Pate Bailie

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biography:Pate Bailie of Loanhead (1774–1841 or 1843) was known as the fiddling tinker, although his occupation was actually making horn-spoons, a similar craft. He was also a sometime stone-mason who participated in the erection of the stone pillars forming the gateway of Edinburgh University (during which he broke his leg). In addition to his trade skills, he was a renowned fiddler (who, by accounts, had a strong up-bow and a talent for improvisation and double stops) and much in demand for dances and other occasions and published a collection of strathspeys, reels and other tunes under the title A Selection of Original Tunes arranged for the Piano Forte and Violin (1825). He was somewhat cautiously patronized by the nobility and played regularly at Dalkeith House (home of Sir James Montgomery) and at Stobo Castle. Neil (1991) relates:

The story is told that one night after playing in a town in Berwickshire he 'went on a spree' and ended up not having enough money to pay for lodgings. Wandering about the town he came to a hall from which there came sounds of music and dancing. He slipped in with his violin under his coat and worked himself nearer and nearer to the fiddlers. When they noticed him they made fun of him, believing him to be an itinerant fiddler and jokingly asked him to play. He responded by amazing them with a fine selection in his inimitable style. When he had finished, the leader exclaimed that he 'must either be the devil or Pate Baillie!

Pate Bailie is given a short biographical sketch in William Hunter's Biggar and the House of Fleming (1867, p. 414), wherein he describes the Baillie [Ed. Hunter's spelling] family in his chapter on "The Vagrants of the Biggar District." The Baillie clan were longtime gypsy residents of the district, and often in trouble with neighbors and the law.

The most noted of the descendants of the Baillies was Peter, or as he was most commonly called Pate Baillie, who was, for many years settled about Loanhead and Bonnyrigg in Mid Lothian, and who excelled as a player on the fiddle. He certainly was gifted with musical abilities of a very high order. Had these received due cultivation, and had he not possessed the wayward and obstinate disposition of the unsettled habits of the gipsy, he might have taken a high place as a musical performer. He devoted his attention almost exclusively to Scotch music; and certainly the variations which he improvised, when playing some of our best tunes, were highly original and striking. His intemperance and his rude and offensive manners prevented him from receiving that patronage from the higher classes of society which he would, no doubt, have otherwise obtained; but he was often employed by the country people at penny weddings, kirns, and other merry "splores," when he was largely plied with intoxicating drink, and it was alleged that he played as well when he was drunk as when he was sober. He died some twenty years ago, and was interred, we believe, in the Church-yard of Lasswade.

A story, probably apocryphal, is told of Baillie and the famous Scottish fiddler-composer Niel Gow:

[Gow] had been playing at Morton Hall, about a mile outside Edinburgh, and was walking back to the city in the early hours of the next morning, when he was suddenly confronted by a "weird figure in the shape of a poorly clad man." The poor man asked Gow for some snuff, and while Niel was searching he pockets, the man grabbed the fiddle hanging around Niel's neck and ran off towards the city. Despite Gow's more advanced years, he managed to catch the thief by his coat collar. At this point, the thief begged for mercy, and explained that his name was Pate Baillie and that he too was a fiddler, but had been forced to pawn his own violin, had lost his job in the Theatre Royal Orchestra and had no money to provide for his sick wife and child. Gow showed his kind-heartedness, for despite the attack he had just suffered, he gave the man some money and later went to visit him. When he arrived at the man's house, he was pleased to see food on the table, thus showing that his money had been well-spent, and when he lent the man his own violin, found that he really was an excellent player. Gow's efforts went even further than this, for he sought the help of the Duke of Atholl, and the man was reinstated in his job in the Theatre Royal Orchestra.