VARIOUS ARTISTS - Hamish Henderson Collects
Kyloe Records Kyloe107

This new release, masterminded by Mike Yates, presents a selection of recordings made by the late Hamish Henderson during the 1950s and currently housed in the School Of Scottish Studies Archives at Edinburgh University . Hamish is considered to be one of the most important of the century's folksong collectors; in a letter to The Scotsman in 1953, Hamish outlined his stance thus: "It would be a great irony if your readers assumed that I did not want my recordings of Scots folksongs to be broadcast. On the contrary, I believe that the broadcasting of them would be an event of great cultural significance in Scotland ."

When Hamish died in 2002, Mike was determined to do something to mark his passing and celebrate his status as the man who had virtually kick-started the present-day Scottish folk music revival. Inspired by Fred Freeman's project, a tribute CD on which revival singers performed songs written by Hamish ('A' The Bairns O' Adam', for Greentrax, reviewed in LT 54), Mike decided to put together a CD of Hamish's field recordings from the mid-50s. Trawling through the 600 plus tapes that Hamish had deposited in the Archive was a daunting yet pleasurable undertaking, and Mike was struck by the sheer number of superb performances enshrined on the tapes, even while recognising that some of the singers were a little past their best when Hamish had encountered and recorded them. Inevitably some technical problems surfaced, but these have generally been overcome and the recordings included on this CD sound much better than might have been imagined – the best are excellent, the worst still listenable (despite the artificial tinnyness and pitch lapses that beset Jimmy Young's two tracks).

Mike has done a creditable job in selecting a representative cross-section of the performers Hamish recorded. Jeannie Robertson, whom Hamish is credited as having "discovered", is of course represented, though with just the one track comprising three short songs. Mike's dilemma was whether to just go for the "big names" in order to make the CD more obviously marketable, or else try to include some less well-known, though no less important, singers. The final selection includes examples of both, though is weighted more towards the latter – a brave, but I feel, sound decision. In this context, it's good to hear Aberdeenshire travellers Blin' Robin Hutchison and Geordie Robertson, while other singers heard on this CD include John Strachan, Bella Higgins, Jock McShannon and Jean Elvin.

Finally, after the songs and ballads, comes a piece of storytelling from Andrew Stewart of Blairgowrie. A special feature of this presentation is that virtually all of the selections include a snippet either of Hamish interviewing the singer and/or discussing the song which has just been performed; these snatches invariably provide fascinating insights. Interestingly, Mike has also unearthed a few items sung in Gaelic, by Finlay Maclean of Benbecula and Roderick Campbell of Lewis respectively (many are unaware that Hamish had recorded anything performed in Gaelic).

The disc's accompanying notes are both extensive, readable and informative; one especially useful feature is that they list alternate recordings of the various songs performed and included on the CD. This valuable issue is the tip of the iceberg, and I hope Mike might be encouraged to make further recordings from Hamish's collection available in future years. 

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 65 of The Living Tradition magazine.