The Carrying Stream Festival was first held in Edinburgh to celebrate and commemorate the life and legacy of the great folklorist, songwriter and poet, Hamish Henderson, in November 2002, six months after Hamish's death in March of that year.
Organised by Edinburgh Folk Club under the chairmanship of Paddy Bort, and timed each year to coincide as near as possible to the anniversary of the great man's birthday, Armistice Day, November 11th, 1919, it has established itself over the past 15 years as one of the highlights of the folk and festival calendar in Edinburgh and indeed in the whole of Scotland.
Based primarily at the premises of the Edinburgh Folk Club, currently at Summerhall Arts Centre having had to leave their previous venue, the Pleasance, which hosted previous years of the festival, some of its events are also staged at Edinburgh's Scottish Storytelling Centre, the hub for the more recently established Tradfest each spring. The festival, for the most part, consists of nightly concerts by regular friends of the festival, visiting performers of stature in the folk world and some interesting and promising new faces. Alongside these events are the ever interesting Hamish Henderson Lectures, given each year in Edinburgh's City Chambers and TMSA singing sessions held in various bars throughout the years. All these exemplify the theme of carrying on the tradition.
Of the regular performers at past Carrying Stream events, Caithness-born songwriter Nancy Nicolson and folklorist and singer Margaret Bennett provided rewarding evenings. In Nancy's case she was celebrating her 75th birthday at the SSC with a line-up of special guests, preceded by a book launch. Formerly a teacher, she has built a reputation over many years amongst Edinburgh folk circles for succinct songwriting - clever lyrics combined with catchy choruses - but perhaps has not received as much recognition as she deserves elsewhere. A good start for anybody new to Nancy's writings would be her newly published songbook entitled They Sent A Wumman, a comprehensive collection which includes a CD of many of Nancy's best songs. One of these, Cuddle (Against The War) was a highlight of the night, as were guest performances by Gerda Stevenson (who reminisced on working with Nancy on school projects and duetted with her), Caithness poet George Gunn, and Rod Paterson.
We had also been treated to Rod's singing in the opening night concert at Summerhall, as part of Scottish trio Bring In The Spirit, alongside singer Kirsten Easdale and accordionist Gregor Lowrey. They had provided a much needed spirited performance on the evening following the shock American presidential election result! Summerhall was also the venue the following Wednesday for the closing concert featuring singer/songwriter Clive Gregson, of Any Trouble fame. Previous to that, Margaret Bennett had held her Sunday night Ceilidh House there, when as well as hosting, she treated us to exquisite renditions of Gaelic and Scots songs. The main guest was experienced singer/songwriter, Fraser Nimmo, but there was also a well-received set from the promising young duo of piper/whistle player Eddie Seaman and guitarist Luc McNally, who sang a couple of songs from his native North East England.
As well as Nancy's celebratory evening, the SSC held two other sell-out evenings. On Friday 11th November, Hamish's birthday, Donald Smith crated a special Armistice Day event, combining a one-act play based on Jock Duncan's collection of voices from the First World War, Jock's Jocks, which featured Scott Gardiner, Chris Wright and Gary and Charlie West, with poems and tunes of Seaforth Highlander E. Alan Mackintosh. The whole show was entitled You're Wanted Lads.
On Monday at the Storytelling Centre, a celebration took place of the songs and poetry of Morris Blythman, otherwise known as Thurso Berwick, the 'Magic Marxist' of the Scottish Folk Revival, with singing by Alastair Macdonald, assisted by Raymond Ross and Corinne Harris. For this member of the audience, it was quite a revelation, not being around in Scotland during the 1960s!
One disappointment at this year's festival was the relatively small attendance on Saturday night at Summerhall for the visit of guitar/harp duo supremos, Chris Newman and Maire Ni Chathasaigh, whose outstanding virtuosity on their instruments deserved a better turn-out. However they will well merit their inclusion in the Festival's roll of past participants when next year's edition of the festival's informative programme is produced.
Aside from the seven nights of music, a major highlight of this festival celebrating Hamish Henderson's legacy is undoubtedly the Annual Hamish Henderson Lecture held on the Saturday lunchtime in Edinburgh's City Chambers, with the cooperation of Edinburgh City Council as hosts. In the past many notable figures have given this talk - the first was Dr. Fred Freeman and others since have included the likes of Sheena Wellington, Sheila Stewart and Dolina Maclennan. This year the honour was given to Frank Bechhofer, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, who proposed that Hamish be given an Honorary Degree by the University. The title of his thought-provoking talk was No Ivory Tower: Hamish Henderson and Academic Life, and music was provided, as has become the 'tradition' so to speak, by Alison McMorland and Geordie McIntyre, fellow tradition bearers. At the end of the talk an informal discussion arose regarding keeping the younger generations, particularly those at school, informed concerning the significance of Hamish's legacy. Mention was made of the documentary film, Hamish, which had a limited release earlier this year and was part of Edinburgh Filmhouse's Scottish selection this Hogmanay. Incidentally, this features Paddy and quite a few of the other participants in this year's festival.
During a magnificent November for music in Edinburgh, the 15th Carrying Stream Festival continued to pull in the audiences and widen the scope of its performances. It was followed almost immediately by a 20th anniversary of Edinburgh's Scots Fiddle Festival with a line-up of very high standard. One song of Hamish's featured prominently at the end of many performances at the Carrying Stream Festival, and it was an appropriate culmination of the musical events of this month that the Dick Gaughan benefit concert at the Festival Theatre finished with a stirring rendition of the Freedom Come-All-Ye, a song that Dick has also sung for many years. The sight and sound of so many performers of the calibre of Billy Bragg, Karine Polwart, Barbara Dickson and Eddi Reader together singing this song, which has been mooted as an alternative anthem for Scotland, emphasised the continuing strength of Hamish Henderson's legacy, which hopefully the Carrying Stream Festival will carry on playing a vital part in maintaining for many years to come.