Hamish Henderson

Hamish Henderson


Poet, translator, Highland folklorist, campaigner for Scottish parliament 1919 - 2002

There was a time when Scottish music was all Harry Lauder and walking about the heather with a bonnie lassie on your airm.

The tradition had a bool in it's mooth. Scots songs were sung in parlours by poash people trying to pronounce the scots language in BBC received pronunciation.

This was the cultural climate which spawned such horrors as Moira Anderson and Kenneth McKellar.

As is the case with most music, only the very worst got the airplay and worked itself into the conciousness of the public at large.

There has always been a conspiracy run by the media to keep us from the quality music and steer us towards the bland because it is harmless.

And they're right. Music has the power to change people.

Hamish Henderson, folklorist and poet, born November 11 1919; died March 8 2002, knew it.

A former army intelligence officer who had fought in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, Hamish pretty well invented the folk revival in Scotland.

A founder of the School of Scottish Studies, and the man who invented the Edinburgh festival fringe because the festival was too elitist, he spent years traipsing around the country recording and archiving the songs of the people as remembered by the people themselves.

He wasn't the most prolific songwriter that ever lived, but many of his songs have found their way into the tradition purely because of the sheer power of their sentiment.

Tories may argue about this, but the scots character is naturally socialist in its core sentiment. Our natural sense of fairness may have been compromised by Ned culture but at the heart of the nation there lies a root instinct for common justice.

That's the appeal of many of Hamish's songs.

His rant in support of the Men of Knoydart, mentioned elsewhere on this site, is one of these songs.

Much of his work is paints a picture in the song. "The 51st highland division's farewell to Sicily" is one such. The 51st had survived North Africa, and fought its way through the liberation of Sicily. Now the "Puir bloody swaddies" were on their way to become the "D-day dodgers" many of whom would die in Italy.

"The John MacLean March" celebrates Maclean's release from prison and his welcome back to Glasgow. The imagery of the song conjures up a gathering crowd hurrying to the Glasgow Green. If there was ever a video made for the song it should be directed by Terry Gilliam along the lines of "Every sperm is sacred" from "Monty Python and the Meaning of Life". (there, that's me gonny get stoned for blasphemy by the folk comunity)

The greatest of the songs is of course the internationalist "Freedom come all ye".

This great three verse epic puts all that is good about our international aspirations up there. No racist celebration of bloody battles with neighbours, or sycophantic hymns to royalty.

Broken faimilies in lands we've herriet,
Will curse Scotland the brave nae mair, nae mair

We won't be the international bullies we were in the days of the empire.

When Maclean meets wi' his frien's in Springburn
A' thae roses an' geans'll turn tae bloom

Eventually true socialism will return to the land and we'll prosper.

And finally:

The black lad frae yont Nyanga
Dings the fell gallows o' the burgers doon

Was a prophecy of the end of apartheid, and a warning of the rebellion to come from the third world if developed countries don't do something to redress the balance of world wealth.

You can find the text of these and more of Hamish's songs at Dick Gaughan's excellent site.

Oh and did I mention Thatcher tried to give him an OBE and he told her to stick it up her arse!

A great Scot who'll become a legend!

(Article contributed by big...@dogzbollox.com)

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