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Pictures From Earlier Years

Early Caithness Pictures

Mackays Dance Band

Mackay’s Dance Band to Jim Mackay Dance Band

1957 to 2005

The Mackay brothers from Watten, Caithness have been on the Scottish Traditional dance music scene for a considerable number of years. The “Mackay Dance Band” first appeared in November 1957. The leader James Mackay then played a three row Hohner Tricord.


Before the first appearance of the Mackay Band oldest brother George, played in Murray’s Band, well known throughout Caithness. James and Nichol were regular performers at local concerts throughout Caithness.

James on button box and George on piano box were the heart of the “Mackay Band”, other members changed over the first years. The band were looking for a piano player in the late fifties so Nichol was despatched for some lessons and joined the band in 1959.The band was much in demand and provided lively dance music throughout Caithness and Sutherland. During the sixties James had moved to a three row Excelsior box, George had an Excelsior piano accordion and Nichol took potluck with pianos in the local halls.

The demand for the band continued into the seventies, the three brothers were the core members but others came and went as the band progressed. The reliability of pianos in local halls became a problem and a move to an electronic keyboard was necessary.

The Mackay Band had difficulty finding a regular drummer, but this changed when Tom oldest son of James showed interest, he joined the band in 1974. This brought in the next generation and gave the band regular line-up. James second son Donald showed interest in keyboard and joined the band in 1975. The line-up had become a mix of old and new and maybe time for change had come. Nichol at that time had been looking for an opportunity to work abroad and was offered a teaching post in New Zealand, he decided to take this up and left Caithness and the band in 1977. At this time George also decided to retire from the band.

The band changed to the “Jim (James) Mackay Trio” in 1978, by this time Jim had moved to playing a three row Shand Morino, Tom on drums and Donald on keyboard. I t was a very steep learning curve for the trio but they coped well and soon became established on the music scene. Donald took on the role as singer and this gave the trio an additional dimension. The trio found themselves very busy and travelled throughout Scotland and into the North of England. The number of engagements found the trio working full time at the music. Jim whose other love was farming decided in 1983 to sell up and concentrate on the music full time, at this time he moved to Inverness, which was more central to the travelling.  The trio were as busy as ever but tragedy struck in 1984 when Donald was involved in a fatal road crash. Jim and Tom had to cancel all the planned engagements for the foreseeable future.

To get on the road again was important for Jim and Tom, they were sure Donald would have wanted them to continue providing dance music. Getting a new line-up was not going to be easy. Now based in Inverness Jim looked for possible band members, Nichol had returned from his overseas travel and was now living in Inverness, he was a possibility and was prepared to have a go, so that was a keyboard player. During 1985-86 Jim tried several combinations. The band struggled with players but in 1986 found the late Rob Gordon to be very supportive and joined the band as keyboard player for a busy summer season in hotels across the highlands. Jim and the band were indeed grateful for the support and friendship offered by Rob. This period gave the band an opportunity to move on and in 1987 Lewis Williams; pianist with the well-known “Alan Williams Trio” from the sixties came forth and joined the band. The other member that joined during that period was Warner Schroeder; he played Bass, Lead Guitar and could sing. This was the next phase of the “Jim Mackay Dance Band”. The band was in demand throughout Scotland, playing weddings, clubs and dance venues. This line-up stayed together until 1991 when Lewis Williams had to leave due to ill health, at this time Nichol rejoined on keyboard.

During the nineties the band was as always in demand throughout Scotland, during that period the band made several trips abroad playing for holidaymakers in, Tenerife, Malta and Spain. During this time the next generation was emerging into the music scene. Two of Tom’s sons showed interest, Stephen showed interest in the fiddle and Graeme was keen on the button box. Stephen was first to join the band in 1999; this was only the second fiddle player to be with the band. By this time Nichol had changed from keyboard to second accordion, he played a Hohner Riviera 5 row midi box, the second box and fiddle brought a more complete band sound. Graeme whose accordion skills progressed also joined the band in 1999. At this time Warner Schroeder left as the band were progressing towards the Scottish Country Dance.

The band now consists of three generations; Jim the founder member now plays one of the late great Will Starr accordions, son Tom on drums, grandchildren Stephen on fiddle, Graeme on accordion and brother Nichol on third accordion. The band is in demand for clubs, dance venues and weddings. The current band has done several Scottish Country Dance events; during ’03 and ’04 they played Princess Street Gardens for two such events.

This year the band have been busy with a summer season at Aveimore and have a fairly busy programme for the remainder of 2005.

Additional information:
Jim and his wife Catherine formed the “Thurso Accordion and Fiddle Club” in 1981. They got a committee together and the club is still strong today. Catherine was the club secretary from 1981 until 1983.

Jim and Catherine started “The Button Box Gathering”. The first gathering was held in Eden Court Inverness during Sep 2000. The idea came from the yearly “Shand Morino” event held by the Windigates Club, Jim and Catherine decided to invite individual players and bands from that event to form a show in Eden Court Theatre. The gathering has been extremely successful and has been a sell out for Eden Court for the past four years. In 2005 another successful gathering was held in Aveimore due to Eden Court being closed for refurbishment. The money raised from the gatherings has benefited a number of charities over the years.

Contact: Jim Mackay Tel: 01463 232718

Back Together On Stage - August 2005
Mackay’s Dance Band from the fifties to the seventies together again and on stage August 2005. The three Mackay brothers, (left to right) James, Nichol and George took to the stage in Auckengill Hall on the 27th August 2005. “Mackay’s Dance Band” first Auckengill appearance was in 1958. The band was formed during the fifties; the three brothers were the core band members and performed on numerous occasions throughout Caithness and Sutherland. Numerous fellow musicians from the area augmented the band during that period.

August 2005 At Auckengill Hall

George is the only member that stays in Caithness, James and Nichol reside in Inverness and play in the well-known “Jim Mackay Dance Band”; with Jim (James) the bandleader.

The recent reunion was prompted by a photo of the band which appeared on the Caithness.org website. The site also asked about the members and what had happened to them; hope this brings you up to date.

Jim Mackay Dance Band Today
The current “Jim Mackay Dance Band”, joined by George completes the generations of the Mackay family. The members are back row left to right; Jim, Nichol and George. Front row left to right; Tom Mackay drummer in the band since 1975 (Tom is Jims’ son). Stephen on the fiddle and Graeme on another three-row morino; (Stephen and Graeme are Toms’ sons).

The band had an excellent evening of music and dance in Auckengill hall on the 27th August ’05.

The band is based in Inverness, the current line-up comprising of three generations has been together for about five years. The band travel throughout Scotland guesting at Accordion and Fiddle Clubs; playing for Ceilidh and Scottish Country Dance functions.

During ’05 the band had a busy summer season at the Macdonald Resort in Aveimore, a visit to Princess Street Gardens for Scottish Country Dancing in addition to weddings and dance venues.