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‘Tis Sixty Years Since: The 1951 Edinburgh People’s Festival Ceilidh and the Scottish Folk Revival - EBERHARD BORT (Editor)

 ‘Tis Sixty Years Since: The 1951 Edinburgh People’s Festival Ceilidh and the Scottish Folk Revival - EBERHARD BORT (Editor)
Grace Note Publications ISBN 978 1 907676 10 9

1951 was the year of the first Edinburgh People’s Festival, established to counteract the perceived elitism of the International Festival of the Arts. The Festival Ceilidh, presented by Hamish Henderson, recorded by Alan Lomax and featuring musicians from the oral tradition, galvanised the audience. This collection of essays, edited by the tireless Eberhard ‘Paddy’ Bort, draws together diverse perspectives to reflect upon the effect of the Ceilidh and more generally on the Scottish folk revival (or rather, to use the term one of the essayists prefers, ‘survival’).
There are essays discussing the Ceilidh’s contributors such as Flora MacNeill, as well as Margaret Bennett’s exploration of Lomax’s song collecting in the Hebrides. The book also tackles the social and political overtones of the Ceilidh, which ended in 1954 after being proscribed as a ‘Communist front’. The momentum and direction of the ensuing ‘revival/survival’ of Scottish traditional music is amply and fascinatingly covered by Bort himself and others.

The book wouldn’t be complete without exploring the formidable figure of Hamish Henderson, master of ceremonies at the Ceilidh and whose impact on Scottish culture is immeasurable. As well as Henderson’s own memories of the Ceilidh, we have essays which examine aspects of the man himself and his achievements, including Steve Byrne’s fascinating account of cataloguing Henderson’s archive. There is a plethora of approaches befitting such a multi-faceted subject, but highlights include erudite contributions from Adam McNaughtan and Ewan McVicar, and a transcription of the 1951 Ceilidh itself. There is far too much to do justice to here: just read it!

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This album was reviewed in Issue 91 of The Living Tradition magazine.