Fiddle-L Anthology 1999

A Tour 'Round The World Of Fiddling

Performer Bio



Eric Cullingworth Falconer, Kelso, Roxburghshire, Scotland (

Eric was born April 16, 1951, in Galashiels, Scottish Borders, Scotland. He has a degree in American History and is currently a teacher.


Eric's heritage is Scottish (Borders), and English (Yorkshire). His father was born in Blainslie, Scottish Borders; his mother came from Billingley, Yorkshire, England. Great-uncle Wullie played the violin, and the rest of the musicians in Eric's family were all accordionists. "It's a cross I've learned to bear," Eric writes (with a smile?). In 1994 he began playing the violin in his native country of Scotland. "I had about half a dozen lessons soon after starting from Lucy Cowan -- a teacher and player of style and humour. She plays a lot of baroque music and she's interested in everything. No further formal lessons -- I'm still learning from Lucy's lessons. I think I'm getting a lesson every time I play with somebody else, or listen to them. It's great talking to other fiddlers. There's quite a few kids round here who play the fiddle well. I learn a lot from them." Eric has attended a couple of summer schools with Alastair Fraser and Buddy MacMaster, and various workshops with a range of fiddlers -- Catriona MacDonald, Iain MacFarlane, Jimmy Nagle, Chris Leslie. "Catriona's a brilliant teacher, by the way." The first tune Eric learned was Far Frae Hame; "I used to be Ian King's backup man on guitar (Ian's also on this tape) and Ian played this a lot. I got to know it through hearing it and wanted to play it. [There are] so many great tunes I could never pick just one as my favourite. It'll tend to be the one I'm learning -- I'll get a great buzz out of playing it and I'll play it over and over again -- that's if I manage to learn it! I do keep coming back to "Ashokan Farewell" though. I love playing it. It's my treat at the end of a long practice session. I'll just play Ashokan Farewell through a few times. Fabulous tune. [The fiddler who plays the best rendition] has to be Jay Ungar -- that was the version I heard first." Eric notes among his favorite fiddlers are Alastair Fraser, Andy McGann, Buddy MacMaster and Jerry Holland. "Watching and listening to Catriona MacDonald playing a slow air is amazing. Come to think about it I'd rather my favourite fiddler looked like Catriona."


Eric enjoys playing "the usual range of Scottish -- jigs, strathspeys, marches, airs, hornpipes. I'd like to explore [cross tuning]. I do play chords when accompanying another fiddle or melody instrument." In addition to fiddle, he plays guitar, whistle, bodhran, and Scottish small-pipes. While fiddling, his preferred backup is generally the guitar. "It's good to try different things though." Eric is part of "a wee occasional ceilidh band playing for a wee occasional dance" (Clarty Cloot Ceilidh Band). Besides these dances, he mainly plays in homes and pubs. Although he has not played for a wedding service, Eric says he's hoping to play at his own wedding.


"There is only one fiddle contest anywhere near here that I have attended -- that's at the Newcastleton Music Festival every summer. I quite like to listen. It's another environment to hear playing in. You hear the technique that people use up front, although I wouldn't say you ever hear anybody at their best in this environment. It's an odd quiet, formal atmosphere when music is belting out from the pubs all around the hall where the contest is held. That doesn't stop me enjoying the experience. It's probably good for a player's technique to prepare for something like this." Although he has yet to compete, "[that's] not to say I never will. I've played the fiddle in an "instrumental pairs" contest, but we weren't placed." Eric believes a good contest judge is "somebody who [is a fiddler and] can judge technique and still hear the tune."


"The music I am really into and that I grew up with is Scottish music. I love emotional slow airs, rhythmic strathspeys lifting into birlin reels -- and all that. I want to get better as a Scottish fiddler, although it's by no means the only style I'm interested in. Hector MacAndrew is the [most influential early musician] they all talk about." Eric's answer to our question of how many styles there are overall -- "How high the moon?" In his region, Scottish and Irish styles dominate.


Eric's violin is German, late 19th Century. It is a Maggini type, and has a big, bright sound, with a lot of bite in the lower regions ("so to speak"). He uses a Willy Wolf Forte-Primo shoulder rest, and Dogal blues strings: "They suit the fiddle well." The history of his bow is unknown, but Eric describes it as lightish but not too light.


"I love the music and the sound of a fiddle. Although it's not the only instrument I play it's become very much the main one. I understand Peter Milne's comment from many years back -- he was from Tarland in North-East Scotland and one of Scott Skinner's teachers. He "was that fond o' my fiddle I could sit inside it and look oot". Peter Milne wrote "John McNeil's Reel" which I've put on the tape.


For the tape, Eric chose to record Highland Whiskey, a strathspey by Niel Gow, and John McNeil's Reel, by Peter Milne; he learned these tunes some time ago from Ian King. Ian and Eric have also recorded a combined set of Laddie wi the Plaidie and Scott Skinner's Miss Shepherd.