FolkWorld #76 11/2021
© Greentrax Recordings

Ballad of the Banffies

Dr Hamish Henderson, poet, singer/songwriter, folklorist and cultural and political activist, was born on 11th November, 1919, in Blairgowrie, Perthshire, and died on 9th March, 2002, in Edinburgh. In 1951, after service in the British Army during the Second World War, Hamish became an honorary research fellow at the newly founded School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University and in 1954 he was offered a permanent post there. He remained at The School of Scottish Studies until his retirement. Although he was a very fine poet, and arguably one of the most significant voices of the Second World War, it was his songs and the ballads that were to attract him both as a writer and collector. The material he collected on his ‘field’ trips, now safely archived at The School of Scottish Studies, and some of which have been released on The Scottish Tradition Series of recordings by Greentrax, is now legendary and many of the songs he wrote, including ‘The Freedom Come All Ye’, suggested by many as a contender for the Scottish National Anthem, have become ‘folk’ standards.

Hamish Henderson

Hamish Henderson @ FROG

After Hamish’s death, Dr Fred Freeman and Ian Green M.D. of Greentrax Recordings, set about the task of releasing an album of songs and poems of Hamish Henderson and in 2003 the ‘Hamish Henderson Tribute Album’ - ‘A’ The Bairns O Adam’ (CDTRAX244) was released to wide critical acclaim. ‘Volume 2’ was soon set in motion and despite the ‘lockdown’, which delayed its release, the new album, again produced by Fred Freeman, is now proudly released on the Greentrax label.

Old Blind Dogs

Artist Audio Hamish Henderson Tribute Vol. 2 - Ballad Of The Banffies, Greentrax, 2021

Whereas the first album comprised mainly existing recorded material, by such stalwarts as Alison McMorland, Dick Gaughan and The Laggan, plus a track from The School archives of ‘traveller’ Jeannie Robertson, recognised as Hamish‘s ‘discovery’, ‘Volume 2’ consists of mainly newly recorded songs and poems. The singers are Fiona Hunter (of Malinky), John Morran (of Deaf Shepherd), young singer Cameron Nixon (who can be heard on Malinky’s ‘Handsel’ album), Stuart MacGregor and Hamish Henderson. They share the songs, while Fred Freeman reads two of Hamish’s poems. Fred and Hamish were good friends and Fred has an amazing knowledge of Hamish’s huge volume of work. Fred gave 100% to this album.

The tracks are: ‘Ballad Of The Banffies’ (Cameron Nixon), ‘Here’s To The Maiden’ (Fiona Hunter), ‘The Speaking Heart’ (John Morran), ‘Tail Toddle’ (sung by Hamish with an instrumental solo by Marc Duff, plus Hamish chat beforehand), ‘The Presence’ (which was actually a poem by the late Stuart MacGregor and set to music and recorded by Archie Fisher many years ago, sung here by Fiona Hunter), ‘The Roads To Rome’ (Cameron Nixon), ‘Banks of Sicily’ (John Morran), ‘Sou Sewin Silk’ (Fiona Hunter), ‘Katzel Henderson’/’En Marche’ (tune by Fred, played by Euan McLaughlin on the fiddle, followed by a Hamish poem read by Fred), ‘Nou Jeannie Dear’ (John Morran), ‘Sodge Ye The Cotton Spinners’ (discussed and sung by Hamish), ‘Blossom In The Spring (Stuart MacGregor, preceded by a discussion on the song between Hamish and Stuart), ‘Goettingen Nicht’ (Fiona Hunter), ‘Aunty Mary’ & ‘Wee O’Hara’/‘Hamish’s Mad Version of El Alamein’ (Hamish sings his popular ‘party piece’ and Fred reads the poem. The album ends with a quite unique and spirited recording of ‘Rivonia’ by the South African vocal group Atte, licensed from the Claddagh Records back catalogue.

Backing music is handled by the talented Marc Duff (whistles), Frank MacLaughlin (guitar), Euan MacLaughlin (fiddle and banjo) and Angus Lyon (accordion and keyboards). Fred Freeman has excelled in the production of this album which was recorded by Richard Werner of B & B Studios. Sleeve design by John Slavin.

»Hamish produced so many of his great songs and poems in the thick of battle. Not to compare great things with small, but this tribute album has been created in the midst of a different sort of battle: a lethal pandemic with travails of its own – social isolation and shielding; the unremitting masks on and off; perspex screens; the concomitant loss of continuity that one experiences after being out of circulation for 18 months. Nonetheless, we keep the music going; it keeps us going. That is the point.« — Fred Freeman

John Morran

Euan MacLaughlin

Angus Lyon

Fiona Hunter

Frank MacLaughlin

Photo Credits: (1) Hamish Henderson, (2) "Hamish Henderson Tribute Vol. 2 - Ballad Of The Banffies", (3) John Morran, (4) Euan MacLaughlin, (5) Angus Lyon, (6) Fiona Hunter, (7) Frank MacLaughlin (unknown/website).

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