FOR a small Inner Hebridean island with a population of not much more than 700, Tiree has produced an inordinate number of accordionists, not least those playing in West Coast bands Skipinnish, Skerryvore and Gunna Sound, and in up-andcoming young outfits such as Trail West and Dùn Mòr.
Much of the credit must go to Gordon Connell, a self-taught piano- accordionist whose enthusiasm for the music and dedication as a teacher inspired 100 accordionists on the island which has been his home since 1962.
Voted Music Tutor of the Year in the 2010 Scots Trad Music Awards, Gordon first arrived on the island to take up a post as history and, later, modern studies teacher at Cornaigmore School – now Tiree High School – and by 1970 he was teaching accordion there.
‘Gordon is quite different to any other music tutor I’ve ever had,’ says Daniel Gillespie, accordionist with folk-rockers Skerryvore. ‘It’s unbelievable how natural teaching is to him and how much patience he has. Gordon would be first to say that he’s not a world- class accordion player but he is a world- class teacher. And he’s never taken a penny for his teaching.’
He retired from the school in 1996, but was persuaded to carry on teaching accordion by his pupils’ enthusiasm. So far as his own playing is concerned, he declares simply that ‘teaching youngsters who are about to overtake you is motivation enough for me to keep practising and trying to learn new tunes. I wouldn’t really class myself as a player.
‘I guess the most satisfying thing for me is seeing my students progress – some to form their own bands – at least four of them are making a living from their music and a couple of others are bandleaders with day jobs, but extremely competent just the same. What still motivates me is the great response I get from my students. They’re all fantastic people and a pleasure to teach.’
Tiree, he adds, is ‘a small and friendly community. Most of my former students still keep in touch – many of them I count as friends.’
Traditional Music Hall of Fame Gordon Connell.