Niel Gow

Annual Scottish fiddle festival

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The 15th Niel Gow festival will be held in the beautiful and historic Perthshire village of Dunkeld & Birnam, home of Niel Gow.

16th to 18th March, 2018 - put these dates in your diary now!


















The Annual Niel Gow Festival was established in 2004 to celebrate the life and music of Perthshire's fiddle legend. It is envisaged that through time the festival and other activities will gather enough funds to erect a fitting memorial to Niel Gow in Dunkeld & Birnam.



Niel Gow (1727 - 1807)

Niel Gow (not Neil Gow) was born in Strathbraan on 22nd March 1727 and grew up in the village of Inver, by Dunkeld. How he acquired his first fiddle, and who or what sparked his desire to play, one can only guess.

Niel was essentially a self-taught musician, though at the age of thirteen he did receive some instruction, from John Cameron of Grandtully. He undoubtedly had a flair for fiddling and was an admired and respected exponent of the art by the time he was twenty. Having forsaken the trade of plaid weaving for a career as a musician, Niel Gow travelled extensively throughout Scotland , performing in most major towns and cities at parties and balls in the grand homes of the wealthy. Such was his reputation, he was always in great demand, and nowhere more so than on his home ground, where he would regularly be called upon to perform at Dunkeld House and at Blair Castle for the Duke and Duchess of Atholl (by whom he was paid an annuity of five pounds). 

Niel Gow frequently performed solo or with Donald, his brother, on 'cello. When occasion demanded, the band would also have included perhaps one or more of his sons, together with Samson Duncan of Kinclaven on fiddle. The line-up may have been further augmented by piano, but this would have depended very much on where the band was playing.

As a tunesmith, Niel's inspiration was all around, be it people, places or events. Although his compositions include jigs, reels and strathspeys his is perhaps best remembered for his beautiful slow airs, most of which mark the passing of relative or close friend. 

Tunes were, then as now, often conveyed aurally, from player to player, changing and evolving in the process. The origins of many have become obscured by the passage of time, the identity of their composers lost forever. Fortunately, many tunes are preserved on manuscript in collections such as the Athole Collection and those published by Nathaniel Gow in Edinburgh.

Niel Gow married twice. His Eight children, three daughters and five sons, all came from his first marriage, to Margaret Wiseman. Four of Niel's sons took up the fiddle. (His fifth son Daniel, died in infancy.) Nathaniel, born in 1763, in particular made a name for himself as a performer and composer, and started a successful music publishing business in Edinburgh.

Niel Gow's second wife, Margaret Urquhart, died in 1805. Niel himself died on 1st March 1807, just three weeks short of his eightieth birthday. He lies buried in the little Dunkeld churchyard.

From the CD sleeve notes of 'Even Now' by Pete Clark.



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Last modified: 20 March 2017