Andy Fagan interviewed by Jim Purvis on
First tune selection from Andy: ? / I'm looking over a 4 leaved clover / When you're smiling.
JP: I want to welcome everyone to this wee session we're having. Colin, introducing the programme, is one of the
driving forces of the dulcimer society here. I too can claim to be a driving force. It's my great privilege and pleasure
to drive Andy Fagan to the dulcimer sessions and to drive him home again. And it's given me a great opportunity to
get to know the man and some of his anecdotes and the history of his music.
First embarrassing question Andy. When were you born?
AF: I was born in a place
JP: So what does that bring you out to be now?
AF: It makes me 79.
JP: 79. Tell us about your early music recollections and who got you going on the musical road.
AF: Well my father was a miner but also he was a great melodeon player and a great piccolo player. He won the piccolo medal
when he was only 17 and he couldn't read a note of music but he could play almost any instrument.
So although he couldn't read music he started to teach me how to play the melodeon when I was only about 7 and he had to
adopt his own method. Making a system of his own that a third button was the note C as long as you pressed the bellows in
(if you pulled the bellows out it was D), and to explain how to do that was, he put a number 3V - that meant to push in the
bellows - the V meant to push in. If he wanted me to play D, he put down a 3 and a - , that meant to pull the melodeon out way.
Now that was all right to tell me what note to play, but to give me the value of the notes, how he done that was by the size of
the number. If it was a semibreve it was a large 3, if it was a minim the 3 was only half the size and so on right down to the
demisemiquaver. And that's how he taught me. Strange to say that as far as I heard in 1946 the Hohner people brought out
a system similar calling it a new up-to-date method.
JP: Stealing his ideas. So the melodeon was really your first instrument.
AF: The melodeon was the first instrument I started and I played my first dance when I was 9 - and the dance was
at night to 6 in the morning! - and the reason I was playing was because the other melodeon player who was to play there took
pneumonia and my father put me in, in his place. The band consisted of my father with his concertina and piccolo, a dulcimer
player and myself. That's when I took a liking to the dulcimer. He was a nice player and we played the dance from
at night to 6 in the morning. Now I got very popular playing the melodeon - going to private functions and even weddings,
house weddings and parties an' that, and my older brother then wanted to get on with it so he asked me would I teach him to play.
Naturally I just had to teach him the way my father taught me. So after I got him on the way, I used to just let him play melody
and I played harmony. Now we got quite a few engagements but it got monotonous with the two melodeons and piccolo.
So I took an interest then and started the dulcimer. I wasn't very long learning the dulcimer and after I established the dulcimer
the band got quite good and we decided to give the band a name. So the name we give it was The Excelsior Dance Band and
that was known all over the west of
JP: And how long did you keep on playing the dulcimer with the band?
AF: Well we played that actually till about, er well I played that even after I got married. And the band kept going. My other
brothers - I taught the one the dulcimer - I taught the other one. I went from the dulcimer then to the trumpet.
But then in 1935 I went away to
bands - didn't have our own band together. We played all different bands and of course war broke out.
I come back - I was called up, and that was more or less the end of that band. So when I come back from the
army in 1945 I decided to start my own family band and in 1946 there was quite a write-up in the paper
about us - probably some of you've seen it - The Glasgow Professional Band under 14.
JP: You were telling us about your war years. The instrument you were more concerned and involved
with there was the accordeon.
AF: Oh yes. But when I was called up, when I come back my first leave, I took my accordeon with me and I was playing
at a lot of concerts and the officers used to take me out every 2nd or 3rd night and playing till 1 and 2 in the morning. And
when I got back to camp I had to be up at the Reveille but they could lie in their bed. So not only that but with me being
the only musician all the females was all hanging over me with their beery breaths and of course it didn't suit me. So when
I came back I brought my accordeon back home again. I went back off leave. I landed there on a Sunday morning in
but I had no accordeon with me. So I had to get word to the major and the officers. So they got busy and sent me to
the YMCA, sent me to some church organisation but we couldna get an accordeon - for that - that was that particular
night - Sunday night. So they contacted the local music shop. Got him to come and open his premises on Sunday
afternoon and let me choose whatever instrument I wanted. So I done that. The following Friday they issued me with
a 72 hour pass to go and collect my accordeon, come back to
72 hour compassionate leave!
JP: Who was it compassionate for?!!
AF: But I was lucky because what happened, I was down on the list to go, all the lads that was called up were off to
doesn't go, he's keeping up the morale o' the home troops."
JP: You were away from the dulcimer for quite a long while; when did you take it up again?
AF: I never took the dulcimer up again until I heard of
the - well, first of all I was in
started making dulcimers there and exporting them to
about the group here had started, and that was wee Jimmie Roach who was a member at that time. He persuaded me
to come over and join the group. That's why I'm here.
JP: Yes. I was quite amazed to hear that he hadn't played for so many years. Talking about playing, would you
like to give us another few numbers?
selection from Andy: Old Scots Mother
of Mine /
../ The Bluebells of
Third tune selection from Andy: Bonnie Lass of Bon Accord (Scot Skinner) / .? .
JP: Fine. That was a great wee set Andy. That last one had a touch of the pipes to it. Is this another of your expertises?
AF: No. This was a number that was chosen way back in 1925/26, not sure of the year. It was chosen for a
dulcimer competition. That was the number that was to be played and I thought it was a wonderful piece.
The only trouble was that a lot of the dulcimer players called off and it never materialised but they crowned me
the Dulcimer King when they heard me play it.
JP: The first number you did in that set was That Old Scots Mother of Mine. I believe this has family associations.
AF: Yes, well, that selection, most of the selections you'll find out, is from Old Time. We specialised in Old
Time dance music and most of that selection is the Old Time dance music, but that first one - Old Scots Mother
of Mine - my father was a great singer, lovely tenor, and he used to sing that number as we started off and
then we broke into
JP: You feel your father has some influence on your musical development?
AF: Oh yes, yes. He was an Old Time MC as well as a great accordeon player and a great piccolo player,
and what he didn't know about Old Time dancing wasn't worth knowing.
JP: I believe in some ways you've been carrying on his tradition. I've got here in front of me an article
from the Sunday
any comments to make about that?
AF: That's right. That was a bowling club I was asked to go and play, a ten-pin bowling club in Anniesland.
There was only a fee of 30 shillings going for it and the dance was only for the maximum 45 minutes.
Actually it was only 40 minutes but it was supposed to be 45 minutes. And you couldnt get players who
would go and play for that amount of money. So I was a regular player in a band out at Milngavie Masonic
every Saturday and I got another player to take my place at the Masonic dance and I took this on and took my
family over. And this was a great thing. So much so that the police intervened and the inspector come up to me
and said to me "Do you know", he says, "that you're breaking the law?" I says "No. I don't think I'm breaking
the law. The children aren't getting paid." However he said "Well, you'll be charged." So I found myself in court
for the very first time through this. And when the case came up I was congratulated by the magistrate. If only all
the other parents in the city of
so busy, and he complemented me.
JP: So how long did this band carry on for?
AF: That band carried on till --er--- We played for the 45 club Old Time dance, strictly Old Time, and we played
for them for 10 years. We played a lot of the police dances and all other places too. But as I say, we
specialised in the Old Time.
JP: The family has split up a wee bit since then?
AF: Oh well yes.
The pianist Annie, the pianist, she's in
And she teaches music out there. She was nominated actually for the Director of Music - Musical - Director
of Music for
Her age beat her.
My oldest son - he's in he's the world star of
outstanding. The others play. A son out in
on now with the guitar and violin. I lost my other daughter, who was twice the winner of the Feis on violin.
She was really good. And one of the other boys in Burntisland, he leads again with the guitar.
JP: I remember your trip over to Canada last time you took a dulcimer with you.
AF: Yes I took a dulcimer over and I gave lessons on my
four granddaughters in
there for my son in law to decide by this time next year whoever has made the most progress has to get the dulcimer.
JP: You mention teaching. You've tried to get involved locally to encourage the youngsters of your area.
AF: Yes I did.
I tried to start a primary class for the dulcimer in
I persevered for 3 or 4 Tuesdays and I suppose I would have continued but the last night was my last. The couple of
gangs throwing stones and everything at the Boys Brigade. It was their night. And they're throwing them back of course.
And I got struck on the chest and they smashed the school windows. So I said "That's an end to my class."
JP: That's a great pity. Well perhaps you can divert your energies and attention to novices like myself who are
just coming up and need the tuition from the authorities like yourself who have been presenting the music to our group.
Would you like to give us another wee set of your music Andy?
Fourth tune selection from Andy: .(Scots set) .? ..
Fifth tune selection: ..(Irish set) ../ Father O'Flynn / .? ./ .? / Irish Washerwoman.
Sixth tune selection: Maggie (as an air) / Maggie (as a march) / ..? ../ ..? ../ Will ye no cam back again?
Seventh tune selection: (Scatterbrain??)
Eighth tune selection: (Waltz - name??)
Ninth tune selection: Mountains of Mourne / .? ../ .? / ..? ..
Tenth tune selection: Isle of Capri.
[END OF SIDE ONE ON TAPE]
selection: (American set) Yankee Doodle
Discussion / questions with Andy and the group. Chaired by Colin McAllister.
Question: I wonder if Andy has written anything about how to play dulcimer and how to - and on the music
of the dulcimer. I was just wondering if - I asked him earlier on how you functioned with the sticks and such
like and he gave a very good explanation of it. I was wondering if something like that could be recorded
maybe it's been written in the newsletter?
CMc: So something of the technique of playing, without being too technical, would be useful as well.
How d'you feel about that Andy? D'you think we could get that over - on a recording?
AF: I'm open to pass any knowledge at all to future players. You know that's one thing I love to do. I enjoy that,
and if anyone wants to know anything I'm only too pleased to pass it on an' I've got a lot of literature at home that
explains about the history of the instrument. You know I can go right back. In fact one report says 1100BC they've
discovered. But I've
got another report that it could be 3000BC. And then there's another report from
that says 900AD. But I more or less feel that the 1100BC is the most correct one. I could be wrong but that's
what I think's the most correct. But I was intended to write a book on it actually, and exercises an' that and I'm
compiling a lot of stuff just now and I'm hoping to do one, an' pass it on to the organiser Colin here, an' then it's
up to him if he wants to publish it as a group thingummy, ye know.
CMc: I think certainly one of the things we would like to do is to maybe get some kind of recorded list of
publications that could be available. Now through Jack here, Martyn Banks, a dulcimer maker who's visited
the group in the past, is the secretary of the dulcimer society which is a sort of British organisation, if not a
Western European organisation -'cause I think he handles correspondence from quite far afield, and he's in
contact with people
of these things. Certainly there are tutors that he has available and can sell us at the moment. But I think
it would be useful if we can get a kind of a reasonable list of publications and also maybe a list of just articles
and snippets that we can gather together because there's lots of information and history and knowledge available.
And on its own it's probably a limited form, but if we could get it together into scrapbooks or into some kind
of a file, it might be quite a useful thing to have.
Question: I know you said we can trace it back to 1100BC. Do you have any knowledge of it in Scotland?
AF: Well according to the books I have, it arrived in Europe in the 16th century, - the 16th century. And you see it was
discovered in the near east and of course the Greeks got hold of it and they being an original people, they done one or
two things with it, - bridges - an' got different scales an' that. They said it was called actually a santur at first. Now it's
called the santoor. But I've got quite a lot of stuff. One thing I'd like to, I meant to tell Colin this before, there's a radio
particularly good dulcimer players in
radio station .
From the floor: ..my .went to Los Angeles .that's in California.
AF: Well I was over there in
but they've only got two now. And as I've told the group here, there's five or six ways of tuning a dulcimer - different
systems ye know? And of course once you start one system you want to keep at that. I tested one in the Ford
Museum and it was exactly tuned to the same system as mine.
From the floor: It's nice to know they've got it right!
AF: So I was quite chuffed to find that - ye know because I havena' found any dulcimer players with the same system
around about there.
There used to be quite a few in Bellshill and
second or third house you went to in
see, an' 'course, if they didna' play a melodeon or a mouth organ, they'd play the dulcimer. But it's nice to get people
interested in it an' get them to go through it and get to know it. As I was telling Jim there, I never played the dulcimer
for over 50 years, but over 50 years ago when I did play, I was a player. I'm not a player now compared to 50 years
ago, and I'm not boasting when I say that, but I could play it in those days with two sticks in each hand, one stick
harmony and one stick melody an' that - you try it Jack!
CMc: Did you ever play the likes of glockenspiel or .
AF: No - no. I went from the mouth organ to the melodeon, from the melodeon to the dulcimer, from the dulcimer
to the trumpet, from the trumpet to the drums. And well, in between I was at the violin and one thing or another.
From the floor: The bagpipes?
AF: The bagpipes believe it or not I took them up an' that's what I thought I'd have finished up with that. I started
learning the bagpipes when I wanted to play my niece over in
and I was the main guest and I wanted to play - they knew I played all instruments - but there was no piper in the family
so I thought I'd surprise 'em. And I went down to the College of Piping and I asked. I'll not give you the expression that
the Pipe Major gave me, but he just said I was silly to think about it at 65. However I took it up and got a chanter.
He says to me, "I wouldn't say it's impossible, but . " I said, "Well, that's good enough for me."
He said, "Whaddaya mean?" I says, "You said you wouldn't think it's impossible." So I got a chanter and after about 7
weeks he says to me, "You've been practising lad, haven't you?" He said "How long d'ye practice?"
Well I says "Six hours a day." "What? No wonder!" he says. "Well", he says, "you can get the pipes any time."
Well as anyone knows anything about the pipes, you're on the chanter for 6 to 9 months before you get a look-in at the pipes.
I got the pipes right away after 2 months and I finished up, I achieved what I wanted. I went over there and played the
bride in and out, and popular at the time was Amazing Grace and I played that with my own band, for it backed me up
there because it was my own two sons and my two brothers was the band. And they backed me up and I felt confident
when they were backing me up and I played it. I don't think I've played Amazing Grace as well since! But, however,
I played that an' come back an' Angus McLellan of police says, "How's the pipes going Andrew?" I says, "Och", I says,
"I achieved what I wanted, Angus. I'm quite happy, I'm no botherin' about it." "Oh, don't let that stop ye" he says,
"you're a born piper", he says, "you've got the fingers", he says, "an' you've got the ability", he says. "No, no, keep
that on", he says, "in your old age it's a good thing for ye. It's a pity ye hadna' been at it when you were young",
he says, "you'd ha' been an outstanding piper."
Anyhow I finished up teaching the Boys Brigade and the Boy Scouts and I composed a march for the Boys Brigade
for their Centenary. There's only five bands have got the march. So - the Strathclyde Police are one of the bands
that's got it. It's a most unusual march. The first part is very typical pipe music, but the second part is open - to bring in bugles.
This is what I thought'd be a good thing for the Centenary to bring the bugles in with the .but I didn't
get to explain that - you know I wasna' at the - you know when they were being tested. So that was my experience with the pipes.
END OF ANDY FAGAN'S REMINISCENCES
Selections played by Wullie Brown:
First: When you're smiling / Bye Bye Blackbird / ? .
Second: Hi Lilly Hi Lo / Under the Bridges of Paris /
Third: Westering Home/ ? ./ ..?/ ..
the tape by Jenny Coxon.