22 March 2002

No fretting for mandolin master

NORTH of Scotland farmer David Gordon is developing a long-time hobby into an unusual form of diversification – mandolin playing.

David, who has been playing the mandolin for about 30 years and is considered to be one of the best players in Scotland, says: "As it became clear that farmers had to turn their hand to anything else they could do to bring in extra income, I realised that this was a genuine form of diversification. It fits in with my farming hours very well as it is nearly always at night, allowing me to do my farm work during daylight hours."

He has made a number of recordings – his latest CD is The Frozen River* -and has TV and radio appearances to his credit. He also writes a lot of his own material, with a number of commissions for local authorities – and has performed before Prince Charles.

Not that all his performances are close to home, however. Davids mandolin has taken him to some unusual places, such as Russia, where he has performed at St Andrews Night celebrations for the St Andrews Society of Moscow.

"Those trips have been very interesting," he says. "St Andrew is the patron saint of both Scotland and Russia, so they make quite a big deal about it. In fact, the first year we played there, it was apparently the biggest ball held in Moscow since Tsarist days, with over 600 people at it. The British ambassador gives a speech and its organised mostly by various ex-pats, not necessarily Scottish ones, but theres always a lot of Russians there. Some of them know Scottish dances better than the folks back home."

Occasionally it can be tricky to balance the two jobs, as happened one night recently. "I was about to go out to perform at the local hall. Just before I left, I took at last look at some heifers that were due to calve. Needless to say, one had started. The calf seemed to be coming OK, but I felt it was too soon to pull it. I decided the best thing was to do the performance and come home as quickly as I could. At the end of the show I raced home to find the calfs nose and feet sticking out. I delivered it safely (this was about midnight) and then had to go back to the hall to pack away my gear. People who were still there had thought I was joking when I was talking about going home to calve a heifer, and could hardly believe it when I told them what I had just done!"

David has a 100ha (247-acre) upland farm at Inchindown, near Invergordon, where he lives with his American wife Julie, who teaches at a local primary school, and their three sons. He singlehandedly runs 31 cows and 280 ewes and is in the Countryside Premium Scheme.

People often ask him whether he enjoys farming or music more. "I think they probably expect me to say music, but I actually really enjoy the mix. I cant imagine doing one without the other. Farming can be a bit lonely, so its good to have another interest which gets you off the place, meeting people who know nothing about farming.

Davids stage name is Dagger Gordon. His initials are D A G and it has always been his nickname. "Occasionally I spin a yarn about always getting the job of cleaning up sheeps dirty backsides which is known as dagging round here, and thats how I got the name!"

&#8226 The Frozen River (priced £13) is available from Inchindown Farmhouse, Invergordon, Ross-shire, IV18 OPF.