Caithness Citizen of the Year Award - 2001

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The following article appeared in the John O'Groat Journal on the 30th November 2001 following the presentation of an award to Addie at the first Caithness Civic Award Ceremony organised by the Highland Council.

So Many Strings to His Bow

Addie Harper used to try and look as inconspicuous as possible as he made his way to his fiddle lessons - but the self-conscious youngster was destined to take centre stage as a true ambassador for his country's traditional music.  Profile by Noel Donaldson.

There can be few halls in Scotland that have not echoed to the toe-tapping music of Adie Harper and his Wick Scottish Dance Band.  Count in radio broadcasts, records and a host of charity appearances over half a century and it all adds up to a phenomenal contribution to our traditional music culture.

Addie receiving his award from Willie Watt.Yet if you accept that talent is, to a certain extent, inherited, the seeds of his gift for his native music were not sown in Caledonia but far away in Argentina.

Addie's dad, Robbie "the sheep-shearer" Harper, got his byname from his days in Patagonia where he worked in the sheep-rearing scheme.  When he returned home, he brought with him a wealth of the West Coast melodies he had picked up from the Lewis and Harris men who worked alongside him.

Robbie would delight in playing the tunes on his melodeon in the family's Stirkoke home but it was the only instrument in the house and Addie was one of a family of four, he was often hard-pressed to get a turn of the boxie.  His musical education was put on a firmer footing at the age of five - a fiddle was presented to him by the famous evangelist Jock Troup during one of his holidays in the neighbourhood.  Such was Addie's musical appetite that he added another string to his bow when a mandolin banjo came into the house.

A benefactor, one Mrs Murray of Greystones Farm, who admired the lad's promise, arranged formal music lessons with local teacher Miss Margaret Henderson, on of the old school whose painstaking no-nonsense methods earned her an enviable reputation.

Formal tuition was a big step as private lessons were regarded as "sissy" in those days and Addie chuckled as he recalled that he wasn't the first of her pupils to take a tortuous detour to her house in Williamson Street, through the back streets, clutching his fiddle case and lancing about furtively for fear of being spotted by one of his fellow school pupils.  Addie recalled:  "I had made up my mind to tap gently on her door before it could be answered.  But Miss Henderson had seen me approaching, flung open the door and gave me a warm welcome."

It was the start of a productive association.  Addie came on in leaps and bounds and inevitably his ability took him into the public arena - first with the Bilbster Band and then with his own outfit, the Wick Scottish Dance Band, which was to form its own niche along with the best of the traditional groups.

They soon began to make a name for themselves, attracting busloads of fans to their dances.

Their success led to a BBC audition which they passed with flying colours.  The band never looked back and began travelling all over Scotland.

Records were a natural progression to keep pace with the public demand for the Wick Scottish sound.

Their first disc was recorded in Jimmy Johnstone's Grampian studio in Wick in 1964, a cut above the surroundings at their first recording session.  Addie revealed:   "It was a promotional record for our own use.  We were taped in a hen shed in Junction Road, Kirkwall - but they managed to get rid of the chickens before we arrived."

The rest is history - a steady stream of public performances, many of them for charity, and many more recordings.  A lot of the tunes came from Addie's prolific pen.   For some of them, Addie played the banjo and Hawaiian guitar which caused a bit of a stir in purist circles when they were first introduced.

Addie (74) is still composing and has a compilation book coming out for the Christmas market.  Although retired, there's nothing more he enjoys more than a tune at home.   Helping to keep the proud Scottish music tradition going is Addie's wife Isobel and son, young Addie Harper.