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Davie Henderson

When Shetland Folk Festival stalwart Davie Henderson died suddenly in the early hours of 12th January, the profound sense of shock felt across his own island community reverberated much much further afield – indeed around the world as a whole. The huge outpouring of not only disbelief and sadness but equally respect that followed the announcement of his untimely death at the age of 63 in itself spoke volumes about the person he was.

Although not a musician himself, Davie had never-the-less become widely recognised and appreciated throughout the national and international music world, primarily as a prominent and motivational member of the Shetland Folk Festival committee and especially as the person largely responsible for booking their visiting artists. In this particular context, and indeed as an individual in his own right, his passion for folk and traditional music, not to mention the people who made it, literally knew no bounds.

He first joined the folk festival committee (an entirely voluntary position) in 1990 following an initial period as a festival volunteer, remaining on it until his death. As such, this made him the longest serving committee member in the festival’s 34 year history.

Davie’s main priority in terms of the festival was always to go the extra mile to ensure visitors to the event (artists and audience alike) felt relaxed and completely at home during their stay in Shetland. This approach didn’t however diminish his equal commitment to local artists and audiences of course, and many young or emerging local musicians also have the festival to thank for offering them their first big stage.

He worked tirelessly to ensure that EVERYONE enjoyed themselves as much as possible and that each folk festival was a memorable experience for all concerned. His motivational, infectious personality and never-ending sense of fun ensured that he rarely failed in that particular ambition. In Davie’s eyes, everyone was equal, from internationally recognised names to emerging or unheard of acts. If you had the talent, Davie had the time. This kind of approach endeared him to just about everyone he met - young and old alike.

His ability to combine the more ‘social’ elements of festival and other music related trips outwith Shetland (almost all of which, as a festival volunteer, he financed from his own pocket) with the business related ones, was also nothing short of legendary. Davie had many objectives and priorities on such trips – but going to bed early was certainly not one of them.

He loved and revelled in such visits, with Cape Breton’s Celtic Colours, the Tønder Festival in Denmark, Celtic Connections, the Hebridean Celtic Festival and the Orkney Folk Festival regularly part of his travel related itinerary.

Taking early retirement from his job with BP at Shetland’s Sullom Voe Terminal afforded Davie even greater opportunities to travel. Distant and challenging locations such as St Helena, to name but one, never proved a bridge too far for his ambitions in this respect.

Admittedly he could be, to put it mildly, forthright, and would not shirk from calling a spade a spade. However he harboured personal animosity toward no-one, unless, in his opinion, they fully deserved it. Take a step forward politicians of certain persuasions or others, usually in positions of power or privilege, who he felt abused such positions - especially if by doing so they down-trod the common man. In such cases they could stand by for one of the famous Henderson ‘rants’ - usually courtesy of his Facebook page. He was nothing if not a man of principal.

Inevitably Davie will be sorely missed by many, but most particularly by his family of course. Over and above the dedicated, fun-loving public persona, Davie was also a hugely devoted and extremely proud family man to his own children; Kevin (fiddle player with Fiddlers Bid, Boys Of The Lough, Session A9 and Nordic Fiddlers Bloc), Michelle and Steven, to his grandchildren and equally to his partner Janice and her family. He spoke of them all often.

It’s often observed, especially when remembering someone with affection, that he or she was a real ‘one-off’. Of course, this is entirely true on almost every occasion. Everyone is indeed an individual in their own right. But in a world of such ‘one-off’s’, Davie Henderson most certainly stood out from that particular crowd.

And if, just if, there is something somewhere after this, I can only imagine that with Davie’s arrival there’s probably one hell of a session going on there as we speak.

Davie Gardner