Sir David Hunter Blair
X:1 T:Sir David Hunter Blair M:C| L:1/8 R:Reel B:Napier - Selection of Dances & Strathpseys (c. 1798) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:F f2 cd cdcd|cf a2 cf a2|b2 ga gaga|gfef ge c2:| |:af Tf2 cfAc|FAcf eg g2|af Tf2 cfAc|FAcf ge f2:|]
SIR DAVID HUNTER BLAIR('S REEL). Scottish, Reel or Strathspey (whole time). F Major (Athole, Campbell, Kerr, Lowe, Mackintosh, Manson, Martin): G Major (Surenne, Wilson): D Major (Huntington). Standard tuning (fiddle). AB (Surenne): AAB (Kerr): AABB (Athole, Huntington, Lowe, Mackintosh, Manson, Martin, Wilson). Sir David Hunter-Blair, 3rd Baronet (1778-1857), Dunskey in the County of Wigtown, was a wealthy Scottish plantation owner in Jamaica (which he inherited) and held the lucrative office of King's Printer in Scotland. Blair also served as the Deputy-Lieutenant and Convener of the County of Ayr, and the one-time Colonel of the Ayrshire Militia. Later, he became a religious man and was involved in the printing of Bibles. One of the finest Regency era castles in Scotland, Blairquhan (pronounced ‘blair-wan’) Castle, Ayrshire, designed by Scottish architect William Burn, was built for Blair in the Tudor style from 1821-1824 on the site of an older castle (the old estate had been purchased by Blair in 1798). It remains in the possession of the Blair family to this day.
The reel was published in several early 19th century publications, including William Napier's Selection of Dances & Strathspeys (c. 1798), Thomas Balls’ Gentleman’s Amusement Book 2 (Norfolk, Conn., 1815), G.E. Blake’s Gentleman’s Amusement No. 3 (Philadelphia, c. 1825), Wheatstone’s Clarinet Preceptor (London, 1801), William Whiteley’s Instrumental Preceptor (Utica, N.Y., 1816), and William William’s New and Complete Preceptor for the Fife (Utica, N.Y., 1819). As Recency era dance and music researcher Paul Cooper points out, it must have been one of the more popular dancing tunes of the early 19th century, judging from the number of social references to it and its frequency of publication. Where the tune came from is somewhat of a mystery, Cooper writes, for he finds that it first appears in Napier's Selection of Dances & Strathpseys (c. 1798) without a composer attribution. Similarly, when the Gows published in on a single sheet in 1800, they did not list a composer, but did note the it was of "German" origin; this note was repeated in other publications, as it is in James Manson's Hamilton's Universal Tune Book vol. 1 (1844) wherein "Sir David Hunter Blair" is identified as a "German air". When the reel was printed in William Campbell's Book 16th of Strathspey Reels, Waltz's & Irish Jiggs (1801), it was attributed to Sir David Hunter Blair himself, however, that is considered highly unlikely.
A version of the melody appears in the music manuscript copybook of keyboard player Ann Winnington’s music manuscript (under the title “Sir David Hunt of Blair”), c. 1810, wherein the frontispiece indicates she resided at the time in New York, although the manuscript eventually made its way back to England. Ship’s fiddler William Litten also entered a version of the tune into his music copybook around the year 1800, while at sea. He is believed to have served in a British merchant ship or perhaps naval vessel in the Pacific. However, his manuscript ended up on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Another version, as "Sir David Hunter Blaine's Reel" is contained in the music manuscript collection of curate and fiddler Rev. Luke Donnellan (1878-1952), Oriel region, south Ulster An odd reworking of the title, as "Sir David Hunter's Bear", is included in the tune list of piper Philip Goodman (c. 1831-1908), Carrickmacross, Ireland, who is variously described as "the last professional and traditional piper in Farney, Louth", and also recorded as having been from Donaghmoyne, County Monaghan (all of which are places from the same area, and contiguous to Donnellan's Oriel region). Goodman brought his list to the Feis Ceoil in Belfast in 1898 (Breathnach, 1997).
- See Paul Cooper, "Three Whitehall Balls of 1803" ("Sir David Hunter Blair's Reel"), Paper 40, Regency Dances, . Cooper lists numerous period publications of the tune, and details mention of it in period newspaper and periodical entries.
- Donnellan researcher Gerry O'Connor came to believe the ms. is not the work of the curate but rather was originally compiled by an unknown but able fiddler over the course of a playing lifetime, probably in the late 19th century. The ms. later came into the possession of Donnellan, who was also a fiddler.