Unst is the most northerly island in the UK and is only twelve by six miles.
Although small, Unst has beautiful scenery and a thriving community with excellent shops, school, museums, halls, ferry links, guest houses, buses, taxis, garage, leisure centre, care centre, health centre, telecroft, hostel, hotel, cafes, local crafts, pottery shop and brewery.
Unst has always had a great musical tradition with fiddlers like Frediman Stickle and Gibby Gray. Steven is a direct descendant of Frediman Stickle through his mother which shows in his distinguished ability as a composer as well as a first rate fiddle player.
|Steven comes from a musical family. His late father (Arthur) played and taught fiddle, and his Grandfather (John Spence) also played fiddle. His late mother (Ruby) was very musical as are his two sisters (Sylvia & Sandra) and his brother (Stanley). His son George began fiddle lessons at the age of nine and at the age of twelve he won both Intermediate Open and Traditional Young Fiddler of the Year 2015. George was was the overall winner of Young Fiddle of the Year in 2017.|
Ironically, Steven showed no interest as a boy until at the age of nine his mother made him go and see Aly Bain in concert in the Uyeasound Primary School. He did not want to go. But luckily he did and that was it. He said he never thought anybody could ever play a fiddle like that and wanted to learn.
He then began lessons with Dr Tom Anderson and later with Trevor Hunter. Steven’s playing progressed very fast and it was no time until he was performing in concerts and taking part in and winning competitions. At the age of thirteen he was the junior winner of the talent contest at the Garrison Theatre in Lerwick. At fourteen he went to the summer school of music at the Stirling University to progress further with his playing.
It was while at the summer school he made friends with other young musicians including Kathryn Tickell and Gordon Gunn. A year later he went on tour with the Shetland Fiddlers Society in England, with whom he made a live television broadcast on Pebble Mill At One in Birmingham.
By the time Steven was sixteen he joined his first band: Unst based “Spectrum” with Jim Storrie (vocals & guitar), Eugene O’ Brien (five string banjo), Frances Hunter (bass), and his sister Sylvia Spence (accordion).
He also entertained regularly in Unst along with Alison Clark (vocals & guitar) and Martin Ritch (guitar). He performed throughout Shetland accompanied by his sister Sylvia on the piano.
He was also a member of the “Garster’s Dream Band” along with Malcolm Green, Henry Henderson, William Smith, Debbie Scott (fiddle), Sylvia Priest (accordian), Brian Nicolson (guitar) and Roy Tait (bass). They did a tour of Scotland and England and performed in front of 10,000 people at the Fairport Convention Reunion in Oxfordshire.
Steven was very keen to play other instruments and at the age of seventeen he recorded his first album, a tape called “Me & My Shadows” on which he played fiddle, mandolin, guitar and bass.
It was about this time that he was approached by Shetland”s first and foremost folk band Hom Bru to join them and play fiddle full- time. At that time Hom Bru were based in Edinburgh as professional musicians. Steven was overjoyed and jumped at the chance.
But after the Hom Bru boys came home to Shetland for Christmas that year, they decided not to go back to Edinburgh but stay home and find jobs. Although disappointed, Steven still joined the band and played with them for ten years.
They played regularly in Shetland but still managed the occasional trip away playing in festivals in Orkney, Keith, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Faroe, Denmark and France. After ten years in Hom Bru, Steven decided that it was time to leave the band due to work commitments and other things making it difficult to make it to all the gigs.
Steven was also a guest fiddler at the Glenties Fiddle Festival in Donegal, Ireland in 1989. He performed along with Dave Jackson (guitar) and Colin Deyell (bass).
As well as folk music, Steven is very versatile and is a good hand at country fiddle playing. In 1989 he teamed up with Shetland”s Country Club Band: Sheila Henderson (vocals), John Victor Inkster (guitar), Jack Robertson (steel guitar), Roy Tait (bass) and Frank Laurenson (drums) and travelled to London to perform at the International Country Music Festival in Wembley.
Steven’s composing began at the age of eleven when he wrote his first tune for his mother (Ruby) after she won the very first tune competition on Robbie Shepherd”s radio programme “Meet Ye Monday”. He called the tune Ruby’s Success.
He has composed over 260 tunes to date with lots of them recorded on albums, and becoming very popular such as Pig’s Reel, Gibby Gray, Rayburn Reel, Uyea Isle, Golden Goals at Da Gibby to name a few . Many of his tunes have been prize winners in Shetland competitions.
Since leaving Hom Bru in 1993, Steven more or less gave up the fiddle altogether, but still would compose tunes for people who would request tunes for special occasions such as weddings etc. Some of his tunes he wrote for someone or something special to him; one notable example being his son George, for whom he wrote the tune George’s Reel for his first birthday.
Although Steven stopped playing the fiddle in public he continued to play bass in Unst’s infamous rock band the “Bonxies” and in local dance bands. He said that when you play fiddle you tend to be the front man in a band, and he wanted to be out of the spotlight and in the background for a change.
In May 2004 Steven launched his first CD and book ‘Spencie’s Tunes’ which has been a great success with large numbers selling worldwide. Following the success of the first CD and book, in 2008 Steven launched his second publication of CD and book ‘Spencie’s Tunes Vol 2’ which again was another great success. This was followed by ‘Spencie’s Tunes Vol 3’ in 2011. In 2012 Steven published another two books and CDs – ‘Spencie’s Tunes 2009’ & ‘Spencie’s Tunes Unpublished’ (which are a collection of his tunes which have never officially been published) and combined them into one publication of 51 tunes. In 2013 Spencie’s Tunes Vol 4 CD and book were released and in 2014 Spencie’s Tunes Vol 5 CD and book were released, all very successful again. In November 2016 Spencie’s Tunes Vol 6 was published.
Over the years Steven has been writing tunes for family and friends as well as for all sorts of occasions. In 2005 Shetland Enterprise commissioned Steven to compose a tune for the retirement of Dr Jim Hunter, chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Staff at Shetland Enterprise encouraged Steven to charge a fee for the tune (something he had never done before!) and advised him to begin composing tunes on a commercial basis. There was clearly a demand for Steven’s work and it was evident that people would be more than happy to pay for it. With support from Shetland Enterprise, a business plan was formulated resulting in this tune composing service – Spencie’s Tunes. This has now become a popular global service where people from different parts of the world commission Steven to write a tune for any type of occasion. The result is a very personal, unique and eternal gift.