Tom Anderson

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Photo by Dennis Coutts from 1964 40 Fiddlers record

Dr. Tom (Tammie) Anderson, (1910-1991), affectionately known to his peers as 'Muckle Tammie', is widely recognised as the saviour of traditional Shetland fiddle music.


Born at 'Moorfield' in Eshaness on the 29th of August 1910, he was the oldest child of James Anderson (b. 26 Sep 1879, Hamnavoe, Northmavine) and his wife Harriet Margaret Johnson (b. 24 Apr 1882, Avensgarth, Northmavine). He married Barbara Morrison, a teacher, (b. 17 Oct 1901, Garderhouse, Sandsting) on the 10th of December 1929 at the United Free Church, Ollaberry. They had one child, James John Laurence, who died while still an infant.

Tom was taught to play the fiddle by his grandfather. Although Tom worked as an insurance salesman, music was his passion. It's said that when he was out on his tours collecting premiums, he always had his fiddle in the back of the car so that whenever he came to a house where a fiddler lived, once the business was out of the way, out came the fiddles. In this way he got to know a great many players, and learned many tunes.

During the post-war years he dedicated much time to recording tunes from fiddlers throughout Shetland. In 1960 he was instrumental in the formation of the Shetland Fiddlers' Society, and in the early 60's he brought together the best local fiddlers to form the The Forty Fiddlers.

During this time he gave lessons to many young fiddlers, including Aly Bain. When he retired in the early 70's Tom started teaching fiddle in schools, passing on his knowledge and passion for traditional music to hundreds of children, many of whom have gone on to play in local bands, or just to play for fun, while a few have taken the music further afield. Either way, they carried forward Tom's passion. Whatever sadness he may have felt at the early death of his only son, Tom had plenty of 'musical bairns'.

In 1977 Tom was awarded an MBE in recognition of his contribution to music, and in 1981 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Stirling University. In 1981 Tom formed Shetland's Young Heritage, a group formed from his pupils, to carry forward the music. From this group Catriona Macdonald has gone on to achieve international acclaim.

Memorial bench in Eshaness cemetery. The engraved plate reads:
Presented by Shetlands Young Heritage on the occasion of their 20th anniversary in memory of their founder Dr Tom Anderson MBE (1910 - 1991),interred lair 23.

From an early age Tom was writing music, and throughout his life wrote roughly 500 tunes, mostly dedicated to Shetland place and people. Perhaps one of his most famous tunes was 'Da Slockit Light' which was inspired by the depopulation of the area of Eshaness where he was born. Each time the occupants of another croft moved out, or died, another light was 'slockit', (Shetland for extinguished).

Tom left a musical legacy to Shetland, not only in his archive of recordings and sheet music, but in the skill and passion which he brought out in so many of his pupils. He was also author of a number of books, including the seminal 'Da Mirrie Dancers', published by the Shetland Folk Society in 1970.

Tom Anderson died on the 20th of September, 1991 at the Montfield Hospital, Lerwick.

External Link

The sheet music for 'Da Slockit Light' is available @:

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