Nan Spowart spoke with fiddler and broadcaster Bruce MacGregor on the 10 things that changed his life. 

1. Getting a fiddle for Christmas

I’M sure I asked for a football but lo and behold Santa decided I needed a fiddle. I honestly don’t remember asking for it nor indeed even being aware of the instrument.

My parents had a deep love of Hank Williams and country music and the fiddle featured a lot in those records. Maybe Santa had been chatting to them?

The fiddle produced very little sound in the first few weeks as no one in the house had heard of the rosin that is required for the bow to work! There are probably many that would wish that had stayed that way!

2. Donald Riddell, my only fiddle instructor

I WENT to him as an eight-year-old and I went weekly for 10 years. He was an incredible man, a former Pipe Major in the Lovat Scouts, a classical violinist and fiddle player, a fiddle maker, fluent in Gaelic and Welsh; he was inspirational.

READ MORE: Ian Blackford on the 10 things that changed his life

His lessons were incredibly strict with regards to bowing and ornamentation, but most importantly for me, it was his storytelling and the history he imparted in each lesson that made the music come alive.

You also weren’t allowed to play in public until you had three hours’ worth of material memorised.

There was a reason he was a pipe major!

3. Rugby

I LOVE all sport but when I was introduced to rugby at the Inverness Royal Academy, my life definitely changed. I became obsessed by it. I was taking out coaching books from the library, I watched videos of old games and I trained constantly.

I loved playing for my school but then industrial action hit and for us, school rugby stopped.

That was until a local hero, Colin Baillie, contacted a few of us and suggested we play for our rival school.

He broke the picket lines because he believed rugby for kids was more important than anything. I went to Edinburgh University and ended up captaining the first XV to the Scottish Uni cup, playing for Scottish Universities and as a squad member of the Scottish Students team.

We toured South America and Zimbabwe before I headed home to play for Highland. The friends I made in those university days are still some of my best friends, and I still feel that Highland rugby club is my extended family. I really miss playing but when I watch the hits some of those guys take I’m pretty glad I played when I did!

4. Forming Blazin’ Fiddles

TWO things led to this. I was working for BBC Radio Scotland as a researcher. I was amazed at how much American, Irish and Canadian folk music was played on the station at the time.

I was also lucky enough to go to Alasdair Fraser’s Valley of the Moon fiddle school in California to make a radio programme (I paid for the trip myself – that’s the only way it was commissioned).

I remember interviewing an old fellow who said, “it’s a real shame Scottish fiddle music is dead in Scotland”. I was stunned. The perception was that our tradition was dead and I knew this to be very far from the truth. Scottish fiddle wasn’t dead, it just wasn’t very good at promoting itself.

I had a kernel of an idea that I took to the director of the fledgling Highland Festival, Alasdair MacDonald. I wanted to create a touring show which would highlight the regional dialects of the Highland fiddle – from Inverness to Oban to Lerwick to Glenfinnan.

He went for it, the budget was scratched together on the back of an envelope and we had a tour – I just had to get a band together!

I had a name for the band: Blazin’ Fiddles (below). That was inspired from a story my fiddle tutor Donald Riddell had regaled me with as a youngster. It was related to the mass burning of instruments on the Isle of Skye by some of our rather overzealous religious fathers who considered fiddles as an instrument of the devil!

The National: Photo: Sean Purser

A name, a tour but as yet no band… A few phone calls later and we had assembled a group of suitable reprobates for a week-long tour – it was never meant to be a full-time band. Now, 25 years later, here we are. It’s a very different line-up but the music and the reason for performing are still the same.

5. The BBC

DURING the first few years of the band’s existence, I kept my job as a producer for BBC Radio Scotland working on the Tom Morton Show, the Gary Robertson show as well as having a number of programmes commissioned including The Captain’s Collection and The Strathspey King – both series about Scottish fiddle legends and their tumultuous lives.

Both were developed from stage shows written by Hamish MacDonald and both went on to win Celtic Media Awards.

I had now developed from producing to dipping my tonsils in presenting. However, the band was getting more work across the world and I had to miss an American tour. This made me investigate the idea of a year’s unpaid sabbatical. It was the best thing I ever did.

A year later, I remember the call coming to me to ask if I was going back. I didn’t think twice. It was time to go for it with no safety net.

Funnily enough, just after leaving as a producer, I was offered the chance to present a show called the Music Cafe, as well as standing in for Robbie Shepherd on Take The Floor.

I was asked if I’d consider taking that show but it really wasn’t my type of music and I felt I couldn’t do it justice.

READ MORE: Lynn Ferguson: 10 things that changed my life

Just months later, I got the call to present Travelling Folk. Ten years later, a lot of interviews and festivals and a lot of great music, it was time to move on – there were some other rather large projects to work on.

6. The referendum

I DON’T think I’ve ever felt so dismayed and despondent after the result became apparent. It made me question living in Scotland – I’m still not convinced I’ve got the answer yet.

7. MacGregor’s Bars

HAVING toured the world with Blazin’ Fiddles, I was well aware of drinking establishments across the world.

It mystified me as to how the Irish bar phenomenon had swept the world yet nothing identifiably Scottish had ever made a global mark. It was time to try something.

My father had an abandoned site at the “wrong end” of Inverness. It had been lying empty for a number of years but I was convinced we could create something special and hopefully create a model that could be taken across the world.

The National:

The bar model was to feature the best Scottish craft beers, spirits and food but mixing it with history, traditional music and culture. The idea was to be #morethanabar.

OK, I nicked that from Barcelona FC, but you get the idea.

The bar has been one of the toughest things I’ve ever been involved with, but both my wife and myself are incredibly proud of the successes it’s achieved since opening considering what we’ve had to deal with – twice winners of “Scotland’s Best Bar” from VisitScotland, winner of the Scottish Licensed Trade Awards for “Best Independent Bar” and “Best Music Bar” in Scotland as well as numerous regional awards.

Our plan is to take this model across the world and we’re delighted to be part of the Scottish Business Network who are helping us find the business partners we need.

8. Roddy MacGregor

HAVING a child changes your reasons for living. My son Roddy (below) came along 22 years ago and was a ball of energy from the moment he arrived.

He’s been determined to be a professional footballer since he started playing for Inverness Caley Thistle juniors despite me trying to get him to play rugby (he did for a few years).

The National:

It’s easy to get caught up in the highs and lows of your kid’s career – he’s had some brilliant moments scoring some great goals for ICT, getting into the Scotland U21 squad and getting to play at Hampden in a Scottish cup final against Celtic last year.

However, he’s also had massive disappointments – bad injuries and operations and his battle to come back from them has been inspirational to me – it can be really dark coming back from these and wondering if your career will ever get going again. We talk or message every day about how he’s doing.

9. Scargill

LAST year, I lost one of my best friends. We were lifelong friends. Last year, he had just secured a great new job, just relocated to Inverness and got married to his long-term partner. Life seemed perfect. And suddenly he decided to take his own life.

Scargill was Graeme’s nickname (he’d been a big supporter of Arthur Scargill and the miners when we were in school) and he was the most sensible, level-headed of our tight group of school friends. He was the one that we went to with our problems and issues, and then he was the one who couldn’t come to any of us with his worries.

Instead, one day he slipped off to the countryside that we played in as kids, and took his own life. None of us have been able to understand what happened.

There is not a day that goes by that he doesn’t come into my mind.

10. Marrying Jo de Sylva

PERHAPS the most momentous and surprising thing to happen to me in the last decade.

Jo is the most intelligent, thoughtful human being I’ve ever met. She’s also incredibly creative and has a superb vision for whatever projects she’s working on. She’s also a terrier if she needs to be.

We actually met at the BBC 20 odd years ago but really didn’t like each other. A chance meeting for a coffee in Glasgow has brought us to today where we are inseparable. I couldn’t imagine my life without her.