One of Belfast’s finest fiddlers, Andy Dickson, died on Sunday April 19, 2020. His passing prompted a great sense of loss throughout the traditional music community while at the same time prompting much reminiscing about his life as a memorable performer and a wonderful teacher.
Described as “the king of fiddle music in Belfast” by Conor Caldwell who acknowledged his role in introducing the music of Fermanagh to the city, Andy Dickson is credited with inspiring a host of local fiddlers. He will also be forever associated with Andy Dickson’s Reel – which is, in fact, The Cedars of Lebanon, written by the Offaly fiddler, Seán Ryan.
Close friend, Gerry McCartney, who remembers Andy’s emergence on the traditional music scene in Belfast in 1973, said he was “devastated beyond words” at the shock news that “the world of traditional music has lost one of its treasures.” Gerry and Andy were members of Na Buachaillí along with Dermy Diamond, Tara Bingham, Spooly Kelly, Gerry Garvey and John Parkinson.
Another long-time friend, Fergus Woods, described Andy as one of the “elite group of fiddle players on the local scene” recalling his playing at the regular Tuesday session in the Errigle. “A great musician, Andy was a lovely person,” he said. “His passing will be mourned by many in the world of traditional music and beyond.”
Sharing a long and happy friendship with Andy Dickson, John Moulden noted that they both went to the same school – “one not noted for generating interest in traditional music.” Nevertheless, Andy “was more a credit to it than many seemingly more illustrious.”
Fiddle player, Brian Montague, remembers playing as a teenage novice with Andy and his great friend, Dermy Diamond, in sessions in Tom Kelly’s 96 Bar or Pat’s Bar. “Their rhythm was peerless and steeped as we all were in the fierce, staccato Northern style, Andy’s playing was of subtle stuff, long fluent bows which drew the note out and belied the more deliberate precision of his left hand. North Connaught in flow, Northern in beat. It was exotic, like Andy, soft and refined in his speech and the edge of passion and drive in his heart. Honoured to have known him!”
Brian also remembered Andy’s presence on the week-long You and Yours tour in 1988 with Ciaran Carson and Vincent Poland. “We drove the country with Andy Dickson at the wheel and Michael Clarkson making us laugh and the great James Kelly filling us with an even greater love for our music.”
Recalling Andy’s “devilish sense of humour” and his “independent mind,” Cormac Ó Bríain said: “he taught me about phrasing in tunes, one of the best lessons ever!” while Bernie Stocks praised Andy Dickson as “the man largely responsible for me sitting here surrounded by fiddles.”
“If not for hearing this man’s playing,” says Jim McAuley, “I would not be playing a fiddle today. Andy was my greatest influence, for wanting to play a fiddle. A good and intelligent gentleman with a great musical mind.”
“One of the finest players and gentlemen I have ever had the privilege to share tunes with,” said Gary Duffy. Many others recalled Andy at the heart of lively sessions in the Hatfield, the Parador, the Rotterdam Bar and Madden’s. Joe Kennedy remembered their first meeting in the snug in McIntyre’s pub in Ballyshannon during the folk festival while Paul Bradley recalled that was not only a master fiddler but a very good guitarist as well.
Andy Dickson is survived by his partner, Anne Bailie, a fine musician in her own right.