WARM TRIBUTES have been paid to one of the true stalwarts of Shetland’s traditional music scene, Jim Halcrow, after he passed away recently at the age of 80.
Born at Westshore, Scalloway in August 1934, Jim bought a second-hand accordion for £22 as a teenager and taught himself how to play.
So began more than 60 years of playing tunes, culminating in the Scottish National Association of Accordion and Fiddle Clubs presenting him with an award for “a lifetime’s contribution to music” in 2012.
Later the same year he was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame. At the time of his induction, Jim, described as being of a “non-complaining nature”, was quoted saying: “So long as I get peace to play my peerie accordion in Shetland I’m quite happy”.
Jim’s wife Doreen (the couple married in 1960 and had two children, David and Hazel, followed by several grandchildren) recalled how he was very keen on football growing up, and he used to love going on trips to Orkney with Scalloway FC.
Described as a “quiet, unassuming gentleman”, he first started working as an apprentice electrician with John Stevenson. When that business closed, he worked as a roof slater with local businessman Tammie Smith for many years.
In the early 1970s, Jim was given the opportunity – by the local education department – to go on a piano-tuning course in Newark, Nottinghamshire.
The three-year course resulted in the whole family moving south, and while staying there Jim played a lot of music at RAF Cranwell.
Doreen said Jim was proud of his two children as people and as musicians. Sometimes he joked that they should have had more bairns so they could have had a full family band.
Once he completed the course at Newark, he was offered a piano-tuning business in King’s Lynn but felt that, as Shetland had given him the training opportunity, it was only right that he should return home. Jim continued tuning pianos across Shetland until a short time ago.
His band playing began with a group called The New Players, featuring Lollie Young on sax, Tammy Cogle on fiddle, Sonny Young on drums and Tom Georgeson on piano and vocals. They proved very popular and were in constant demand.
He guested with a local jazz group line-up which included ‘Peerie Willie’ Johnson, Drew Robertson and Frankie Sinclair.
Jim was also involved – along with Peerie Willie, Drew, Ronnie Cooper, Willie Hunter, Jack Robertson, Ronnie Hunter and Eric Cooper in The Hamefarers, a band formed for the original Shetland Hamefarin’ way back in 1960.
Drew, who played regularly with him around that time, told Shetland News he had very fond memories of Jim, both as a musician and a human being.
“Whenever you met him you had a lot of fun with him, he was very cheery and he had a lot of good things to say about most folk – a very fine chap.”
Musically, he had “a good ear, good rhythm – he played all kinds of music. That was the good thing about him, nothing seemed to bar him from getting on with it. He was great.”
Drew added that Jim would be a “great loss” to the local community.
Jim also had a long association with the Shetland Accordion and Fiddle Club and was also honoured by the Lerwick Old Time Dance Club for nearly 60 years of playing for them.
Doreen also recalls Jim’s long association with Up Helly Aa. Since the age of 16 he either played in squads, was a squad musician or played in halls – only missing out on one when he was in Newark, travelling home for the other two.
After arriving back from Newark he formed a band called The Better Haaf – featuring Ian Stewart on electric guitar, Ronnie Hunter on bass, Jackie Sinclair on vocals and Mitchell MacLeod on drums.
They became the resident band at the Lerwick and Shetland hotels, going on to do many broadcasts and making several trips to the mainland.
Members of the various bands moved on over time and were replaced by others, including his own children David and Hazel, Margaret Scollay, Graham Jamieson and Ian Williamson among them.