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Emotional tribute to founder James Alexander at closing concert for Speyfest 25


By Ewan Malcolm

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AN EMOTIONAL closing day at Speyfest was a tribute to founding member James M Alexander.

An emotional moment for Clare Alexander, James' daughter. playing on Sunday. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
An emotional moment for Clare Alexander, James' daughter. playing on Sunday. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

The renowned fiddle player and teacher died earlier this year and Speyfest 25 was dedicated to his memory.

The festival opened with a minute’s applause in memory of James led by his four grandsons, while Sunday saw his musical legacy honoured with a performance from some of his closest musical colleagues including Charlie McKerron, Douglas Lawrence, Paul Anderson and Gregor Borland.

Other Speyfest legends, Roddy Munro, Joe Duncan and Charlie Glass, were also honoured over the weekend.

Performers throughout the weekend – including Phil Cunningham – spoke of their fondness and love for James, and how he inspired generations of people to get involved in Scottish traditional music.

The closing concert on Sunday saw Colin Campbell play with James' fiddle.

Colin said: "It just seemed a shame for his fiddle not to be played this year so I asked Clare and Susan (James' daughters) if I could play it and they were delighted. It was very emotional actually.

"When I opened it for the first time he would have been the last person to play it so it was really emotional but I really enjoyed playing it and I'm sure he would have approved as well.

Colin Campbell performs with James Alexander's fiddle on Sunday.Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Colin Campbell performs with James Alexander's fiddle on Sunday.Picture: Daniel Forsyth

"He was very very positive and he loved life and he loved music and I'm sure that's what he would have wanted for this weekend."

First held in 1995, Speyfest has grown from a local event with one small tent holding around 300 people, to a 1500-capacity festival.

The festival was founded by James in 1995. Having played with the Fochabers Fiddlers and a number of Scottish trad bands, James realised what a spectacular setting Fochabers would be for a summer event showcasing traditional music, dance and crafts.

James Alexander at the end of the Sunday session from the Fochabers' Fiddlers in 2019. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
James Alexander at the end of the Sunday session from the Fochabers' Fiddlers in 2019. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

Colin had known James since 1979.

"I think I was probably one of his first private pupils. That was just after he had started being a fiddle teacher. He was a great friend and he was very good at giving advice."

He paid tribute to It was a big ask for anybody to step into his shoes but I think Ashley has done a great job.

Douglas Lawrence said: "Today was a difficult day in a lot of ways but we did our best to keep it as James wanted. We're going to keep the music alive as it were and I think we did it.

"It was always going to be a difficult day but I'm glad we did it.

"His legacy will go on with Speyfest continuing. It's just got bigger every year really.

Dougie Lawrence was a long time friend of James Alexander. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Dougie Lawrence was a long time friend of James Alexander. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

"I knew James for the best part of 55 years and even though we have gone our separate ways at times the music really kept us together. It's great for that."

Gregor Borland met James in the early 80s and they became great friends.

"He's just had such a huge influence on everybody.

"It was bizarre not being on stage with James. When Hector the Hero was being played, I was just thinking how fitting a tribute that is because that was really James' kind of tune. It felt like he was there even. It;s strange saying that but it just felt right. It was strange not having him though.

Andrew Walker of Tour Bus Fortune.Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Andrew Walker of Tour Bus Fortune.Picture: Daniel Forsyth

"He's just a huge loss but I think there are lots of good things to come out of it. There are some great fiddlers there now and that is really his legacy."

James' daughter Clare Alexander said: "It's been a hard weekend but amazing in terms of the ticket sales, the atmosphere, the amount of effort that everybody has put in. Everybody has really upped their game and it has completely paid off.

"Bitter sweet in that it would have been amazing if dad could have seen it and how it has all come together but everybody has really done him proud which I think was the real aim.

"He's left a legacy and to have James' friends come along to perform and do it so eloquently and thoughtfully and knowing how hard it was for them as well was amazing.

"It felt just right for dad.

"It really does speak volumes for what he was all about and the difference he made to so many people."

Speyfest chairwoman Ashleigh MacGregor takes part in the closing concert. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Speyfest chairwoman Ashleigh MacGregor takes part in the closing concert. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

His other daughter, Susan Alexander, added: "It's been brilliant. Just a really good weekend. Everyone has really enjoyed it and it's gone as well as everyone could have hoped. It exceeded expectations. It's been difficult at times but it's been lovely to see so many people and just have all his friends around."

More than 4000 people passed through the gates over the three days, with more than 70 musicians across 39 performances, all backed by around 100 sponsors and supporters. Whisky and gin tastings, a craft fair, musical workshops and a Celtic Kirk service completed the packed schedule.

WATCH: Red Hot Chilli Pipers open Speyfest 25

Local and emerging talent including The Milne’s High School Fiddlers, The Arc Fiddlers and Colin Campbell delighted audiences alongside the biggest names on the traditional music scene today including the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Phil Cunningham, RURA, Elephant Sessions, Skerryvore, Duncan Chisholm, Anna Massie and Claire Hastings.

Speyfest Association Chairwoman Ashleigh Macgregor said: “It was truly fantastic to see so many people flooding through the gates of Speyfest. We’d like to thank everyone who has supported the festival’s return and who cares so deeply about this special event.

“This weekend was a reminder of just how important Speyfest is in providing a platform for local musical talent and makers, bringing exceptional music to Fochabers and a place for the community to gather together in celebration once again. It has been a heartwarming three days.

“It was also incredibly important to us that James Alexander’s incredible impact on the festival and traditional music was honoured and I know so many of us were incredibly moved by the minute’s applause and Sunday’s musical tribute. We hope we made him proud this weekend, it has been well worth the wait for the whole team involved.”

Over the last 25 years, Speyfest has grown from a local event with one small tent holding around 300 people, to a 1500-capacity tented village welcoming visitors and families of all ages.

Skerryvore headlined on the closing Sunday of Speyfest. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Skerryvore headlined on the closing Sunday of Speyfest. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

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