Liner Notes

Tunes from the John Neilson Music Book

VRCD 380

1. Culcuttie Hornpipe/ Within a Mile of Dublin/ Peterburgh Reel
2. Set of Jigs
3. My Skiff is by the Shore
4. Lilling Polka
5. Gille Callum/ Reel of Tulloch/ Biodag air MacThomais
6. Jenny Bell Schottische
7. Jackson’s Morning Brush/ Maid on the Green
8. Duncan Davidson/ Earl Grey/ Petronella/ Duke of Perth/ Brickwork Lasses
9. Whittel’s Celebrated Clog/ English Hornpipe
10. The Speaking Waltz
11. Bothwell Polka
12. The Rock and the Wee Pickle Tow/ Queen Victory Country Dance
13. Napoleon’s Grand March
14. Glasgow Hornpipe/ Dicky Gossip’s Hornpipe
15. Auld Scotch Sangs

The John Neilson Music Book is a hand written violin manuscript from Cuilhill, Scotland, dated 1875. It provides a fascinating glimpse into the dance music of the Victorian era in Scotland, as well as some great tunes that are as danceable today as when they were written down over 125 years ago. The manuscript contains an interesting mix of traditional Scottish, English, and Irish tunes, as well as Continental ballroom music.

This CD presents a sampling of these tunes, played by master dance musicians who are familiar with this music.

The John Neilson Music Book from Cuilhill, Scotland, contains one hundred and twenty tunes, including reels, hornpipes, jigs, strathspeys, marches, waltzes, polkas, schottisches, quadrilles, a slip jig, a polka mazurka, and a varsouvienne, plus two song melodies. In the 19th century, dances such as the waltz and the polka were becoming popular in Scotland, threatening to replace the traditional Scottish country dances. By the later part of the century, a typical dance would include both the old and new types of dances.

The manuscript was started by John Neilson in 1875; Andrew Wilson appears to have been a subsequent owner of and contributor to it, probably in the 1890’s. We do not know anything about either of these men. The original manuscript is currently in the museum archive at Fort Steele Historic Park, British Columbia. It was donated to the archive in 1981 by someone from Arcata, California. But how and when it arrived in California is a mystery.

Cuilhill was a coal mining village two miles west of Coatbridge, in Old Monkland, Lanarkshire, between Glasgow and Airdrie, on the Monkland Canal. It consisted of several rows of houses that were rented to workers by the mine owners. Employment in the mines, canals, ironworks, and railroads attracted thousands of workers to the area. Some were Highland Scots, but most were Irish immigrants. Today the canal is largely filled in, Cuilhill no longer exists, and the site is part of the town of Bargeddie.

Music was important in the lives of the miners. In his 1888 book “The Miners of Scotland,” Robert Haddow wrote that the miner “is fond of music, and is often a good musician. In almost every village a band may be found, and some of them have a high reputation for excellence. One would suppose that a collier would be about the last man who could play the violin well, for his work necessarily knocks his hands out of shape and stiffens his fingers; but for all that there are colliers who as fiddlers would surprise some of the swell amateurs who look on themselves as budding Paganinis.”

When recording these tunes from the manuscript, we did not always play the music exactly as written; some of it has been slightly re-arranged.

1. Culcuttie Hornpipe/ Within a Mile of Dublin/ Peterburgh Reel - The title of the first tune may refer to “Curcuddie,” a Scottish children’s game in which the dancers squat, kick, and hop in a circle. “Within a Mile of Dublin” is found under several names in many Irish and Scottish music collections. “Peterburgh Reel” is a version of “Mr. Stewart Dowally’s Reel,” written by Robert Petrie and published in 1790.

2. Set of Jigs - In the manuscript these tunes are not titled but are only numbered. No. 1 is a version of the Scottish/Irish jig “Light and Airy,” first published in the late 19th century. No. 3 is the Irish jig “The Road to Skye” or “The Rover.”

3. My Skiff is by the Shore - Also known as “Come, Oh! Come With Me” and “Linden Waltz,” this tune was first published in 1842. “My Skiff is by the Shore” is the name of the 1848 minstrel parody version, which appears in James Kerr’s Merry Melodies.

4. Lilling Polka - Composed as “Lillian Polka” by Charles d’Albert, this tune was published in London in 1854. It appears in the George H. Watson Manuscript from Swanton Abbott, Norfolk, ca.1880.

5. Gille Callum/ Reel of Tulloch/ Biodag air MacThomais - “Gille Callum” is a Scottish tune from the early 18th century, often used for the traditional Sword Dance. The “Reel of Tulloch” is a 17th century bagpipe piece attributed to John Dubh Gear, and is traditionally danced by four men. “Biodag Air Mac Thomais” or “Thomas’ Son Wears a Dirk” appears in several 19th century collections of Scottish music.

6. Jenny Bell Schottische - This tune was written by H. T. Swatton and published in London in 1862. It is also in the George H. Watson manuscript. In the Neilson manuscript, there is no title for the tune.

7. Jackson’s Morning Brush/ Maid on the Green - “Jackson’s Morning Brush” was written by Irish gentleman musician Walker “Piper” Jackson in the late 18th century. The title may refer to the brush used by a piper to clean his instrument after playing dance tunes all night. Or it may refer to the tail of a fox, since Jackson was fond of fox hunting. “The Maid on the Green” is an Irish jig also popular in Scotland and North America, and is found in many old tune collections.

8. Duncan Davidson/ Earl Grey/ Petronella/ Duke of Perth/ Brickwork Lasses - “Duncan Davidson” is a Scottish strathspey from the late 18th century. “Earl Grey” was composed by James Hill of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and named after a local pub. “Petronella” is Scottish in origin, first published in 1817. It is usually played for the country dance of the same name. “The Duke of Perth” is a Scottish reel from the mid 18th century, also linked with a country dance of the same name.

9. Whittel’s Celebrated Clog/ English Hornpipe - In the manuscript, the name of the first tune is wildly mis-spelled as “Whittels Celerbeth Clog Hornpipe Amarica.” It has some resemblance to the Irish tune “Walsh’s Hornpipe.”

10. The Speaking Waltz - This tune is also in the George Watson manuscript.

11. Bothwell Polka - Bothwell is a few miles south of Cuilhill. The phrasing in this polka is quite irregular; perhaps it was intended as a combination of gallop and polka.

12. The Rock and the Wee Pickle Tow/ Queen Victory Country Dance - The first tune is a British Isles folk song about a wife who refused to spin. A “rock” is the weight attached to a spindle, and a “wee pickle tow” is a small piece of prepared short flax or wool fibers. The melody appears in the 1663 edition of Playford’s Musicks Hand-Maid as “A Scotish March,” and it is also in many published 18th and 19th century Scottish collections. “Queen Victory Country Dance” is different from the tune usually used for the Queen Victoria Country Dance.

13. Napoleon’s Grand March - Also known as “Bonaparte’s March,” this English or Scottish tune is found in many 19th century English fiddlers’ manuscripts, as well as in Kerr’s Merry Melodies. In the Neilson manuscript it is called simply “The Grand March.”

14. Glasgow Hornpipe/ Dicky Gossip’s Hornpipe - “Glasgow Hornpipe” is Irish or Scottish, and is in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland. “Dicky Gossip” appears in several Irish mid-19th century manuscripts.

15. Auld Scotch Sangs - This song is in the Morven Collection of Scottish Songs, published by Mozart Allan of Glasgow in 1895.
Calum plays fiddle on the Gille Callum medley, the Set of Jigs, The Rock and the Wee Pickle Tow medley, and Auld Scotch Sangs. Vivian plays fiddle on the Speaking Waltz, Jenny Bell Schottische, Lilling Polka, Bothwell Polka, My Skiff is on the Shore, Jackson’s Morning Brush medley, Glasgow Hornpipe medley, Culcuttie Hornpipe medley, and Napoleon’s Grand March. Both are playing fiddle on the Duncan Davidson medley.

Laurie Andres was trained and educated in classical piano and began playing for contra dances in his hometown of Baltimore. His command of an encyclopaedic repertoire of the cream of the ancient tunes learned directly from traditional masters or their recordings has made him a popular teacher and player at dance events across the country. He has been a strong leader in the Seattle contra community for several decades.
Calum MacKinnon was born in Scotland and spent his early years growing up on the Isle of Tiree. He started fiddling at 8 years old and made his first broadcast performance on BBC Radio at age 12. As a young engineer, Calum came to America in 1966, and today, having “given up Boeing for bowing,” is a full time fiddler. He is highly sought after as a performer, dance musician, and teacher.
Terry Wergeland received his formal musical education in the San Francisco Bay Area. After relocating to Seattle in his late 20’s, he has continued to explore a wide variety of musical activities, including composition, conducting, performance and teaching in classical, jazz and folk idioms on the piano, organ, trumpet and accordion. He is much in demand as a dance musician.
Phil Williams was born in Seattle, Washington and raised in Olympia. He first learned to play guitar from his father, who was from Kentucky. He is known for his solid backup work on guitar, and is also an accomplished player on bass and mandolin. Phil has produced and recorded many albums of traditional music.
Vivian Williams was born and raised in Tacoma, Washington and took classical violin lessons starting at age 9. After graduating from college, she switched to fiddle, becoming acquainted with many styles. She is a fiddle champion and a dance fiddler, and is the editor and publisher of the Neilson Music Book.

Recorded at Voyager Recordings studio by Phil Williams. Mixed by Laurie Andres & Phil Williams.
Artwork & notes by Vivian Williams.

The book entitled “The John Neilson Music Book,” containing the entire collection of tunes from the manuscript along with historical information, is available from Voyager at

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