In memory of Peter Elmes

On 19 November, long-time Scottish Country Dance musician Peter Elmes passed away in his sleep.

Johnsonville Club members were amongst the many Scottish country dancers who attended Peter’s funeral at Old St Paul’s Cathedral on Monday 23 November. Many more would have taken part in the service via livestreaming on YouTube.

Scottish country dancing was very much to the fore. There was Scottish country dance music playing as we arrived, record sleeves of Peter’s early recordings on display (two are pictured below), as well as his old jacket worn thin in places from where the accordion rested.

We heard tributes from family members, and from former Johnsonville Club tutors Iain Boyd and Ian Simmonds, much of it focusing on the importance of music in Peter’s life, especially Scottish country dance music.

Before the words of committal, we were given time for private reflection on Peter’s life. Fellow Scottish Country Dance musicians Aileen Logie and Hilary Ferral played the Shetland tune The Light has gone out (Da Slockit Light) by Tom Anderson, the perfect choice.

Peter left a great legacy of Scottish country dance music sets and compositions. Much of his musical collection and treasured accordions are now in the care of Aileen Logie, ensuring that legacy lives on.

Aileen met Peter within a week of arriving in New Zealand in 2009, and their friendship and musical relationship has grown ever closer since then. Aileen has been kind enough to share her personal recollections of Peter.

Read Aileen’s tribute to Peter Elmes: the man, the musician, his legacy below.

Kristin Downey

Peter: The man, the musician, his legacy

Peter was the first person to contact me in New Zealand. Imagine my surprise when, a day after arriving in Wellington in early 2009, I got an email from an unknown Kiwi called Peter Elmes – and he wanted us to have a tune together! The music jungle drums had sounded all the way from Scotland to New Zealand.

The next day he appeared to our rental house in Days Bay – we had no furniture other than two old garden chairs found round the back. He came armed with two accordions and some music – and wasn’t deterred at all by the fact my accordion and furniture were all at sea for three months on a container ship. Neither was he fazed by being given weird things called bannocks (Scottish oatcakes) for lunch.

We sat down and then – ‘could I play this, had I heard of that, did I know so-and-so?’ For hours, we discovered our worlds were overlapping to an amazing degree – and I had my first New Zealand friend.

Aileen playing at the Wellington Region Guid Nychburris (Good Neighbours) event in 2010 along with John Smith, Peter Elmes and Terry Bradshaw

I couldn’t believe there were all these Scottish Country Dance clubs in and around Wellington – and the list of gigs he left me ‘to think about’ was very long.

Over the next months, well years, I learned many things about and from Peter. He had a really deep knowledge of tunes and was impressive in emulating the Scottish sound. I learned how much he had shaped the live music scene for Scottish Country Dance clubs in New Zealand.

He generated enormous respect by all who played with him – and he was very generous in his support. Wellington now has many more Scottish Country Dance musicians than any other area in New Zealand – and this is all due to Peter’s influence and encouragement over the years.

As a mentor and band-leader, he was very steady and secure. Just about nothing would force a deviation or distraction from the tune in hand…even when the sound system one memorable evening was not behaving. I very rarely saw him rattled.

Playing with Peter was a real treat – sometimes challenging, always good, lots of new people, halls, dances and music. I learned the favourite dances here were different (dolphin reels??) – and so was the tempo. Here strathspeys went faster, but jigs and reels a bit slower. The tune repertoire was quite traditional and the New Zealand Scottish Country Dancing ambience is pleasantly more relaxed.

Aileen with Lynne Scott, John Smith and Peter in the band at the Wellington Region Jubilee Ball in 2012 with Governor General Lt General Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae

Peter’s musical output over the decades was quite prodigious. He took great care in matching tunes to dance movements and has left hundreds of superbly crafted dance music sets as his legacy. These are well known and well loved by us all – I’m frequently asked for particular Peter sets when compiling the music for a programme.

Lynne Scott, John Smith, Peter and Aileen at the 2014 Johnsonville Annual Dance with tutor Rod Downey

He also wrote many original tunes – original in all senses of the word – Peter tunes often have a quirky twist in them! There are two books of his compositions.

Aileen with Hilary Ferral, Don McKay and Peter playing at Peter’s 80th birthday dance in November 2016

Peter lived for music, and we worried when he became unwell and was unable to play as he had before. Peter’s strength of character – his calm acceptance, his steadiness in the face of such adversity was humbling as his physical strength gradually ebbed.

With Kath and his family by his side, his reserves ran out on Wednesday 18 November – their wedding anniversary.

Thankyou Peter for all you achieved, the music, the inspiration, the care. It was a real honour to play with and learn from you – and I will keep your great music alive.

Aileen Logie
20 November 2020

Click here to see more photos of Aileen playing in the band with Peter in Loralee Hyde‘s photo history of Peter Elmes. Aileen makes her first appearance in this photographic record at the Wellington Region Guid Nychburris (Good Neighbours) event in 2010 – just a year after she arrived in New Zealand.

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