Jack is deputizing for Wendy this week – and still jet-lagged from his annual visit to Scotland.
Hamish Henderson – a biography by Timothy Neat (2 volumes)
Two admissions –
1 – I knew Hamish Henderson, and 2 – I read volume two before I read volume one.
I really wished I’d read the two volumes in order. The second one covers the period when I knew Hamish and when he was much better known generally as the great promoter of the folk music revival in Scotland and founder of the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University. The trouble is that anyone who had the slightest knowledge of him during that period is now vying to have been his best friend. I’m not one of these since although I admired him enormously and we were acquainted we were not close friends by any means. I say this because the second volume kind of reads as a personal appeal by Tim Neat to be recognized as not only THE HH authority, but his best friend and associate. Now that may be true, of course, but I don’t think it needed quite so many reminders.
Leaving that aside, I greatly enjoyed both volumes but particularly the first one, which was a revelation to me. I had only the vaguest idea of Hamish’s earlier life and really no knowledge of his childhood or war career. It may be that because the first volume is based much more on research than personal anecdote there are many more voices present than in the second one and less of Tim Neat’s.
Looking back at what I’ve written I can see that I may have been a bit harsh, but that’s simply because I had such admiration for Hamish. He encouraged my (and many other’s) interest in Scottish traditional songs and ballads, he took on the establishment and he never sought personal recognition or fame.
Perhaps I was too close to the events and history of volume two to be objective in my appraisal.
If, like me you want the complete story of a remarkable life then there are a number of recent books out there and, despite my slight misgivings Timothy Neat’s should certainly be counted among ‘required reading’!