The Narrators
The Musicians
The Recordings
Film and Images

The Salmon's Tail

The Story behind the Story

The paintings of Salmon are by Wildlife Artist Alan Hayman and prints are available direct from his Gallery at


During May 1991, I was homeless and lodging in Dowally, Perthshire ( with Stan Pelc, a great friend and Ghillie on the Dunkeld House beat of the River Tay ) looking for a house, when Dundee University commissioned me to write a piece of music to celebrate the City of Dundee's Octocentenary, using the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Having spent some time working with them prior to this in an Education project, the University decided it would be a good idea to integrate secondary school music students into the 1st performance of the piece, scheduled for November 91. 5 Weeks before the premiere and after the piece had been written the schools finally decided to join the project and the piece had to be re-designed then, to have an "educational role" and be flexible enough to include relative beginners alongside seasoned professional musicians. It also had to be moving, entertaining and of course artistically sound!.

I was supplementing my musical income at the time by working as a "Ghillie" on the River Tay, I spent many days watching and listening to the river and developed a great respect for the spirit of the Salmon as well as discovering a new sonic understanding of the river and its surroundings. Indeed as an angler myself, our least favourite ( yet most frequent ) topic of conversation, was inevitably about the declining numbers of fish returning to the Tay. And of course all the reasons why.

My subject for the commission became clear early one morning after I watched a net-scarred fish, break free from the line of a "seasoned" angler and carry on upriver, to spawn hundreds of natural salmon. It would have to overcome many more obstacles, waterfalls, more anglers, the weather and it had just travelled from the Atlantic Ocean back to this river, which it had been born in. Now I had helped add a treble hook, a lure and a life-threatening injury, to its impossibly difficult Journey.

The narrative was written 1st and while the formal composition of the music and notation developed, music workshops in composition and improvisation were taken to the schools. The 2nd part of the piece being a gradual exploration of improvisation alongside a solid written form, hopefully echoing the learning of new life skills the Ghillie experiences through his re-incarnation as a fish!!.

The piece was 1st performed by 1 Narrator ( Peter Grimes), a 35 piece Scottish Chamber Orchestra, a 15 piece community orchestra, around 30 school kids and Jazz musicians, Tommy Smith, John Rae, John Kenny and folk musician Sandy Wright.

The response to it was way beyond any expectations, it toured briefly, but was too expensive and time-consuming to keep touring. A recording of the 1st performance was so badly botched, it was totally unusable and the requests to hear a recording of it have persisted. Finaly, we lost Peter Grimes and Stanley Pelc, two hugely important people connected with both the story and its 1st Performance and Phil and I commited to re-recording the score and re-mixing it with recordings made between 1991 and 1995.