Hamish Henderson,
A' the Bairns o' Adam
(Greentrax, 2003)

Hamish Henderson may not be a name that trips off the tongues or out of the consciousness of the casual listener to folk music, but without this man, folk music would be the poorer. He was a poet, songwriter, soldier, collector and academic but his whole was greater than the sum of even these parts.

Much of his work in composition revolved around the Second World War and as such is rather unusual as in folk music; the bigger canon refers to the Great War a generation before. Add to this his work in collecting the songs of the Scottish tradition and you have an excellent reason for this tribute album -- apart from the fact that it gives an excuse to release an eclectic collection of songs and performers.

The CD opens with "Ballad of the D-Day Dodgers," a humorous song about a tragic era, set to the tune of "Lili Marlene." There follows a collection of songs, poems and airs. Some are familiar while others are very much new discoveries.

Listen to the Corrie Folk Trio, later to become the Corries, as they performed in 1968 on a Henderson composition called "Rivona," a song to free Nelson Mandela long before there were popular songs in the spirit. Even almost four decades later it has a fresh and urgent feel. A copy of the song was smuggled into Mandela on Robben Island at the time.

The list of performers here is a roll call of Scottish folk with Jim Reid, Dick Gaughan, Rod Patterson and a dozen others including the Eurydice Choir joining in this fitting tribute.

Among the classics we saw as being as old as the hills we get "The Freedom Come All Ye" with words by Henderson. Then we have another lesser-known song that sounds ancient and again these are his lyrics -- "The Ballad of the Men of Knoydart." This is a rousing Scottish nationalist and somewhat socialist story song that will delight any listener, even a sassenach.

It is in the songs and poems concerning his time as a soldier that this CD is a revelation. The words are so true and realistic that at times they seem very politically incorrect, but get past that and enjoy folk song and poetry at its best.

Here in 16 tracks -- plus an insert booklet featuring a short biography of Hamish Henderson, along with the lyrics of each song and poem -- you have a jewel. Greentrax is doing what they do so well, providing this and future generations with a motherlode of folk. Buy it as an investment in the future of folk music, but listen to it to enjoy the top-class writing and performing.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 19 February 2005