JAMIE WEEMS – by John Graham
Galloway News – 23rd November 1957
I listened to fiddlers three on the Moat Brae this summer. It gladdened my heart to know that gut-scraping was not yet a lost art. The spread of education, and the intensive teaching of music in schools have put the fiddler – country or otherwise – on a higher plane – he is now a violinist.
The first fiddler I ever knew was Jamie Weems. It was on a night in June 1901 that I came into contact with him – he was supplying the music at a country wedding. At the breaking-up of the party, when day had already dawned, Jamie, who had partaken of some little refreshment during the evening, could be seen taking his friendly farewells of the guests, and enquiring “hoo mony mair can I shake haunds wi”?” With his fee of 10/- (probably) in his pocket, he seemed loath the scene of his activities.
For many years Jamie Weems was a kenspeckle figure in the town and district of Kirkcudbright, not only because of his prowess as a chimney sweep, but also because he was a Scots comedian, Dutch impersonator and, last but not least, a fiddler. He arrived in the town in the 80’s – Helensburgh was his birthplace I believe. He and his brother Johnny had done some amateur acting in plays such as “The Shaughran” and soon he began to be known as an organiser of concerts in which he himself took a prominent part.
Jamie was of average build. His legs were slightly bent, his clean-shaven face was furrowed, his brow wrinkled, and he had a dimple in his chin. His eyes were blue, and he had a good head of hair.
The peak of Jamie’s career as a concert artiste would be about the time I met him – at the turn of the century. His songs were mostly sung in character, and invariably there was a little “patter.” He could appear one moment as an old Dutch with dolman and bonnet, and a few minutes later he would come on as a sailor, or a Scots working man, with clay pipe &c. There must be still alive some who were in Jamie’s concert parties, which were in great demand, and filled a gap in the life of the small town and country dweller.
There is no doubt that Jamie was very popular with young and old. Some of the youths returning to the town on holiday have been known to send for Jamie to entertain them while they partook of refreshment in one or other of the pubs. He was so obliging he was often imposed upon.
Chimney sweeping was a “bread and butter” affair for Jamie. Shoving a brush up and down a chimney was a soul destroying business, and his thoughts were on other things – on that world of entertainment where he was sure he belonged. If he came across a good listener, among his clientele, operations were suspended and, hands on hips, he related stories of the exploits of his brother and himself when they were “on the halls.” His face would light up, and he would live these experiences all over again. What mattered it, if the brush was stuck half-way up the lum!
In addition to all these activities Jamie was beadle of the United Free Church for many years. After his death, his widow “Mirren” carried on the work until old age forced her to give it up. She died a few years ago at the advanced age of 90 years.
The time came when Jamie was unable to undertake the long journeys to the country on foot, and he got himself a pony and governess car. Although the pony was a canny beast Jamie was always nervous about meeting one of these contraptions which had commenced to invade the road – the motor car, chain driven and creating a noise like a threshing mill.
On a day in the autumn of 1915 the old horse was found on the roadside near Carse, quietly cropping the grass, while Jamie sat in the car, the reins still in his lifeless hands. He had taken his last bow, and made his final exit. He was in his 50’s – a young man by modern standards.
Jamie Weems was typical of hosts of ordinary men. He came amongst us, determined to give of his best to cheer up his fellow citizens, and we who knew him are grateful for his efforts. He was a great character.