When Roy Williamson died in 1990, most of his instruments were sold at auction, with a few donated to the Falconer Museum in Forres. A notable exception, the famed combolins – priceless instruments he designed and partly built himself, the folk world’s Stradivarius, perhaps – were left in the capable hands of his friend Dave Sinton.
The other tangible witnesses to the legacy of one of Scotland’s most loved folk musicians doggedly refused to resurface, though not for a lack of interest. That one of the instruments most symbolic for Scotland’s self-awareness did and will soon be on public display is thanks to the persistent effort of Steve Byrne, founder of the band Malinky and a Corries fan since childhood.
A post on thesession.org website brought the exciting breakthrough. A forum user claiming to have possession of the bouzouki Roy played in the original black-and-white video of Flower Of Scotland was interested in knowing how much it was worth. Using Facebook and a newspaper cutting about the auction he’d kept in a scrapbook from age 13, Steve tracked the original winners of the bouzouki to Aberdeenshire. Lifelong Corries fans themselves, they wanted the iconic instrument they’d cared for for 30 years to find a long-term home.
A folklorist as well as a noted performer, Steve has dedicated himself to preserving precious objects related to traditional music. After nearly a decade ago helping secure the papers of Hamish Henderson for Edinburgh University Library, he now made it his heartfelt mission to find a home for the bouzouki in the university’s Historic Musical Instruments Collection.
After negotiating what he thought a reasonable price of £3,000, Steve consulted with the university and Stuart Eydmann of The Whistlebinkies, now a musicologist of note and historian of folk instruments, on how to finance and present the find. His first idea, to play the original Flower Of Scotland arrangement on it at the Arbroath 700 celebrations in April 2020 and simultaneously launch a crowdfunder, fell victim to the pandemic.
The crowdfunder launched in August then reached the target in only days. On top of small donations from fans, a generous anonymous donor, who said he wanted to help preserve the music “of the Scotland that I grew up in”, chipped in about half the total.
Roy reportedly didn’t want his instruments to end up behind glass, but Steve’s belief is that such a legacy risks becoming lost if not curated and celebrated by public institutions. In Edinburgh, the bouzouki can be admired by fans for years to come.