Link to Living Tradition Homepage





CHARLES NASMYTH - Hamish Henderson: A Conversation Piece - A Portrait In Six Conversations 

CHARLES NASMYTH - Hamish Henderson: A Conversation Piece - A Portrait In Six Conversations 
Fife Global Press ISBN: 9780955805882 

The editor is best known as a painter. His portrait of Hamish sets him in his imagined office in The School of Scottish Studies sitting at his untidy desk which also has a photo of his wife, Katzel. He is deep in thought, his hand on his dog which gazes up at him. On the wall and on the mantelpiece are photos / drawings / statuettes of people who were important in his life; Jeannie Robertson and Pete Seeger from folk music, but amongst others there are Mandela, MacDiarmid, Graziani, Gramsci… and the wartime Captain Henderson in uniform.

All have a place in this remarkable book which brings together essays, talks, conversations, poems, photos and illustrations. They act like triangulation points with each theodolite bearing converging on the multi-faceted mountain that is Hamish Henderson.

The most impressive and incisive contribution is by his daughter, Janet, who gives her reworked essay the title, The Green Man. Her keen, perceptive and loving account on their unusual “two homes nearby” family life is very moving and very quotable writing. Here is just one. “Life was never boring – In fact I don’t think dad ever uttered the word boring in his 81 years!”

The article on the Calton Hill Vigil for Scottish Independence with Hamish’s part in it is enlivened by many photos. The critical assessment given by Dr. Fred Freeman, Professor of Traditional Music at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Burns, Hamish And Song, provides lots of insightful interest. There are contributions from Alison McMorland, Scott Gardiner, Ewan McVicar, Geordie McIntyre and Margaret Bennett, and other names that will be familiar to readers of these pages, but, of course, there are others who reflect other aspects of the life of this giant of a polymath.

As an artifact in itself, the book is very pleasing; printed on high quality A4 sized paper with very attractive design and layout. It will take its place in this house on shelf alongside the two Timothy Neat biographies, Alias McAlias, The Armstrong Nose, Collected Poems And Songs and Borne On The Carrying Stream. No other figure, apart from Burns, is so well-represented amongst the hundreds of music books there. Many people who feel that they are part of the “carrying stream” will gain a great deal from this admirable book.

Vic Smith


This review appeared in Issue 145 of The Living Tradition magazine