A Celebration of the Life & Legacy of Hamish Henderson
Hamish Henderson (1919-2002)
Fred Morrison Trio / Gill Bowman / Jim Bainbridge / The Duffers /Tom Hubbard / The Outside Track / Nancy Nicolson / John Carnie /Habbadám / The Lost Brothers / Margaret Bennett / Malinky /Marian Bradfield / Cathal McConnell & Duncan Wood / Tich Frier / Bob Cheevers & Dominic Finley / Emily Smith & Jamie McClennan / Alison McMorland & Geordie McIntyre / Steve Byrne / Tim Neat /Jimmy Hutchison / Raymond Ross / Alec Finlay / Donald Smith / Michael Russell MSP
Pleasance Cabaret Bar/Scottish Storytelling Centre/The Royal Oak
Pleasance Cabaret Bar/Scottish Storytelling Centre/The Royal Oak
A Celebration of the Life & Legacy of Hamish Henderson
4-11 November 2009
Welcome to the eighth Carrying Stream Festival, organised by Edinburgh Folk Club to celebrate and commemorate the great Scottish folklorist and poet Hamish Henderson (1919-2002).
This year’s Festival, marking Hamish’s 90th birthday, also features the launch of the second volume of Tim Neat’s biography: Hamish Henderson: Poetry Becomes the People. Tim Neat has been part of the Carrying Stream Festival from the start, introducing his films – on which he collaborated with Hamish Henderson – to capacity audiences at the Filmhouse and giving one of the Annual Hamish Henderson Lectures.
This year’s Lecture is being delivered by Michael Russel MSP, Scotland’s Culture Minister, and its focal point is ‘Hamish at 90’.
The Festival offers a musical rainbow from Fred Morrison (‘the Jimi Hendrix of the pipes’) to Scotland’s leading song quintet, Malinky. In
between, we celebrate Burns’s quarter-millennium with Gill Bowman’s ‘Toasting the Lassies’, have contributions ranging from Denmark (Habbadám) via England (Jim Bainbridge) and Ireland (Marian Bradfield, The Lost Brothers, Cathal McConnell) all the way to America (Bob Cheevers & Dominc Finley) and Canada (The Outside Track), with rich pickings from Scotland throughout: from Margaret Bennett and Nancy Nicolson to Jimmy Hutchison, Tich Frier, Alison McMorland & Geordie McIntyre, John Carnie, and Emily Smith & Jamie McClennan.
Add in a workshop with Habbadám, sessions like the one featuring George Duff & Adam Jack at the Tass, and the singing session(s) organised by the TMSA in the Royal Oak, and we’re pretty sure we’ve got something for everyone interested in the traditional arts.
It has been, as on the previous seven occasions, a great pleasure to gather so many practitioners of the ‘carrying stream’ together for this annual celebration. It shows that the foundations laid by Hamish and others in the Scottish Folk Revival are sound and lasting and bearing fruit. Celebrating the life and work of Hamish Henderson is not a backward-looking exercise, it is part of the carrying stream:
Tomorrow, songs Will flow free again, and new voices Be borne on the carrying stream
In this sense, enjoy Hamish’s 90th birthday, enjoy this year’s Carrying Stream Festival!
Paddy Bort Chairman of Edinburgh Folk Club
Maurice Fleming shares personal memories of Dr Hamish Henderson, poet and folklorist, who died on 8th March, aged 82.
It is no exaggeration to say that Hamish Henderson changed my life. Nothing extraordinary about this – he did it for many other people. This tall, stooping scholar-gypsy with the throaty laugh and the ready song had a way of colouring one’s life and, whether you liked it or not, altering its direction.
We first met on the night of 26th July, 1954, when, quite by accident, I found myself sitting opposite him at a dinner in the Adam Rooms of the George Hotel, Edinburgh (I still have the menu!). He was interested to hear that I was a magazine journalist with D.C. Thomson & Co., Dundee, but I was a lot more interested in the work he was doing as a research fellow at the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh University.
It so happened I had been listening, intrigued, to a radio series, “As I Roved Out”, in which Peter Kennedy, the presenter, played recordings of traditional songs collected in corners of rural England. I loved the freshness of the unaccompanied voices, the simplicity of the words, and the thought had struck me, “What a pity there are no old songs like these in Scotland!”
Now here was this chap telling me that of course there were, and that it was his job to collect them. And when he learned that I lived in Blairgowrie he told me that all I had to do, at that time of the year when the raspberries were being picked, was to go out into the fields and ask for songs.
“Go amongst the travellers,” he told me, “and here are a few songs to ask for.” He scribbled a quick list of titles. At the top was ‘The Berryfields o’ Blair”.
The following week I wrote him: “You were right! The fields are full of songs. I have found nearly all the ones you asked for – and the woman who wrote “The Berryfields.”
Before I knew it a tape recorder from Edinburgh arrived at my door and all else was forgotten as I filled tape after tape. Belle Stewart, the singer who wrote “The Berryfields”, and her talented family became great friends and their home in Rattray, over the river from Blair, was a collector’s dream house.
Soon Hamish himself arrived in town and a hectic time was had by all. It was at sessions in and out of doors that summer that some of the best material held by the School of Scottish Studies was collected.
Hamish had the gift of making friends of all the singers he met. Travelling people can be severe critics but I have yet to hear one of them miscall him. He was completely at home in their company. Many of them then were what the travellers themselves call “far back”: illiterate, living in tents, their transport a horse and cart. Hamish camped alongside and became one of them (though I never saw him pick any berries!).
I missed out on a historic meeting I would love to have witnessed. A colleague accompanying Hamish arrived at the main door of my Dundee offices one morning and asked to see me. He told me Hamish had been given the address in the city of a traveller singer called Davie Stewart. They were on their way to meet him. He wanted me to come along. I had to explain that my editor would not appreciate my walking out mid-morning to call on a folksinger, however good!
And Davie was good. The following year Hamish rang from Edinburgh. Could I possibly go to see Davie (who had no phone) and arrange for him to travel to London to sing and be interviewed by the BBC?
That evening I hurried to his door. Davie was delighted at the news – but could not go.
“Why not?” I asked.
His accordion, on which he always accompanied himself, was where it frequently was, in the pawnshop. I gave him the money to rescue it, and his rail fare, but it was all in vain anyway. He had, at that time, no false teeth and what with that deficiency and his broad Aiberdeen, the English interviewer could not understand a word he said. The broadcast never took place. Worse, Davie got himself arrested in a London street for busking without a licence.
Still, teeth or no teeth, Davie Stewart was, under Hamish’s guidance, to become one of the most popular troubadours on the folk club circuit, and something of a recording star.
Hamish’s name will be forever closely associated with his work among the travellers, but it should be remembered that he also recorded and befriended many singers and storytellers outwith the fraternity. John Strachan, a wealthy farmer (there were such things then), gave him a rich crop of North-East ballads. Willie Mitchell was a Campbeltown butcher, Willie Scott a Border shepherd.
In Dundee I introduced him to Mary Brooksbank, a one-time mill worker and political agitator. They hit it off right away. Reviewing an album of recordings made at the 1967 Blairgowrie Folk Festival he praised the artistes heard on it – Davie Stewart, Willie Scott. Belle Stewart, Gaelic singer John “Hoddan” MacDonald. “But”, he wrote, “the singer who really steals the show is Mary Brooksbank with her ‘My Johnny’ and ‘The Jute Mill Song’.
He also enjoyed a warm relationship with Jimmy MacBeath, the last “King of the Cornkisters”’ who earned a kind of living by singing at markets and fairs and wherever folk would listen throughout the North-East and beyond, as his footsteps led him.
The people I have mentioned – Jimmy, Belle Stewart, Davie Stwart, John Strachan, Willie Scott, Mary Brooksbank and others, were well on in years when they met Hamish, but they all found the latter years of their lives transformed as he gave them an honoured and deserved place in the pubic gaze.
Jimmy MacBeath (Lomax Collection)
A new song, or version of a song, delighted him. Every time we met he had a recent discovery to tell me about and to sing for my delectation. This he would do no matter where we were, in the street, a pub, a restaurant. I recall a very long version of “The Hairst o’ Rettie” that seemed to last all through a meal in a polite little Edinburgh café.
It was a stroke of enormous good fortune that the School of Scottish Studies had opened in 1951 just when Hamish was considering his future. His temporary appointment as a research fellow was to become permanent. What would he have done, barring that happy accident? He told me he had been tempted to join Theatre Workshop, the company run by Joan Littlewood and Ewan MacColl. At that point they had been considering setting up headquarters in Scotland. When they went back south instead, Hamish decided against it. Had he gone he might well have become a director, an actor, or most likely of all, a playwright.
The Theatre’s loss was Folksong’s gain. Without his inspiration Scotland’s Folksong Revival would not have arrived so soon nor made such impact. It took off with the People’s Festivals he ran from 1951 to 1953 when many of us heard, for the very first time, real traditional singing on a public platform. The star of these “come all ye’s” (Hamish’s term) was Jeannie Robertson, the Aberdeen singer who was his greatest discovery and was to be acclaimed as one of the world’s leading interpreters of the Big Ballads.
He loved these noble songs but could be just as enthusiastic about a humble street rhyme. In the Abbotsford Bar, Edinburgh, my wife mentioned a children’s game song she remembered. Nothing would stop him but we had to repair to the School in George Square to record them. By the time we had finished she had recalled and sung some I didn’t know she knew!
Hamish was proud of his early beginnings as a boy in Blairgowrie though not very willing to talk or write about them. In an obituary in a leading daily newspaper following his death the writer said that Hamish and his mother had been evicted from their “cottage” for not paying the rent.
The “cottage” is, in fact, a fine villa in one of the best parts of the town. Hamish told me in an unusually frank letter that it had been leased to his grandfather, a silk merchant in Dundee. He had died without leaving a will. His widow kept on the lease and had her daughter and Hamish to live with her. However, funds ran low when Hamish was six and they had to give it up and move into lodgings. They lived for a time with a family in Glenshee.
Despite these unhappy recollections, he retained a strong affection for Blairgowrie, and I am sure he relished the fact that it was here, years later, that he was to spend some of his happiest and most fruitful hours.
Of course his life was not all ceilidhs, come all ye’s and roaming the countryside. In his letters he often spoke about the volume of correspondence he had to deal with at the school. Folklore enquiries came to him from all over the world, many requiring timeconsuming research. Still, he enjoyed that challenging work, and his university lecturing duties which gave him the chance to communicate his passions to young folk. On top of all that, there were the invitations to give talks, attend conferences, take part in debates, write papers and articles.
His last years saw a rapid decline in health. He made his last public appearance in Blairgowrie at a day of celebration for the local Stewart family and their legacy. He was driven there from Edinburgh for a morning event but then quietly slipped away to be taken home.
Sheila Stewart sang that day a song about her grandfather which she was to sing again at Hamish’s funeral in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh. It contains a line about old John Stewart which says it all about Hamish, too: “A man you don’t meet every day.”
I won’t meet another like him.
This article by Maurice Fleming first appeared in The Scots Magazine in May 2002. It is here reproduced with the kind permission of its author and of The Scots Magazine.
The Marxist historian E.P. Thompson wrote as follows to Hamish Henderson in a letter of February, 1949:
I think this is your greatest danger and you must never let yourself, by the possible insensitivity or hostility of those who should be your greatest allies, be driven into the arms of the 'culture boys' who 'appreciate' pretentiousness and posturing. They would kill your writing, because you, more than any other poet I know, are an instrument through which thousands of others can become articulate .... And you must not forget that your songs and ballads are not trivialities -they are quite as important as the Elegies.
While the "culture boys" never conquered Henderson, Thompson's letter turned out to be quite prophetic about the trajectory of Henderson's career as a poet. There is something of a chasm in Henderson's achievement, that between his dourly heroic Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica (1948), and his more popular poems and ballads in the folk idiom, even if it is a bridgeable chasm. Apart from the Elegies, which won the Somerset Maugham Award, his poems appeared only in literary and political periodicals, and the occasional anthology of modem Scottish poetry. The publication of his Collected Poems and Songs, which appeared very soon after his eightieth birthday, was therefore very welcome and long overdue.
The volume was only lightly edited by Raymond Ross, editor of the Scottish cultural quarterly Cencrastus, but this does give Henderson's poems and songs maximum room to breathe. The poet's own notes to some of his work, moreover, are more anecdotal than academic, making for lively reading. Here is one example, annotating "The Ballad of Gibson Pasha": "Written in 1942, Gibson Pasha is a fictitious character who acts as a symbol of the kind of predatory small mind not unknown in times of war." Still in print are also two collections of Henderson's essays and reviews: Alias MacAlias (Polygon, 1992) and the collected letters in The Armstrong Nose (Polygon, 1996), both edited with extensive notes by Alec Finlay.
Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica is generally recognised as containing some of the finest poems to emerge out of World War II. Henderson began writing these poems, forged in the heat of desert warfare, when serving as Intelligence Officer with the Eighth Army, and while accompanying the 5 I st Highland Division through Libya, Tunisia and Sicily. Looking back on the desert campaign in a 1989 letter to Naomi Mitchison, the novelist, he quoted Montgomery's words before eventual victory at El Alamein: "lfwe cannot stay here alive, then let us stay here dead." It is those dead that the Elegies commemorate.
The opening stanza of 'First Elegy: End of a Campaign' closes: "And sleep now. Sleep here the sleep of the dust." It is a line which strongly, if subliminally, suggests "the sleep of the just", and makes for muted, yet powerful irony about the waste of war even when the cause is just. Another line in the same poem, "There were no gods and precious few heroes", has often been quoted in Scotland, not least by those unaware of its origin, as a jibe directed against politicians. Within the context of the poem, however, it is very much a compassionate salute to those who died in the desert campaign, an attempt to bridge the gap between the living and the dead.
'Ninth Elegy: Fort Capuzzo' has been widely anthologized. It is the most straightforward of the poems, and was a war poem chosen by Edith Sitwell for her poetry-reading recitals. To adapt E.P. Thompson's comment at the beginning of this essay, the poem certainly makes articulate one common, but poignant, kind of soldierly feeling. It depicts the poet observing a soldier "looking at the grave of a fallen enemy", and how he embodies "the meaning of the hard word 'pietas'." Much of the poem's great appeal lies in how it reproduces the language register ofthe ordinary soldier, but without sacrificing dignity. Consequently, it convincingly conveys the soldier's thoughts:
-Here's another 'Good Jerry'! Poor mucker. Just eighteen. Must be hard up for manpower. Or else, he volunteered, silly bastard. That's the fatal. The -fatal-mistake. Never volunteer for nothing.
While the 'Ninth Elegy' focuses on a particular moment of soldierly piety, indeed a lull in the fighting, 'Eighth Elegy: Karnak' looks back over millennia. The poem surveys life and death from the perspective of ancient Egyptian religion, and in terms of Jungian archetypes. Taken as a whole, therefore, the poems in the Elegies display a kind of epic grandeur, true both to personal experience and historical implications.
According to Angus Calder, Sorley MacLean, who had himself taken part in and written about the desert campaign, was the greatest influence on the Elegies. As Calder wrote, in Chapman, #82, 1995:
Henderson's magnificent Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica are in English, but the idiom seems heavily affected, like some of MacDiarmid's work, by consciousness of Gaelic. No English soldier of Henderson's generation wrote anything like them, yet they do relate to the Gaelic poems by Sorley MacLean, also from the desert war.
He added that "Henderson showed that one could be intensely 'Scottish' with the lexicon of standard English." Henderson was born and brought up in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, historically an area of conflict between Highlanders and Lowlanders. What also makes the poems in the Elegies so intensely Scottish, nevertheless, is the European dimension through Rilke and Hölderlin (the latter having been translated by Henderson), as opposed to Auden and Dylan Thomas, who greatly influenced other British war poets. As for Owen's strong influence on the Elegies, conceded by Henderson himself, most British soldier-poets during World War II wrote in his shadow. Yet for Henderson, as his later work would testify, the poetry was not "in the pity", but in going beyond it.
Sorley MacLean himself contributed a valuable introduction to the 1977 reprint of the Elegies, published by Polygon. He pointed out that desert warfare provided "A good battle-ground in that there was little of human achievement in it that could be destroyed except soldiers themselves and human means of destruction." As for the combatants, they were "as if abstracted from a real world to fight on a remote moon-like terrain, and in general the only bitterness against the 'enemy' was when a soldier got news of the deaths of his near and dear by civilian bombing at home." Henderson's poems assimilate this almost "chivalrous" aspect of the desert war, which has been confirmed by other survivors and historians of the campaign. Often the real enemy turns out to be the bureaucrats and the propagandists, such as the newsreel commentator in the ninth elegy, likened "to the pimp, the informer and the traitor." MacLean's verdict about Henderson's achievement cannot be bettered:
To me its dominant quality is the fusion of its very particular Desert sensuousness with the particular and universal truth of its statement about the dead, reactions and actions of men under the stress of fast-moving war in such places as the North African Desert; and notably of the feelings of the survivor about the dead who have expiated their share of responsibility for the war.
Perhaps most distinctive about these poems is how they capture the mesmerizing aspects of desert warfare, or what the poet called in the original edition, "a curious 'doppelgänger' effect." His haunting memories of the desert campaign and its "doppelgänger effect" led him to certain political conclusions. Here is how he put it:
After the African campaign had ended, the memory of this odd effect of mirage and looking-glass illusion persisted, and gradually became for me a symbol of our human civil war, in which the roles seem constantly to change and the objectives to shift and vary. It suggested too a complete reversal of the alignments and alliances which we had come to accept as inevitable. The conflict seemed rather to be between 'the dead, the innocent' -that eternally wronged proletariat of levelling death in which all the fallen are comrades -and ourselves, the living, who cannot hope to expiate our survival but by 'spanning history's apollyon chasm'.
His allusions above are mainly to the "Third Elegy: Leaving the City" and the final "Tenth Elegy: The Frontier". The third elegy is partly a response to, and appreciation of
c.P. Cavafy's poems about Alexandria in general, and "The God Leaves Antony" in particular. Antony in Henderson's poem becomes those soldiers fated to die, since Alexandria was very much the place for rest and recreation before battle:
… So long then, holy filth of the living. We are going to the familiar filth of your negation, to rejoin the proletariat of levelling death. Stripes are shed and ranks levelled in death's proletariat ....
The tenth elegy, with its echoes of Dante's 'Purgatorio', ends with a reconciliation between the living and the dead, "spanning this history's apollyon chasm". Apollyon, whose Greek name means "the Destroyer", is the "foul fiend" who could be defeated only by Christian standing up to him in Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, an inspiring allegory familiar to many soldiers in the desert war, not least Montgomery. The dead become Dantesque in the following lines:
Here gutted, or stuck through the throat like Buonconte, or charred to grey ash, they are caught in one corral.
Henderson's notes tell us that "The episode of Buonconte was quoted to me by a Tuscan partisan in the hills north of Florence."
It is evident that Henderson came to think, as MacLean confirmed, of the Elegies as expiation for what we would now call "survivor's guilt". Although he employed Marxist discourse in his foreword, his view of the war as one between two main antagonists, but each riven by internal class divisions, even if the Nazi one was demonstrably more culpable than the Allied one, was not so very different from Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, itself coincidentally published in 1948. The impetus which produced the Elegies was quite simple, yet profound in its implications: "It was the remark of a captured German officer which first suggested to me the theme of these poems. He had said, 'Africa changes everything. In reality we are allies, and the desert is our common enemy. '"
Relatively neglected are Henderson's pre-war poems, in which his voice and concerns were similar to those of other thirties' poets, but a handful of these stand up well beyond that intensely political and ideological "low, dishonest decade". Like other, older Left-leaning poets, such as Auden, Spender, and Day Lewis, Henderson was a University graduate, though not of Oxford, but Cambridge, where he read Modern Languages. One poem, "4 September, 1939", is as fine, yet also very much of the period, as any written at the time:
We had twenty years -twenty years for building and learning.
Those twenty years come back no more.
An incendiary dawn is prelude to this soft morning
First morning of the new war.
The notes to the poem are both evocative and informative concerning Henderson's life at the time:
This quatrain was written about 6AM in Kensington Gardens. had spent the night under a tree there, having almost no money, and no place to stay in London. The previous day I had hitch-hiked from Ledbury in Herefordshire, the HQ of a Quaker organisation for which I worked for several weeks in Nazi Germany that summer. I heard of the declaration of war en route to London.
"Picture in St. Sebaldus Church, Nuremberg" describes a mostly indifferent crowd witnessing Christ crowned with thorns in a tone suffused with Audenesque irony:
they were ahead of time most half disillusioned already maybe trying to summon up a little blood-lust
(here and there some genuine sadists)
Another early poem, "Ballad of the Twelve Stages of My Youth", is also strongly autobiographical and pictorial, but its striking woodcut sharpness is reminiscent of Brecht. The concluding stanzas read as a kind of farewell to the thirties style:
From Spain return the Clyde-red brave Brigadiers. I clench my fist to greet the red flag furled. Our hold has slipped -now Hitler's voice is rasping From small square boxes over all the world.
There's fog. I climb the cobbled streets of Oldham With other conscripts, and report to one Who writes with labour, and no satisfaction That I've turned up. -From now, my boyhood's done.
Both in the Elegies, and in his post-war poetry, Henderson left what he called "the unvirile political badinage of the thirties" behind, but without relinquishing the deeply political nature of nearly everything he wrote.
Henderson also composed lyrics to traditional ballads and folk tunes during the war. Two of the best known are the "The 51st Highland Division's Farewell to Sicily" and
"Ballad of the D-Day Dodgers". After the war, he continued to compose ballads and became heavily involved in the Folksong Revival, which flourished not only in Scotland, but also in Canada and the United States. Kindred spirits in this endeavour were the American folklorist Alan Lomax and the playwright and folksinger Ewan MacColl, both of whom were friends.
Henderson's enthusiastic advocacy of the Folksong Revival led to a famous, and still often debated, clash or "flyting" with his prickly old friend MacDiarmid in the pages of The Scotsman. MacDiarmid had a highly elitist attitude towards folksong, even though he admired the old Scottish ballads, while Henderson pointed out how much it had contributed to political protest, praising its demotic and democratic qualities. The battle appeared to be a very fierce one, with no quarter given by either poet, or their respective allies. Their flyting scorched the pages of The Scotsman for a few weeks in the spring of 1964. Yet in a letter to the same paper in 1980, after MacDiarmid had died, Henderson insisted there had been no personal animosity in their debate. As he put it, though their opposing views "had taken on the high mottled complexion of a medieval flyting", this was "in accord with the rules of a traditional native bloodsport which neither of us (I am sure) would have disavowed, and of which furthermore we were both -although in vastly differing degrees of talent and aptitude -by no means unwilling practitioners."
But a flyting poem which had no direct response from MacDiarmid was Henderson's "Hugh MacDiarmid", written in 1945. Subtitled, "On Reading Lucky Poet", which refers to MacDiarmid's autobiography, it is in satirical couplets, and contrasts the senior poet's anglophobia with small-mindedness and other vices Henderson thought were pervasive in Scottish society at the time. Here are some rather blunt, hectoring lines:
You list' Anglophobia' as your recreation,
But it's Scotland that's driven you to ruination.
Why not admit it? The meanness, the rancour,
The philistine baseness, the divisive canker,
The sly Susanna's elder'ism, McGrundyish muck-raking
Are maladies of Scottish, not English making.
MacDiarmid did not respond to this provocation, at least not in verse, and perhaps because Henderson was not very well known as a poet at the time, but had he done so, the flyting between them would have been much closer in spirit to those between Renaissance makars such as William Dunbar and Walter Kennedy, more so than the prose letters in The Scotsman. Henderson's poem, however, certainly echoes that of the flyting makars in its inventively abusive vocabulary and intricate rhyme scheme. How he came to write the poem is very revealing. His notes tell us it was written from a perspective very much outside Scotland: "This was written at Merano, in the south Tyrol (Italy) in the autumn of 1945. I was sitting thinking about MacDiarmid. The more I thought, the more I was puzzled." Henderson's puzzlement was all the greater in that his own poems owed very much to MacDiarmid's reinvention of Scots as a language in the modernist vein of twentieth century poetry.
This is certainly the case with "The Flyting o’ Life and Daith", which displays Henderson at his finest as both poet and songsmith. It is made up of quatrains in vigorous Scots, alternating the personified voice of Life and the voice of Death. A letter to his old friend Marian Sugden in April 1963 described its musical qualities: "Not long back I completed a new song .... to a tune of my own which somewhat resembles the 'urlar' (or 'ground') of a pibroch", or bagpipe music. The poem concludes:
Quo daith, the warld is mine. I hae dug a grave, I hae dug it deep, For war an' the pest will gar ye sleep. Quo daith, the warld is mine.
Quo life, the warld is mine. An open grave is a furrow syne. Ye'll no keep my seed frae fa'in in. Quo life the warld is mine.
Life has the last word, and victory in six of the eleven quatrains, but Death is also always around the comer. Another letter, to the folksinger Jimmy MacGregor in 1967, provided information about how it should be performed:
'The Flyting' is a song for a single singer. Life and Daith are present in the one man. If it were done by two singers as a dialogue, it would be an empty dualism, and I don't think it could ever effectively be made into a group song. The tune is exceptionally exacting, and has to be sustained with grace-noting (which is up to the singer) for eleven verses.
Henderson's ballad is not only reminiscent of traditional folk artistry, but also modernizes the trenchant resonances of medieval allegory. It gestated in his mind for quite a long time, as Alec Finlay's description of its origins indicates: "The Flyting o' Life and Daith' was partly derived from an anonymous medieval German poem which Henderson saw in manuscript in the Library of the University of Göttingen in 1939."
Henderson's commitment to the Scottish ballad tradition is so high, in fact, that his creative energies have been dedicated just as much to collecting, like Bums and Scott before him, and recording as many extant ones as possible, most notably in his field work for the School of Scottish Studies (he was one of its founders) at the University of Edinburgh. He has also been generous in making his own ballads available to performers and musicians, an attitude strikingly unlike the current obsession with "intellectual property rights". A further 1967 letter to Jimmy MacGregor sums up his attitudes well:
As you know, I have taken an exceedingly liberal attitude towards performances of my own songs by the folk singers of the revival, especially the ones who are just about making a living jigging around the clubs. However, you and Robin are now in a totally different position. I don't think that you could altogether deny, furthermore, that it is partly due to my own work ... that you are in a totally different position.
As for the songs I collected and put into circulation, I did this in the context of a definite cultural strategy, and as in war one must always allow for losses of one sort or another. (I am not now referring to financial losses.) My hope – and it has been realised in quite a large number of cases – has been to encourage young folk to approach their cultural heritage with real creative élan.
Two of his most famous ballads are "Rivonia" and "The Freedom Come-All-Ye". The former's refrain tells us all we need to know about it: "Free Mandela Free Mandela". Auden said that "poetry makes nothing happen", but who can really say this about "Rivonia", however small a factor it may have been in the liberation of the great South African? The other aforementioned ballad has become a kind of alternative, or dissident's, national anthem in Scotland. Yet it is anything but narrowly nationalist, as the following lines, so aware of the Scottish contribution to the British Empire, confirm:
Broken faimlies in lands we've herriet,
Will curse Scotland the Brave nae mair, nae mair:
Black and white, ane til ither mairriet,
Mak the vile barracks 0' their maisters bare.
As has been said of Neruda, Henderson's ballads are often sung by people totally unaware of their authorship. Few poets have achieved greater immortality.
At his best, Henderson challenges the aesthetics of "confessional" poetry, very much a dominant one in the late twentieth century. The "Apollyon' s chasm" between his Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica, and his later song-poems in a more popular balladic idiom, is bridged by his undeviating focus on common humanity in all his poetry, rather than the tortured individual psyche of the confessional mode.
Henderson is also more European-minded than most British poets, as is evidenced not only by his own poems, but also his translations, only a small number of which are reproduced in the Collected Poems and Songs. They are mainly of Italian and German poets, many of them unfamiliar in Britain and America. Particularly powerful are the translations of the Sudeten German war poet Louis Fürnberg (1909-57), with titles like "Requiem for the Men the Nazis Murdered" and "From the Serbian Spring 1942". Almost unbearably moving are two poems by Corrado Govoni, "Lament for the Son" and "Dialogue of the Angel and the Dead Boy". Henderson's notes for the former also in some measure apply to the latter: "This is part of a long prose poem, here recast in verse, written by Govoni after the death of his son, Aladino, a partisan of Italy, who was one of 335 hostages shot by the S.S. under Kappler in the Ardeatine Caves, 24 March 1944". In a 1946 letter to the poet Maurice Lindsay, Henderson described how Colonel Kappler, at the time in Allied custody, actually asked for a Gaelic primer, he was so interested in Scottish culture. As it happens, Kappler evaded execution for war crimes, which only goes to show that the struggle with Apollyon is endless. Hamish Henderson in his poems never shirks from the implications of this insight.
This article first appeared as a review in The Dark Horse (Winter 2001-2002), ands is here reproduced in a slightly edited version with the kind permission of the author.
Traditional singer and retired shepherd Willie Scott, left, and poet, academic, and father of the Scottish folk revival Hamish Henderson, watch a performance at Edinburgh Folk Club, 1980s.
A Celebration of the Life & Legacy of Hamish Henderson
4 – 11 November 2009
Wednesday 4/11 8 pm Fred Morrison Trio (Pleasance Cabaret Bar, £8/7/5) The ‘Jimi Hendrix of the pipes’, with Martin O’Neill (bodhran) and Matheu Watson (guitar)
Thursday 5/11 7.30 pm Homage to the Bards (Storytelling Centre £8/6) Gill Bowman in her Robert Burns Show ‘Toasting the Lassies’, plus songs, stories and poems from Nancy Nicolson, Tom Hubbard and Jim Bainbridge.
Friday 6/11 7.30 pm John Carnie & The Outside Track
Scottish Storytelling Centre (£8/6) Outstanding Scottish flatpicker, and multinational pan-Celtic band. The Outside Track boasts an award-winning line-up of Ailie Robertson on clarsach (BBC Radio Scotland Young Trad finalist 2007), Norah Rendell on vocals and flute (Canadian Trad Singer of the Year nominee 2008), Fiona Black on accordion (FAME academy bursary recipient 2007), Alan Jordan on guitar and Sarah-Jane Summers on fiddle.
Friday 6/11 9.30 pm Session with ‘The Duffers’ (The Tass, free) Tunes and Songs with George Duff and Adam Jack and Company
Saturday 7/11 12.30 pm Annual Hamish Henderson Lecture Culture Minister Michael Russell MSP: ‘Hamish at 90’
in association with Edinburgh City Council (City Chambers, free)
Saturday 7/11 1 pm Emily Smith & Jamie McClennan
(Coda Music, free)
Saturday 7/11 8 pm Marian Bradfield, The Lost Brothers, Habbadám (Pleasance Cabaret Bar, £10/8/6) Top Irish female singer, Irish duo Oisin Leech (of the 747s) and Mark McCausland (of The Basement ), “smooth as oak-aged whiskey, beguiling, genuine” (Irish Times); the Danish/Swedish trio Habbadám plays music from the little picturesque island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea – featuring Ditte Fromseier-Mortensen (fiddle), Sigurd Hockings (guitar) and Hanna Wiskari (saxophone).
|Sunday||8/11||2 pm Workshop with Habbadam (Pleasance Cabaret Bar, £5)|
|Sunday||8/11 and 15/11 3 pm TMSA Singing Session (The Royal Oak, Downstairs Lounge, free)|
|Sunday||8/11||8pm ‘Ceilidh House Night (Pleasance Cabaret Bar, £8/7/5) Margaret Bennett, Jimmy Hutchison, Tich Frier Three of the finest singers and tradition bearers of Scotland.|
|Monday||9/11||8.30 pm Bob Cheevers & Dominic Finley (The Royal Oak, Downstairs Lounge, £6/5) Emmy-winning singer/songwriter from Austin, Texas|
|Tuesday||10/11||7 pm Launch of Tim Neat’s ‘Hamish Henderson: Poetry Becomes People’ Vol.II (1952-2002) Scottish Storytelling Centre (free)|
|8 pm Panel Discussion “Hamish at 90’ Scottish Storytelling Centre (free) with Margaret Bennett, Tim Neat, Raymond Ross, Alec Finlay and Steve Byrne, introduced and chaired by Donald Smith|
|Wednesday||11/11||8 pm Malinky (Pleasance Cabaret Bar, £9/8/6) Scotland’s finest song quintet – Fiona Hunter, Steve Byrne, Mark Dunlop, Mike Vass, Dave Wood.|
Timothy Neat, Hamish Henderson Vol. 2 Poetry Becomes People (1952 -2002)
ISBN: 9781846970634 Edinburgh: Polygon, HB Price: £25.00
This book, based on first-hand interviews with those who knew Henderson both personally and professionally, is a major study of this charismatic and fascinating man, and presents both a detailed biography and an assessment of his place in the context of the twentieth century. Timothy Neat is a writer, film-maker, art historian and countryman. His book The Summer Walkers was awarded the Jena Michaelis Ratcliffe Folklore Award in 1996. He lives in Fife.
Gulabeinn (The Curlews/Whaups Mountain) lies to the north-west of Spittal of Glenshee. Hamish, with his mother, spent the first five years of his life in a rented cottage. He, with his mother, climbed to its 2645ft/806m summit at the age of four. To quote his friend and biographer Tim Neat, the mountain “became a living presence to the young Hamish.”
In May 2002, a party of four – son-in-law Charlie Marshall, Angus Calder, George Gunn and Tim Neat – trekked to the summit where a suitable ‘natural tomb’ was found to deposit Hamish’s ashes. George Gunn was the ash bearer. To quote Timothy Neat:
…as he did so, through fissures in the rocks plumes of ash shot up
around the heather – as though a family of dragons had woken.
This striking image suggested the song.
The Royal Oak - Edinburgh Sunday 8 November 2009 Sunday, 15 November 2009
welcomes all singers and musicians to their annual "Carrying Stream" session – this year on two consecutive Sundays!
The Royal Oak, 1 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh
(Downstairs Lounge) 3.00pm – 6.30pm Further details from email@example.com Tel: 0795 191 8366 or 07762 101002
Office G43, The Drill Hall, 30-38 Dalmeny Street, Edinburgh EH6 8RG
Jim Bainbridge is considered by many to be the finest melodeon player of his generation and his larger than life personality makes him one of the best entertainers on the folk club scene. He combines the musical influences from his native Tyneside and his adopted homes of the west of Ireland and now the South West of Scotland – with a dash of music hall thrown in for good measure.
Margaret Bennett has sung at folk festivals and concerts world-wide and, as one of the world's foremost authorities on Scottish Folklore, she features in several films and, as Hamish Henderson wrote: "She is a folksinger of great sensitivity and versatility, and is undoubtedly one of the major figures of the modern Scottish Revival. There can be few scholars on either side of the Atlantic who succeed in combining such a wide range of skills as Margaret Bennett. Margaret embodies all that is best of the spirit of Scotland."
Gill Bowman is regarded as one of Scotland's foremost singer songwriters and a fine interpreter of traditional music, in particular the songs of Robert Burns.
Marian Bradfield is often described as one of Ireland's hidden musical treasures. Based in Donegal, she has four albums to her name and has appeared on several compilations of which Celtic Woman 1 & 2 are the best known. She has also been voted by readers of Hot Press as one of Irelands top ten female singers and short listed by a panel of top music critics as one of Ireland’s Best Solo Performers.
Steve Byrne hails from Arbroath in Scotland’s eastern lowlands. He has been immersed in traditional music since early childhood, and continues to write and arrange songs in his native Scots tongue. Best known as a founder member of innovative Scots folksong group Malinky, Steve’s solo project of songs and poetry set to music from the Angus region, ‘Songs from Home’, was released in 2007 on Greentrax Recordings.
John Carnie is one of Scotland’s finest flatypicking guitarists. His new CD features an eclectic mixture of old and new traditional tunes from Shetland, the West Coast, the Borders and the North-east. "I've absorbed a lot of influences over the years and even taken up the fiddle to give a deeper understanding of fiddle tunes,” he says: “Many great guitarists have been flatpicking jigs and reels for years and I wanted this one to have an entirely Scottish feel to it. The tunes come from the treasure trove of reels, pipe tunes and harp tunes that form the backbone of the Scottish musical heritage".
Bob Cheevers & Dominic Finley Cheevers’ new "Tall Texas Tales" CD is described by his producer Stephen Doster this way: "When you listen to Bob Cheevers, you'll be hearing a singer-songwriter at top of his game. Bob came to Texas, looked around and began to write about the things he saw. His observations about Texas made me wanna go there...and I'm from Texas. Not only is "Tall Texas Tales" a wonderful travelogue of my great state, it is full of songs that could only be written by a man whose life is rich with experience and deep insight. Bob Cheevers is an American classic...make no mistake about it!" Finley, the bassist of Grammy-nominees Cutting Crew, is promoting his second solo album. Nunnery, won "Best Newcomer" at the BBC Radio Merseyside awards.
George Duff, Adam Jack and friends can be found ‘in session’ in The Tass of a Friday night…
Alec Finlay is an artist, poet and publisher. Born in Scotland in 1966, he settled in the North East of England in 2002, when he became the first artist in residence at the new BALTIC Gallery in Newcastle. A friend and collaborator of Hamish Henderson’s, he edited The Armstrong Nose: Selected Letters of Hamish Henderson and Hamish Henderson, Alias MacAias: Writings on Song, Folk and Literature.
Maurice Fleming served twenty-seven years on the Scots Magazine, ten as assistant and the rest as editor. In addition to writing many articles and features for the magazine, he also wrote plays, stories, an books on folklore and Scottish history, among them The Ghost o’ Mause and Other Tales and Traditions of East Perthshire, Mercat Press, 1995; The Real Macbeth and Other Stories from Scottish History, Mercat Press, 1997; The Sidlaw: Tales, Traditions and Ballads, Mercat Press, 2000; Not of this World: Creatures of the Supernatural in Scotland, Mercat Press, 2002; Old Blairgowrie and Rattray, Stenlake Publishing (vol 1 1997, vol 2 2003). He is also a founder-member of the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland.
The Danish/Swedish trio Habbadám plays music from the little picturesque island of Bornholm, situated in the Baltic Sea. On the island a large treasure of traditional tunes can be found, and the trio have searched through the many archives and museums to find their great repertoire of tunes. In December 2007, Habbadám released their first album "Bornholmsk Folkemusik" which won the Danish Folk Music Award for Debut of the Year. "The music is a pleasure throughout, but perhaps the greatest joy is in hearing a young generation work to not only keep this music alive, but reinvigorate it; everything here is as vibrant as if it has just been written" (Chris Nixon in fRoots). The American musician Tim O´Brien said about their first album: "With capable hands and voices, pristine production, and essential heart and soul, this exciting new trio brings the tunes and songs of the Danish Island of Bornholm to life. I've never been to Bornholm, but hearing Habbadám, I'm tempted to visit soon."
Tom Hubbard poet and academic, was the first librarian of the Scottish Poetry Library (1984-92) and was subsequently a visiting lecturer at the universities of Grenoble, Connecticut, Budapest (ELTE), and North Carolina (at Asheville). He is currently IRCHSS Research Fellow at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth.
Jimmy Hutchison was born in Frobost, on the island of South Uist, where he lived until he was ten years old when his parents moved to 'The Fair Toun o' Perth'. It is probable that it was these early years, when Jimmy was bilingual in English and Gaelic, that influenced his later understated singing style. When he sings a song, Jimmy is telling a story with no need to dramatise or over-emphasise. In this respect he has all the attributes of a traditional Gaelic singer, the only difference being that he sings in English or, to be more precise, in Scots.
the Lost Brothers Smooth as oak-aged whiskey, Irish duo Oisin Leech (of the 747s) and Mark McCausland (of The Basement) wax lackadaisical alongside acoustic guitar, hearts planted firmly in Simon Garfunkel's hands and Crosby, Stills and Nash's Zen Americana . Beguiling, genuine and the perfect soundtrack to a lone train ride across golden fields, Trails of the Lonely's boots are timeless and worn.
Cathal McConnell & Duncan Wood (Photo: Ciorstain) Much-loved Irish flautist, whistle maestro, fine singer, composer and folk collector Cathal McConnell from Co Fermanagh (World Musician of the Year 2002) in the company of exquisite Scottish fiddler Duncan Wood.
Alison McMorland & Geordie McIntyre Although essentially solo performers, Alison and Geordie have developed a joint repertoire based on a fine sense of personal harmony. Two of Scotland’s outstanding folklorists, tradition bearers and singers: "A stunning display of how powerful tradition bearers can be presenting the experiences of people and the rich mythology of Scotland with a skill and unadorned passion for their cause." (folkbluesnbeyond) "Two of Scotland's most passionate singers whose wealth of knowledge and experience of traditional song is legendary" (Living Tradition)
Umbilically linked with Edinburgh Folk Club – they played their first support slot here – this five-piece has made huge strides in the international folk scene over the past eleven years. Perfectly combining songs and harmonies with impeccably played tunes, “this quintet may be the finest young Scottish band since Silly Wizard. Its gentle lilt, sly wit, and sweeping melodicism are as intoxicating as a fine single malt.” (Boston Globe) The current lineup features Fiona Hunter (vocals, cello), Steve Byrne (vocals, bouzoukis, guitars, Jew's harps, shruti box), Mark Dunlop (vocals, whistles, bodhrán, flute), Mike Vass (fiddle, guitar) and Dave Wood (guitar, bouzouki).
Fred Morrison is a household name in the world of piping, known for his prowess on the Great Highland Bagpipe but also for his highly successful career performing on stages across the globe on the Reelpipes, or Border pipes as they are also known.
Since 2002, filmmaker and author Timothy Neat has worked on the two-volume biography of his great friend and collaborator, Hamish Henderson. The first volume, Hamish Henderson: The Making of the Poet, was launched at the Carryiong Stream Festival two years ago; the second and final volume, Hamish Henderson: Poetry Becomes People, is published by Polygon in November 2009.
As a singer, songwriter and storyteller, Nancy Nicolson relates warmly to all audiences from toddlers upwards, through schools, Day Centres, Burns Suppers and ceilidhs and folk clubs. Nancy was brought up on a croft in Caithness. With the New Makars Trust she has taught songwriting in Fife, and until recently she worked as Education Officer for Celtic Connections in Glasgow.
The Outside Track Featuring a multinational line-up from Scotland, Ireland and Canada, The Outside Track plays cutting edge modern traditional music reminiscent of early Solas with a Canadian singer and a hint of the Poozies with the occasional bluesy edge.
Mario Relich is a Lecturer in Media and Postcolonial Literature Studies at the Open University, a poet and critic, Secretary of the Scottish Poetry Association and Board member of PEN Scotland.
Raymond Ross is a playwright, freelance writer, editor, journalist, education correspondent and an Associate Lecturer with the Open University in Scotland. He was a co-founder and the editor of Cencrastus magazine and a contributing co-editor of critical books on poets Sorley MacLean and Norman MacCaig. He also edited Hamish Henderson: Collected Poems and Songs.
Michael Russell MSP, Minister for Culture, External Affairs and the Constitution, is a member of the Scottish Parliament, elected for the SNP in the South of Scotland region. Formerly a television producer and director, he is also the author of seven books.
Donald Smith is a poet, playwright, writer and Director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre. He was also a founding Director of the National Theatre of Scotland and first Chair of the Literature Forum for Scotland.
Polygon Pluto Press
This past year, we have lost some great friends and supporters of Edinburgh Folk Club. We remember fondly the gigs Jim Reid played at the Club, and the poems and musical ditties Bob Bertram delighted us with. Lesley Hale only last year won the Club’s annual songwriting competition; and Rita Anderson was a regular who will be sadly missed at the club
Jim Reid (1934-2009)
Bob Bertram (1928-2009)
Lesley Hale (1947-2009)
Rita Anderson (1938-2009)
The Carrying Stream Festival
The Carrying Stream Festival
is organised by Edinburgh F0lk Club
Paddy Bort, Chair Allan McMillan, Vice-Chair Heather McKenzie, Secretary John Jessiman, Treasurer
in association with:
Scottish Storytelling Centre (Donald Smith/Esther Blackburn) City of Edinburgh Council (Cllr Deidre Brock/Jo Navarro) The Pleasance (Rachel Dyas) TMSA – Traditional Song & Music Association of Scotland (Fiona Campbell) Sandy Bell’s The Tass The Royal Oak
Maurice Fleming Mario Relich Geordie McIntyre
Thanks to everyone involved and helping with the
The Carrying Stream Festival
November ‘09 – April ‘10 Every Wednesday, 8 pm, at the Pleasance Cabaret Bar; Tickets (at door) £8, £7 concessions, £5 members
(unless otherwise advertised)
18 Nov Steve Tilston 25 Nov Lori Watson Three
2 Dec Eddie Walker 9 Dec Ailie Robertson Band 16 Dec Old Blind Dogs (£9/8/6)
13 Jan Dick Gaughan 20 Jan Whistlebinkies 27 Jan Burns Night
3 Feb Jani Lang Band 10 Feb Anna Massie & Mairearad Green 17 Feb Sara Grey & Kieron Means 24 Feb Mike Wilson & Damien Barber
3 March Ken Campbell’s Ideal Band 10 March Celtish 17 March Brendan Hendry Trio 24 March Dana & Susan Robinson
7 April Alan Reid & Rob van Sante 14 April Pipedown 21 April Bruce Molsky 28 April Allan Taylor
Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Hamish Henderson
Edinburgh, 4-11 November 2009
This year marks what would have been the 90th birthday of Hamish Henderson (1919-2002). From 4 to 11 November of this year, Edinburgh Folk Club and associates are putting on the 8h Carrying Stream Festival, a celebration of the life and legacy of this great Scottish folklorist and songwriter. The Festival has been on the go since the year of Hamish Henderson’s death. Again, an array of singers and musicians will fill an action-packed week of concerts and workshops.
The Festival opens with a gig by Scottish piper extraordinaire Fred Morrison, on Wednesday, 4 November, at the home of Edinburgh Folk Club, in the Pleasance Cabaret Bar (60, Pleasance, 8 pm). It is, of course, also the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns this year. On Thursday, 5 November, Gill Bowman will present her show ‘Toasting the Lassies’ as part of an evening, hosted by Nancy Nicolson an featuring Jim Bainbridge and Tom Hubbard, at the Storytelling Centre.
We stay at the Storytelling Centre for Friday night (6 Nov), with Scottish guitarist John Carnie and the pan-Celtic, multinational band The Outside Track.
On Saturday, at lunchtime, the Scottish Culture Minister Michael Russell will deliver this year’s Hamish Henderson Lecture (City Chambers, 12.30); in the evening, back at the Pleasance, a triple bill should provide one of the highlights of the Festival: Marian Bradfield is one of Ireland’s top singer/songwriters; the Lost Brothers, also from Ireland, are known for their meticulously presented folk rock jaunts, impeccably rendered vocal harmonies and stealthily intricate instrumental arrangements; and Habbadám from Bornholm have blown us away with their tunes and songs on a previous short visit, and they were also featured at last year’s Fiddle Festival.
Habbadám will also offer a fiddle workshop on Sunday afternoon; and the TMSA invites to a sing around session at the Royal Oak. In the evening, Margaret Bennett hosts the traditional Ceilidh House Night, with singers Tich Frier and Jimmy Hutchison.
Monday, 9 November, the American singer/songwriter (and pal of Willie Nelson) Bob Cheevers plays at the Oak, in the company of Dominic Finley.
Tuesday, on the eve of Hamish’s 90th, at the Storytelling Centre, Tim Neat will launch the second and final volume of his biography of Hamish Henderson, followed by a panel discussing Hamish’s relevance for our times
– with Margaret Bennett, Alec Finlay, Raymond Ross and Steve Byrne, chaired by Donald Smith.
The finale of his year’s Carrying Stream features top Scottish five piece band Malinky, at the Pleasance Cabaret Bar on Wednesday, 11 November, Hamish’s birthday.