Wallace Galbraith, as the director and founder of the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra, holds a significant role in the realm of music.
His journey traces back to a career in the bakery and catering industry. In 1977, Wallace embarked on a new path by commencing violin instruction in Ayrshire Schools. This marked the beginning of his connection with the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra, of which he became a founding member. This orchestra served as the inspirational cornerstone for the establishment of the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra. Wallace’s immersion in the musical scene of Ayrshire was comprehensive, involving a 12-year tenure as the conductor of the Ayrshire Symphony Orchestra. These contributions garnered him recognition in the form of an MBE, honouring his dedication to music and his instrumental role in the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra. Currently, he occupies the position of Scottish Development Officer at Trinity College London. Additionally, he leads the Arioso Quartet, renowned for their performances at weddings and corporate functions.
In 1992, following the footsteps of the accomplished violinist, viola player, and string teacher Sandy Lyle, Wallace Galbraith assumed the role of Fiddler at the Bachelor’s Club in Tarbolton. This institution, founded in 1779 by Robert Burns, his brother Gilbert, and five other likeminded gentlemen, was initially established as a debating club. Wallace’s acquaintance with Major John Weir, then Chairman of the Bachelor’s Club Committee, led him to the discovery of The Gregg Fiddle. At the time, this violin was in a state of disrepair, stored in a canvas bag on the Major’s farm in Mauchline. The violin had belonged to William Gregg, the Dancing Master employed by the Bachelor’s Club to teach Scottish Dances and elegant Minuets and Gavottes. The instrument, rich in historical significance, had also been played by Burns during annual balls when wives and sweethearts were allowed to attend. Wallace collaborated with Dr David Martin, a retired lecturer at Auchincruive Agricultural College and a skilled amateur violin repairer, to meticulously restore the Gregg Fiddle on behalf of the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra. The restoration involved renewing tuning pegs, the bridge, and strings, with a substantial repair performed on the back, which was previously in three separate pieces. Distinguished by its intricate painted decorations on both the front and back, as well as its shorter neck length, the Gregg Fiddle stands apart. The latter feature enabled the player’s left hand to lie flat against the neck, a distinguishing trait of fiddles. The floral designs, including intricate markings at the edges, are notably rare in Western string instruments, akin to Norwegian Hardanger Violins. Estimated to have been crafted by a local artisan around 1770, the violin possesses a distinctive history.
Following Dr Martin’s meticulous restoration, the Gregg Fiddle was entrusted to the National Trust for Scotland at Culzean Castle. The instrument’s use was graciously permitted for playing by Wallace Galbraith at local events and international concerts organized by the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra. However, a policy change at the Trust’s Edinburgh Headquarters around 2010 dictated that musical instruments in their possession should not be played, allowing only essential restoration work. Despite efforts to convey the significance of regular playing in maintaining the instrument’s condition, the Trust adhered to this policy. The situation shifted with the construction of the impressive Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway. The Gregg Fiddle found its rightful place within the exhibition, a tribute to Burns’ musical heritage. The local Curator at the time, Dr David Hopes, recognized the importance of not only displaying the violin but also allowing it to be played regularly, under the Trust’s supervision.
In 2016, the acclaimed violin maker and restorer David Rattray undertook further restoration work on the Gregg Fiddle. Having previously served as the Head of String Conservation at the Royal Academy of Music in London, David’s restoration efforts reinstated the violin to its authentic Baroque form. This process was accompanied by praise for the original restoration work performed by the late Dr David Martin in Ayr.
The violin, known as The Gregg Fiddle, is now a prominent instrument under the skillful hands of Ayr’s renowned fiddler, teacher, and composer, Alistair McCulloch. Its music has graced prestigious events in Scotland and even embarked on a USA tour with the National Trust for Scotland in 2020. A landmark moment was realized in January 2019 when Wallace’s long-standing ambition came to fruition: The Gregg Fiddle was played alongside Niel Gow’s Violin at a grand concert in Ayr Gaiety Theatre. This marked the first instance of these two instruments, rich in Scotland’s heritage, performing together. However, the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra still maintains access to the violin. Most recently, it was played by Orchestra Leader Lucy Paton at The Laigh Kirk Kilmarnock last year, and by Musical Director David Moore at Burns Cottage in January this year, as David currently holds the title of Fiddler at the Bachelor’s Club.
A guide track for ‘Wallace Galbraith’ is available below for listening: -
Associated Collections: -