JOCK DUNCAN was brought
up in the ballad-rich farming country around New Deer and Fyvie in
Aberdeenshire. He has been singing traditional songs and bothy ballads
as long as he can remember.
Jock's father had the
farm of Gelliebrae beside New Deer and Jock was born there in 1925.
Three years later Jock's father took over at South Faddenhill of Fyvie
when Jock's grandfather gave up the farm. Jock grew up to take his part
in the every day work of the farm and by the age of 10 he was good
enough to be driving a horse at the plough.
One of the major
influences on Jock's music was his mother. Jock writes: My mother was
what I would term 'the stang o the trump' [the best of the bunch], a
fine pianist and accompanist to the many fine fiddle players who graced
the great splores [house ceilidhs] she organised in the ben the hoose
end at Faddenhill. We could listen or participate singing the ald
Scots sangs and ballads, the ald bothy ballads and the new cornkisters
of Willie Kemp and George Morris. They were my pop idols made famous
with the advent of their '78' Beltona records in the early 1930s.
Halcyon days indeed!
Jock's elder sister
Marion was a great singer, and also his father's cousin, Charlie Duncan,
who often visited Faddenhill. It was from him he picked up the style of Harlaw
and many of the bothy ballads including Drumdelgie. Jock's
brother Jimmy played fiddle. Jock also plays moothie and diddles and as
a boy he took chanter lessons with piper Peter Elder (ex. of the Scots
Guards) who had a 'wee shoppie' beside Millbrex School where Jock was
Another major influence
was the great traditional singer John Strachan, farmer at the farm of
Crichie the other side of Fyvie. Jock's father and mother knew him well
and often invited him to the musical evenings at Faddenhill on a winter
evening. John Strachan brought his songs into the local schools and to
the WRI concerts in the local village hall telling stories and
singing songs accompanying himself with a concertina on his knee. Jock
well remembers singing along with the chorus of Down by the Farmyard
Gate. During the war the BBC broadcast an occasional programme of
songs and John Strachan stories live from Crichie. Jock's brother, Fred
remembers hearing the programme when out in the desert in North Africa
in 1943. Jock learned his versions of both Bonnie Udny and Rhynie
from John Strachan.
When he finished school
at the age of 14 Jock worked for a couple of years at Faddenhill. Then
in 1943, when he was 18, he joined the Air Force and finished up in Lyon
in France. After the war Jock was back in the North East working on
farms for a short while and during that time Jock formed a bothy ballad
concert party 'The Fyvie Loons and Quines'.
Then Jock moved from the
area taking a job with the Hydro Board working first in Caithness and
finishing up at Pitlochry where he has lived ever since. Being out of
the North East put him out of touch with other singers and on his return
visits he found the ballad singers fast disappearing. But Jock never
lost his rich Doric speech nor his love of the old ballads and songs nor
his sense of 'place' and knowledge of local tradition and history. His
enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, traditional music has no doubt been
partly responsible for launching his two sons into the world of piping,
Iain as Pipe Major of the Vale of Atholl Pipe Band and Gordon being
involved there and also as a very highly regarded solo piper.
In 1975 Jock entered and
won the bothy ballad competition at the Kinross Festival and he has
taken part in the Auchtermuchty Festival every year since it started in
1981. In 1978 Jock took part in the Bothy Ballad King competition held
open air before an audience of over 12,000 at Turriff where he gained
third place. Jock is now recognised as one of Scotland's finest
traditional singers. The richness of his repertoire and quality and
style of his singing reflect the pedigree of his musical influences. His
knowledge of traditional songs, including as it does several of the
older classic ballads and his all inclusive repertoire of bothy ballads
is today unique.
Peter Shepheard © 1996
can purchase a CD of his songs at Springthyme Records