by: Robertson, Stanley
There’s bin an awfie lot o scholars and clever kind o cheils hae wrote aboot Hamish Henderson, wha wis a man o great skill in the airt o folklore.Noo weel deservedly be the guid man cos he wis an ootstanding body in his field o expertise and he wis instrumental in bringing back an helliva lot o lost sangs and ballads.He wis een o the greatest men that lived intae the 20th Century.
Apart frae his gallant deeds during the Second Wand Waur , wi taaking the surrender o the Italian troops he wis an intelligence captain as weel. He wis wee! liked by his men and comrades.He wis a scholar and a gentleman an he wis a marvellous songwriter and poet. His works are greatly remembered by the academics and ordinary folks alike. Theres nae a bad word could I speir aboot him but tthats nae the reason why I am sceeving aboot him today. Ye see I wid like tae tell folks aboot a different dimension aboot the big man.
Intae the early fifties decade Hamish Henderson alang wi Callum McLean foonded the Scheal o Scottish Studies and tae collect and archive aa the various kinds o music o Scotland. They were awfie successful in the endeavours and their names became a fairly amongst scottish folks.Yet the discovering o Jeannie Robertson, a traiveller woman frae Aiberdeen Hamish brought tae licht a hale new opening for ancient balladry.
It wis back aboot 1954, whin I wis a bairnie at squeal I first heard word o a been rannie gadgie ( a toffie gentleman ) wis visiting on some o mi relatives and that his wis recording their music ontae a tape machine.Many o the Traivellers wint up tae see him and his name wint roon aboot them like a dose o salts.I wid like tae tell ye aboot the first meeting wi mi Auntie Jeannie Robertson.
Hamish hid wint tae the Castlegat Mairket on a Friday morning and he asking the Traiveller folk aboot if they kent ony singers amongst them and abody aye kepy geing him the name o Jeannie Robertson. Eventually he traced this woman doon tae an address at causwayend. She bade intae an auld shoppie at the comer o Hutcheon Street and it wis a wee bit butt and ben.Donald ,Jeannie’s husband and his brither Issacc were baith oot hawking and Jeannie wis maakin her maan’s supper and it wis late aiftemeen. Hamish appeared at Jeannie’s door wi a huge tape recorder and started tae ask her if she kent ony muckle sangs or ballads tae which she replied, “ I ken a sang or twa”
In order tae get Jeannie interested cos he kent she wis getting impatiend Hamish sang a verse o “ The battle o Harlaw” and that seemed tae dae the trick cos it wis a favourite ballad o Jeannies.
She said tae Hamish “ laddie ye dinnae quite hae it gan the richt wye. Jeannie then sang tae Hamish in her marvellous vouce, “ As I cam in by Garrioch Land and doon by Netherhaa, there wis fifty thoosand Heilan men a mairchin tae Harlaw.Singing diddie aye o sae fal da doe sae diddie aye o aye ae.”
Hamish wis enthrolled nae only by her kenning the ancient ballad but by the power and clarity o the woman’s voice.She wis a natural diva. Onywye she invited him tac come back at nicht whin her man and faimily wid be in. Hamish never imagined whit kind o a ceilidh lay in store for him that nicht.
On returning back that nicht wee! the hoose wis packed tac the gunnel wi a boorichy o Traivellers. Amongst them were pipers, fiddlers. Accordion players singers, dancers and aa mainner o talented musicians.and each wis able tac contribute tac the evening.
Hamish telt me personally o that experience. He recalled that he entered intaer a room full o Traivellers and each een wis better than the ither.There wis a lot o reek in the room but I made mi wye ower tac a place near the fireside so that I could get a place tae record frae . The recording machine wis a big cumbersome guldich o a thing and it hid a big hand held micraphone. It gave me a gey cultural shock that nicht cos I never believed whit I wis hearing. The Traivellers wis siging ballads and songs that naebody kent o except a puckle academics at university yet amongst these folks they were ilka day kind o songs. These sangs were priceless like rare antiques. The sensation wis pure exhileration tae me. The sheer volume o the material almost knocked me for sax. Here wis I hudding up this big microphone and Ifelt I wis standing underneath the mighty Niagara Falls and only haeing a thimble tae catch the deluge o lore that wis coming oot tac mi. Weel I kent that nae only hid I discovered a great singer but that I hid tapped in tac a source o pure folk music that wid tak years tac record. This colaboration proved tac be awfy fruitful and much wis collected bu Hamish and other folk culture scholars.
Monies a time aifter that did I meet Hamish Henderson and he wis niver a stranger amongst my folks Occasionally he wid visit mi mither’s hoose and record her and mi faither and I would meet him plenty o times at Jeannie hoose as weel He became a familiar figure and he kent us aa by name and we gave him reverence cos we respected wha the man wis.
Through the many folk celidhs and sessions in the folk scene I spent many times wi Hamish. I often wid sing some o the man’s am compositions and mi favourite wis a sang caweed” come all ye”
Although I hae sang and telt stories roon differebt pairts o the warld I wid aye finish up mu concerts wi singing that particular sang and it wis aye received weel.
During aa the lang years that I kent Hamish I aye hid a great respect for the man. I aye remind gang up tac his wee garret up intae the Squeal o Scottish Sudies and him telling mi aboot the ghost o the auld general o the nile and how many times he could fee! his presence. He aye telt mi stories and taught me much in the academics o ballads and stories and the intructions he telt me gave me an education whit noo pits mi in guid standing at the university.
The Lat time I met Hamish I wis daeing a concert at Netherbow Theatre in Edinburgh and I heard that Hamish wisnae very great in health. Masell and a couple o mi cronie storytelling freens decided that ifhamish couldnae manage tac come tac the cei!idh then the ceilidh should come tac see Hamish. The strange pairt wis we did not know where the place was and by a act of fate we met Margaret Bennet , the gaelic singer and she took us and added a warm sparkle to the proceedings of the visit. He was so glad to see us all. He called mc his bairn and asked me to sing the”Clattering o Clyde’s Water” which I did and it pleased him so much. The others entertained Hamish unti! he began to get tire. I will never forget that joyful look in the face of Hamish.He died not long aifter that occasion. I was invited to be a pall bearer at his funeral but I had damaged my shoulder only a few days before so I never got to go to the funeral. I heard through the grape vine of all that transpired
Hamish left to Scotland a marvellous legacy of folklore. If it were not for Hamish Henderson a vast ammount of the lore of the people would have bin lost. The work he was involved with was magnificint and I bow my head in repect to the memory of the man. He will ever live in the hearts of the Scottish people and especially the Traivellers who he lovingly described as his am bairns.