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It has been over 30 years since Burra Isle fisherman Thomas Fraser passed away aged only 50. Yet his memory lives on and interest in Thomas's fascinating legacy has never been greater. November 2002 saw the release of the first ever Thomas Fraser CD 'Long Gone Lonesome Blues' while a tribute to Thomas Fraser concert was held in Burra with musicians far and wide performing to a packed-out audience.   The CD was the first Thomas Fraser release since 1984 and features 25 tracks, most of which had not been heard publicly before.   This biography describes the process of restoring Thomas's work to CD while attempting to tell the story of his brief but eventful life and great passion for music.

Thomas Fraser died in 1978; a crofter, a fisherman - a hard worker. Not at all unusual in his native Burra Isle. But Thomas had a talent, an extraordinary talent and a passion for music which drove him to painstakingly record thousands of his unique takes of favourite blues, country, jazz and traditional tunes of the era.

Thomas' nephew Bobby was asked to look after the huge collection of reel-to-reel tapes that had been left behind by Thomas in the house at Setter. As the years passed, Bobby found that requests for Thomas Fraser compilations became very frequent. Despite the release of two Thomas Fraser cassettes in the early 1980s (' Memories of Yesterday' , Volumes 1 & 2), requests became so numerous that Bobby simply found that he could not continue. Being immersed in the normal routines of work and my own musical 'twiddlings', I never really found the time to really appreciate my Grandfather's music let alone find time to do anything constructive with it. The tapes remained at Bobby's until one night in the late 1990s when Mam and I went to Bobby's to visit. Bobby produced his tape recorder and put on a reel. Having acquired a more 'mature' musical outlook, I listened with amazement at what my Grandfather had done all those years ago.

Thomas James Fraser was born in Outterabrake, Burra Isle on the 20th March 1927 to Thomas Goodlad Fraser and May Jean Jamieson. Thomas Jnr. was the youngest brother to Robbie, Aggie (Fullerton), Jeannie (Fullerton), Walter and Betsy (Ward). At age 8, the Fiddle was Thomas's introduction to music. The instrument was given to him by brother Walter who acquired it while in the Merchant Navy. The influence of another Walter, his Uncle, was important to Thomas's musical development for Walter yodelled a bit and the young Thomas embraced the style. Thereafter, Thomas could be heard walking along the Setter road, yodelling at the top of his voice.

It is thought that Thomas's first guitar, on which he rapidly became proficient, was given to him by his brother in-law, the late James Fullerton. Thereafter, he was rarely without the instrument and would be seen cycling along with it strapped across his back. Around this time Thomas also took up the mandolin and was known to tinker with the piano and banjo. The final piece in this musical jigsaw was a gramophone given by Stewart Jamieson, father of Alfie o' Meal. Thomas listened to records non-stop.   Fed up with the 'noise', Thomas's parents banished the gramophone to the loft! Blues records were favourites but the most common discs to find their way on to the turntable were of Jimmie Rodgers and the young Thomas began to learn the 'Brakeman's' style of playing and singing note for note. Later, the similarity would become uncanny... page 2  



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