Link to Living Tradition Homepage





FRASER BRUCE - The Folk River - Tales From The Early Scottish Folk Scene 

FRASER BRUCE - The Folk River - Tales From The Early Scottish Folk Scene 
Traditional Arts Development ISBN: 9781838294243 

We had the best of it,” said Willie Scott when I interviewed him years ago. He was probably right but now, in my seventies, I think it’s our generation, and I imagine future generations will believe it’s theirs. But we had the Beatles and as if that wasn’t enough, we had folk music, hunners of it.

A pal in the band I was in took me to Girvan Folk Club. “Wow!” I thought - and that was me hooked. Next week we went back and saw The Humblebums. There was no turning back. I sold my electrics, bought a twelve-string acoustic and learned to finger pick. Then I moved to East Kilbride where there were clubs on most nights. I made a total beast of myself. Most were run by Fraser Bruce, who is even older than me and who has just published an incredible history of the folk scene in Scotland from those early days. It’s a book that was begging to be written, but a huge undertaking.

It was the death of Gordeanna McCulloch in 2019 that set Fraser thinking about the loss of people who carried the stories and memories from the early days of the revival. Celtic Music Radio’s Gavin Paterson told Fraser he should write the book - and he has.

It’s a book you can dip into or read from cover to cover, based on his own experiences and stories gathered from others over a couple of years of interviews, conversations and correspondence. Fraser soon discovered many ’factoids’ - stories which are believed to be true, but which are often not. They’re stories though, so he’s included some.

It’s so much more than a history of Scottish folk clubs. It also covers festivals and the various streams and influences that each of us travelled to get there, hence the title, The Folk River. It got me thinking about my own journey via Jimmy Shand, Robin Hall and Jimmy Macgregor, Rory and Alex McEwan and The Clancy’s, then Girvan Folk Club and Bobby Robb, the clubs round East Kilbride, and getting the loan of a Martin Carthy LP from Anne Neilson.

The book covers the individual journeys of some weel kent folk including Margaret Bennett, Dolina McLennan, Jimmy Ross and Watt Nicoll. There’s a section on people who were there and who played a huge part in the revival: Morris Blythman, Norman and Janey Buchan, Ewan MacColl, Hamish Imlach, Archie and Ray Fisher. This section alone would have merited an entire book. You can read about the collectors and collections of song: the School of Scottish Studies, the Lomax’s, Arthur Argo and Peter Hall. There are protest songs, bawdy songs, the influence of American song on Scottish folk music and, of course, skiffle and much, much more.

It’s one of the best books I’ve bought in a long time, an essential purchase for anybody interested in Scottish folk music, whether it’s auld punters like me or young folk just discovering the music. This is our story and it is magnificent.

Hugh Taylor


This review appeared in Issue 142 of The Living Tradition magazine