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Spootiskerry (G)

Spootiskerry (G) is a Shetland reel, and an early composition of Samuel Ian Rothmar Burns, known as Ian Burns (1932-1995).  It was written in the early 1960s, and published along with many other tunes he wrote on a self-recorded cassette entitled “Spootiskerry” (1980). Ian Burns lived in Tingwall, but the title of this tune is the name of his family croft (i.e., farm) near the town of Sullom, in the north west of the Shetland Islands – though the Burns family is from Unst in the far north of the Shetland Islands. Nigel Gatherer writes, “It was originally spelt “Spootskerry”, but over the years an “i,” an “a,” or an “o” has been added.” So, it might show up as “Spootiskerry,” “Spoot O’Skerry,” “Spoot Askerry,” and sometimes mistakenly as “Spoots O’Kerry,” or some other strange thing.  It has become extremely popular throughout the world.  Razor clams (Ensis directus), or what the French call couteaux (knives), are long cylindrical clams having shells with sharp edges, and known in the Shetland islands as “spoots” – they spit out water as a defense mechanism. Roof gutters are also called “spoots” in the Shetlands and its vicinity. A “skerry” is a group of rocks a few feet below sea level, but sometimes visible at low tide. Duncan Ross Cameron offers this as the reason for another title, unfamiliar to me, “The Fateful Head.” In Scottish sessions this tune is often paired with another Shetland reel, “Willafjord.”  At sessions in Canada it is often paired with “Reel de Montreal” (G) – which is the reel version of the hornpipe “Navvies on the Line” (G).

For the ABC, click Spootiskerry

Spootiskerry, med tempo (tenor guitar)




  • Posted January 10, 2018 at 2:51 am | Permalink

    Can anyone advise me as to who to contact to obtain permission to record this composition?

    • Posted February 13, 2018 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      The copyright was held by his wife, Mrs. Phyllis E. Burns. I believe she died a few years ago.

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