CHAPTER 4: Dulcimers in the British Isles since 1800 > Dulcimers in Scotland

Recorded on 78-rpm discs: 2 of 4

In 1934 another set of four tracks was made, by Donald Cumming, button accordion and Eddie Holmes, dulcimer, recorded in Boston, USA, but released in England as well:


Cock of the North/Bonny Dundee/Pibroch O'Donald Dhua - Highland Marches


Miss Stuart/Whistle Stuart/Whistle o'er the Love o't/Wha' Whadna Fecht for Charlie - Sword Dance

(Decca F 5472)


The Punch Bowl/The Triumph


High Road to Linton/Speed the Plough/Mason's Apron/Miss McLeod

Donald Cumming, button accordion, Eddie Holmes, dulcimer

(Decca F5073)

The texture of the first selection consists of the accordion playing melody only, no left-hand, while the dulcimer vamps bass and chords, rather in the same way as would a piano, and comparable with Ukraine cymbaly style, and perhaps also Hungarian cimbalom.

The second track, by contrast, has a very different dulcimer style, playing just open chords - or even drones - not distinguishing between bass and chord; Reg Hall has pointed out the similarity between this and the accompanying of the MacFarlane of (James) Hiddlestone & MacFarlane, who plays autoharp (sometimes listed as 'zither-harp'), producing much the same effect. No effort is made to damp the sounds, and, whilst the end result of a human endeavour seldom reveals the original ambitions, it seems that the undamped effect must have been the result of choice rather than simply imposed by circumstances.

In the fast reels (recording 39052) the contrast between the hyper-active accordion, playing very lightly and staccato, and the somewhat lethargic effect of the undamped dulcimer, often only playing two or three beats in a four-beat bar, may seem nowadays a little incongruous; but it must be remembered that this was before the crisp 'big-band' sound of Jimmy Shand and his imitators had evolved, and is presumably a fairly typical example of the sound of Scots dance music of the generation before him: Jimmy Cooper mentioned that melodion and dulcimer was a standard combination in the 1920s.