigger story to tell here, but this will do for a start!  (Incidentally, Karen says Copac is an excellent place to derive material for book history stories.  All that data, just waiting to be interpreted imaginatively… ).

Gaily tripping, lightly skipping

(And not an HMS Pinafore in sight!)

David McGuinness’s Concerto Caledonia will be playing for a day of Quadrilles and Contredanses in Edinburgh this Saturday, as Talitha Mackenzie leads a Regency Dance workshop.  Never was a band better informed than this one!  Since they may be drawing upon Bass Culture repertoire, it seems appropriate to post details of the event here.  So … do you know your Quadrilles from your Contredanses?

Quadrilles and Contredanses – Saturday 6 June, Edinburgh

  • Dance Workshop 10.30 AM to 4.30 PM (£20)
  • Regency Ball 7.30-9.30 PM (£8/£6 or £5 with Workshop ticket)
  • Venue:  Scottish Storytelling Centre, 43-45 High Street, Edinburgh, with live music on period instruments throughout the day from members of Concerto Caledonia.

All welcome! Low-heeled shoes or dance pumps recommended ~ Regency dress suggested but not required for the ball.