Alex Green is one of Scotland’s greatest exponents of the tin whistle and a dedicated champion who has given countless hours to sharing his skills and encouraging people to take up this simple instrument that is capable of producing sophisticated music.
Alex was born in Old Meldrum, in the farm lands of Aberdeenshire, in 1930 and family lore has it that Alex’s father, a miller, once picked up a straw stalk in a field, carved some holes in it and produced a tune. As Alex was growing up, by this time having moved with the family to Udney, there were real tin whistles in the house, as his father played whistle and fiddle as well playing saxophone in the local brass band, and Alex was drawn to them.
His first choice of instrument would have been the fiddle but an accident, when he stuck his hand into his father’s mill machinery, robbed him of two fingers. So with his parents’ encouragement – his mother played piano – Alex learned to read music and in his teens he began practising the whistle seriously, developing the technique that would see him regarded as a master.
While serving his apprenticeship as a heavy goods and public service vehicle mechanic, Alex played in the evening and at weekends with a showband. Word of his musical prowess spread and after he won the north of Scotland heat of television talent show Opportunity Knocks and appeared on the programme, he began appearing regularly for the BBC, working on both radio and television, and became a familiar figure on Grampian and Scottish Television.
When Aberdeen Technical College announced that it was looking for qualified mechanics to lecture in HGV maintenance, Alex applied successfully and began a new career as a white collar worker. By this time he had begun teaching at workshops in and around Aberdeenshire and when people discovered he was a college lecturer and assumed he lectured in tin whistle, he didn’t always disabuse them of this notion.
To the scores of pupils he taught in evening classes, at folk festival workshops and in private lessons, Alex was the equivalent of a music college lecturer anyway, and his disciples, who include Kenny Hadden, now a whistle and flute teacher himself with the Aberdeen-based Scottish Culture & Tradition organisation, would certainly agree.
Following his retirement from Aberdeen College, Alex continued teaching the whistle, becoming a peripatetic instructor at primary schools, and in 2001 he released one of the few recordings dedicated to Scottish whistle playing, Whistle O’er the Lave O’t, on the Turriff-based Ross Records. The record company’s location made it especially appropriate for Alex as he has long been affectionately known as the Turra (Turriff) Tootler around the many Traditional Music and Song Association festivals he has performed and adjudicated at throughout Scotland. In 2007 he marked thirty consecutive years as a performer at Keith Festival.
Over the past thirty years Alex has been ably and sympathetically accompanied on accordion by his wife, Madeline, as they played around Aberdeenshire. They are founder members of the long-running Portknockie Music Night and before moving to their current home in Stonehaven they were stalwarts of the weekly traditional music sessions in Dunning, Perthshire.
Alex passed away on 22nd December 2017.