James Alexander (Biography courtesy of the Artist's site, 2006)
James Alexander was born in 1955 on a farm called Hillhead, near the town of Buckie which lies about seven miles from Fochabers, and attended a small country school before going to Buckie High School. He began learning the fiddle at about the age of eight. There was very little tuition at that time in schools in the area, and he recollected that: "My mother had the idea that there should be, so she wrote and asked if it was a possibility to learn to play the fiddle in school." His parents were both musical, and his mother played the harmonium for the Sunday School at church; indeed his first introduction to a musical instrument was through playing this. He has one brother that played the fiddle initially, but later settled on the pipes as his main instrument. James has two daughters, Claire and Susan, both of whom play the fiddle.
His first and main violin teacher was Steven Merson from Buckie who was "a great influence" and taught James for around ten years until the time that he left school. James started off learning tunes such as "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "Colin's Cattle". He commented that there was very little Scottish music when he first began playing: "The particular teacher didnít really like teaching Scottish music. In fact, he had a certain idea that maybe playing Scottish traditional music was bad for the technique and tried to sort of channel us away from that."
James had an interest in Scottish music from a young age, however. Despite not playing it in his lessons with Steven Merson, he practised Scottish fiddle music at home and learned tunes and technique from fiddle books, watching other people playing on the television, listening to radio and meeting other players. He remembered practising a lot if he liked certain tunes and in the run up to his Grade 8 Associated Board of Music exam, and would practise for more than an hour on certain days. In addition to his Scottish fiddling, he played in string quartets and in school orchestras. James also grew up with some very good players of around his age, such as the well known Scottish fiddler and violinist, Douglas Lawrence, with whom he used to play for long periods on an almost daily basis (go to Paul Anderson - Fiddle Teachers to hear an audio track of Douglas's playing). James, then, is typical of many fiddlers from the North East who straddle both the traditional and classical music worlds. Apart from Steven Merson, James had lessons from Hebbie Gray to help reinforce the Scottish aspects of his playing, and went on to study classical violin with Hugh Bean from London and then Peter Mountain.
Interestingly, there were few fiddlers from the older generation around in the local area when James was growing up. He said: "There was a farm down the road where there was still a kind of bothy tradition, and one of the guys there played the accordion and again that's another thing that got me playing Scottish music, trying to pull in and out the bellows of an accordion." His decision to learn Scottish fiddle was mainly down to the fact that he was learning the violin at school and liked Scottish music.
James began to get more intensively involved in Scottish fiddle playing when, at the age of twelve, he started to enter some of the competitions at the fiddle festivals which take place annually in Scotland e.g. at Banchory, Kirriemuir and Elgin. He recollected: "Entering these kind of introduced me to people from different parts of the country and we got to know each other, and a kind of rapport built up, a sort of camaraderie as it were." At this point, the categories in the competitions were geared towards solo performance, with little in the way of group performing, and few youngsters participated.
James is very well-known as a fiddler and teacher in the North-East of Scotland, and is the leader of a group called The Fochabers Fiddlers.
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