Spootiskerry reel

Also known as Fateful Head, Spoot Askerry, The Spoot O’ Skerry, Spootaskerry, Spootis Kerry, The Spootiskerry.

There are 46 recordings of a tune by this name.

A tune by this name has been recorded together with Big John McNeil (a few times), Willafjord (a few times), The High Road To Lyon (a few times), Islay Rant (a few times) and John Keith Lang (a few times).

Spootiskerry has been added to 54 tune sets.

Spootiskerry has been added to 736 tunebooks.

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Three settings

X: 1
T: Spootiskerry
R: reel
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
DE | G2 DE GDEG | DEGA B2 AB | G2 DE GABd |eged B2 AB |
G2 DE GDEG | DEGA B2 AB | g2 ed edBA | B2 G2 G2 :|
ef | g2 ed ed B2 | BABG E2 DE | GABd eged | B2 A2 A2 ef |
g2 ed ed B2 | BABG E2 DE | GABd eged | B2 G2 G2 ef |
g2 ed ed B2 | BABG E2 DE | GABd eged | B2 A2 A2 DE|
G2 DE GDEG | DEGA B2 AB | g2 ed edBA |B2 GB G2 ||
X: 2
T: Spootiskerry
R: reel
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
G2DE GDEG|DEGA B2AB|g2ed edBA|1B2G2 G2DE:|2B2G2 G2ef||
|:g2ed edBA|BdBG E2DE|GABd eged|B2A2 A2ef|
g2ed edBA|BdBG E2DE|GABd eged|B2G2 G2ef|
g2ed edBA|BdBG E2DE|GABd eged|B2A2 A2DE|
G2DE GDEG|DEGA B2AB|g2ed edBA|B2G2 G4||
X: 3
T: Spootiskerry
R: reel
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
G2DE GDEG|DEGA B4|g2ed edB2|dBAB G4:|g2ed edB2|
BABG E2DE|GABd eged|B2A2 A4|g2ed edB2|BABG E2DE|
GABd eged|B2G2 G4|g2ed edB2|BABG E2DE|GABd eged|
B2A2 AcBA|G2DE GDEG|DEGA B4|g2ed edB2|dBAB G4||

Twenty-three comments

Spoot O’Skerry

This is a reel, not a hornpipe. Works well on the whistle in "A", (but the fiddlers didn’t like it!)

Posted by .

Works well on the whistle in G too. I think it’s by a Shetland fiddler called Burns (no relation). A great tune if you like syncopation. You wouldn’t play it in a Comhaltas session, though.

My husband and I introduced it to one of the local Comhaltas sessions as a Shetland tune by Samuel Ian Rothmar Burns and now they are requesting we play it each time we attend. Are they breaking the rules? They do have a playlist, but other tunes there seem to be allowed.

Well , I’m only going on hearsay - perhaps they’re more tolerant than I think.


This reel was composed by Shetland fiddler Samuel Ian Rothmar Burns (Ian Burns for short) in 1980. Spootiskerry, as it is more appropriately named, is the name of a farm in the Burns family. A "skerry" is a group of rocks which is covered by the sea, but can sometimes be visible depending on the tide. At the session I attend, we play this tune with Reel de Montr

Posted by .

This is a quite popular session tune in Scotland: in fact, almost all the Scottish musicians know it. Just like an Irish tune the High Reel, it’s a fun to play very fast with other players.


A magic tune. The correct title is "Spootiskerry" (as noted by SPeak). Very popular in sessions in the northeast of England. It was recorded by Northumbrian concertina virtuoso Alistair Anderson’s band Syncopace in c. 1995.

Da Fitful Head

The (in Shetland dialect, "Da") Fitful Head is a high bluff with steep drops to the sea at the south end of the Mainland island of the Shetland group. I don’t know if the name means "fateful" or has some other meaning. Anyway, I learned the tune as "The Fateful Head", which obviously refers to the place I have described - whatever the original, or correct, name of the tune may be.

As SPeak says: Spootiskerry = name of farm; skerry = sea-covered group of rocks. To add: spoot = razor clam

Posted by .


I have a copy of Ian Burns’s tunebook, which is called "Spootiskerry". There’s also a photo of the composer at Spootiskerry looking across to the town of Brae.

In the Introduction he says, "Spootiskerry - the croft belonging to my late grand aunts, Bella and Joan Nicolson, situated between the village of Sullom, and the new town of Brae. Originally spelt Spootskerry, but as the years have passed, and "i" or an "a", and sometimes an "o" have been added… I have named my book Spootiskerry as that was the name I gave my first composition."

I used to ken Ian Burns - ordered many a copy of his book. A fine fiddle player he was too, though he could play several other instruments.

The spoot (as EB says, a razor clam) is one of the varieties of ‘ebb meat’ that is enjoyed in the northern isles. It gets its name, apparently, because it ‘spoots’ (spouts) when you walk above its hiding place under the sand. This is the way to detect them when you are fishing for them. You walk backwards over the shore and when you see the spoot spoot, you use a long knife to dig it up. My old neighbour, when I stayed up north, told me that you would lay out a dozen spoots on top of the Rayburn, and by the time you’ve put down the last one, the first one is ready. Roof gutters are also called spoots (similar shape) and gutter is mud.

Instant Fish

Instant Fish
by Phidias!
Add water
and they swim.

(by Peter Porter)

Spot the spoot, pot the spoot if you can!
-If you cannot, just claim you’re a sport with clams.
(by Birlib)

This reel seems to have be composed in as much time as it takes a razor shell to withdraw in the depths of the strand! It certainly is catchy and quick to learn too.

Although this tune is invariably described as having been composed in 1980 (when it was first published) in fact it dates from twenty years earlier. Ian’s notes that accompanied his 1980 cassette of the same name say that it was "his first composition" and that "these compositions have happened, at the oddest times, over the last twenty years".

Jane Coker’s

As played at the Oberlin session.

Another name for Spootiskerry?

Sounds a lot like Spootiskerry to me…

Yep. Spootiskerry.

The trouble with searching on ABC

Sorry - I searched on G2DE GDEG and didn’t find it. I didn’t think to search on G2 DE GDEG.

For some reason this is the hardest tune to remember.


The top version here is the one that is (virtually) correct and sounds much more fluent than the others. I would mention in Ian Burns original version, and the only way I have heard it, there are 3 crotchets in the last bar. That makes it specially suitable for the Shetland Reel, a traditional dance that is now very rarely played at an open dance, where the last steps are always three big ‘dunts’ of the feet. The Shetland Reel is played at a slower speed than normal reel speed, and Spootiskerry is very versatile in this respect.
Incidentally Ian, a lovely man, loved getting his kilt on, when he excelled on the pipes, and he was no mean accordionist either!