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Fiddler Tam : An 18th century bon viveur and virtuoso violinist, Thomas Erskine is currently being ‘rediscovered’ by the classical music industry.
Fiddler Tam

Thomas Erskine, 6th Earl of Kellie, was a Scottish musician and composer, who also founded a racy ‘gentleman’s club’ in Edinburgh called the Capillaire. His music has long been forgotten, and much of it is lost, but people are at last realising just how good some of it is.

AS a young man of twenty Thomas Erskine, Sixth Earl of Kellie, was passionate about music, but scarcely able to tune his own violin.

A four-year visit to Joseph Stamitz in Mannheim changed all that.

On his return in 1756, his new-found virtuosity earned him the nickname ‘Fiddler Tam’.

Soon he was delighting Edinburgh and London with symphonies and string quartets in the extravagant Mannheim style. But by his own admission, his best work was the scribbles he dashed off for every band of musicians he met, and never published.

Something of a bon viveur, the Earl founded a spicy gentleman’s club in Edinburgh which hosted lavish society balls, with the wife of General John Scott of Balcomie and Bellevue turning up to one in a necklace worth over £30,000.*

Sadly, this fast-paced lifestyle took its toll. In 1781, after a brief visit to Spa in Belgium for his failing health, Thomas succumbed to a fever and died in Brussels, aged just 49.

* Equivalent to about £3.25m in real terms today (measuringworth.com).

Information taken gratefully from: History of Leith, Edinburgh; Wikipedia; Significant Scots (Electric Scotland).

The Earl of Kellie’s Reel

The foot-tapping tune below was written by ‘Fiddler Tam’ for his Capillaire Club in Edinburgh.

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Picture: From Wikimedia Commons. View original
Scottish violinist Neil Gow, pictured here in a painting by Henry Raeburn, was a contemporary of Thomas Erskine.
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