Lindsay Porteous, 1948-2023

Lindsay Porteous, 1948-2023


2023 has seen the death of one of the stalwarts of the jews-harp scene. Lindsay Porteous was for many years one of the few players in Scotland of the jews-harp, or ‘trump’ as he preferred to call it, keeping alive a tradition during a time when the instrument had fallen out of favour.

I first met Lyndsay Porteous at the National Folk Festival in 1998. He, along with my brother, John, fellow Scot, Duncan Williamson, and the Irish player and storyteller, John Campbell, had been invited to the Festival as exponents of the jews-harp, a gathering of players very unusual for the time. For many years he had been one of the few exponents of the Scottish trump, enthusiastically promoting it as a traditional musical instrument. In fact, he was a passionate devotee of the trump, a winner of in 1975 of the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland newly organised Jew’s-Harp competition at the Kinross Music Festival and later at the Auchtermuchty Festival. He won the cup seven times over the years and was later invited to judge the competition.

As I began my research into the cultural history of the instrument, he was one of the first people contacted, particularly as he had collected extensively from around the world for many years. Deborah and I remember well being invited to his house some years later where he eagerly showed us his latest acquisition, an ingenious mechanism that allowed the player to change key by sliding a bar up and down the instrument’s tongue. He was very proud of it.

He recorded an album ‘Portrait of a Scottish Jew’s-Harp Player’ in 1988, with fifteen tracks of jews-harp, two with a mouth-bow and a number of others using an adapted mouth-bow he called a ‘Hum-Drum. He appeared on a number of albums by others, including one by his old friend, Duncan Williamson, ‘My Old Horse and Me’. In 2007 he was one of the guests at the ‘Oxford Firsts’ conference and concert on the jews-harp that included Spiridon Shishigin, Leo Tadagawa and the Wright Family.

His contribution in keeping the tradition alive cannot be underestimated.

Goodbye, Lindsay, from all of us who are aware of the immense contribution you made.

Anyone interested in his music should go to the Tobar an Dualchais website, see also our 2018 Blog post.

Michael Wright