Tag Archives: Scottish folk music

Old Friends are the Best

Jack’s weekly guest post falls on a Friday this year because Wendy is snowed under with some editing.

I’ve found that as I get to the age I am now and various old friends are passing on, you begin to really value the ones who are still around. One reason why I organize a tour of Scotland every year is so I can meet up with them and, in some cases, re-connect with folks I’d lost touch with.

 

Right now I’m sitting in the home of one old friend and chatting with him and two others. In the last few days I’ve met up with so many that I’m close to overwhelmed!

 

Starting with Derek Hutton who passed on to me historic recordings of the folk club in Dunfermline. Then to Jane Yolen in St. Andrews for afternoon tea in her wonderful arts and crafts house and excellent conversation. On to Linda in New Gilston, where Wendy and I lived for 5 years and a relaxed early evening of memories and village gossip. Finally to Sandy and Elma Stanage in Kilconquhar (pronounced Kinnyuchar) and more memories and catch up.

 

Yesterday evening was dinner in Edinburgh with another old friend. Barbara Dickson is my old singing partner from the 1960s and headlined Big Stone Celtic two years ago. She loved her time in Big Stone Gap and is coming back this year. So lots of laughs about her visit and much harking back to the old days as well.

 

Today my friend Colin and I drove over to Edinburgh for lunch with Dolina McLennan, who I first met in 1960 and the great surprise that she had also invited yet another old friend who has visited Big Stone – Bill Hill (most famous as the composer of a much loved song called ‘The Portree Kid’).

 

But I’m not finished yet because tomorrow, after the bus for my tour has been collected and checked out, I will be having supper with Mike Morris who was the guy who recruited me into college teaching. His son owns a used book store in England and Mike spends his time haunting estate sales and auctions as an agent for his son’s shop. We will be sharing lots of memories too.

Leave a comment

Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

♪ Old Friends ♪…. (RIP, Jean Redpath)

jean redpathAs I get older more old friends depart this life and this week was no exception. A special one took the trip a few days ago.

Fellow Fifer (as in Fife, Scotland) Jean Redpath and I crossed paths many times over the years as she blazed a trail for singers of genuine Scots ballads and songs here in the States. Her voice and her ‘Coinyach’ were wonderful. She died this week, in hospice care.

When I first started getting interested in Scots ballads and folksongs, Jean was just a little bit older than me. She was a member of the Edinburgh University Folksong Society, led by the famous and influential Hamish Henderson, so had access to the archives of the School of Scottish Studies and had already begun to make recordings that were an inspiration to me.

I eventually began singing in partnership with Barbara Dickson and I tended to be the researcher of potential material. Jean was always a regular ‘go-to’ and we ‘stole’ quite a lot of her stuff. :]

After she moved to the US, she would regularly return to Scotland to tour the folk clubs and festivals, and I always made a point of going to see her. On one of these  nights she said that one of the things she’d kind of forgotten was how polite Scotsmen were. While staying at her mother’s house in Fife she had gotten what she described as a ‘heavy breathing’ phone call. But the gent on the other end of the line started by saying “would you mind if – – -“. So Jean’s great sense of humor also permeated her performances and that taught me a lesson as well.

Many years later, just around the time I was touring the States quite a bit, I found myself sharing the stage with Jean at East Tennessee State University. During the afternoon we appeared live on the local radio station to help promote the concert. I had almost forgotten about that program until it re-surfaced recently; I was stunned when I heard her rendition of Robert Burns’ song ‘O Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast’ – absolutely beautiful and a real challenge!

Shortly after that she again toured in Scotland and I was fortunate to interview her for my own radio show Scene Around. We did the interview in her late mother’s beautiful house down near the harbor in Elie, Fife–the same place where the polite heavy breather had phoned.

For someone so well known through regular appearances on Prairie Home Companion and other great venues, I found her completely charming and down to earth, never over the years turning the least bit ‘prima donna-ish’.

My abiding memory of her, though, is of her performing one of Robert Burns’ most explicitly raunchy songs–it’s so bad, I can’t even write the title here–to a typical audience of elderly ladies at that concert at ETSU, and getting away with it through her sheer personality.

Or maybe they just didn’t understand any of the words, given her lovely Fife accent.

Rest in Peace, Jean. You inspired successive generations, and you will be missed.

2 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, Scotland