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Obituary: Nick Keir, musician, 60

Nick Keir won awards for his music. Picture: contributed

Nick Keir won awards for his music. Picture: contributed

A MUSICAL farewell has been held for Nick Keir, a musician and songwriter, who has died, aged 60.

Nick Keir was born on March 14, 1953, into an established Edinburgh family business, David Keir and Sons, and was educated, as his father and elder brother had been, at Edinburgh Academy. He was never cut out to be a businessman and resolutely pursued his life as a poet and dreamer.

He was delighted to have returned to the school in recent years as guest of honour at the Edinburgh Academy Burns Supper, where he delivered some heart-rending versions of Burns songs.

He attended the University of Stirling in 1971 and it was there that he developed his performance as a folk singer. He formed the folk-rock band Finn mac Cuill in 1972 and was recently delighted to find that their two vinyl albums are nowadays rare and valuable collectibles.

With the Finn mac Cuill Folkshow he toured Scotland with the poet Norman MacCaig and had many anecdotes from those times. He then joined the leftist theatre group 7:84.

In 1982, he was invited to join the McCalmans and remained with them for the next 30 years until the band dissolved, touring all over the world as one of the best known and most successful Scottish traditional music acts. In 2004, together with the group, Nick was inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame on the occasion of being awarded the Lifetime Achievement Prize at the Scottish Folk Awards, and in 2005 the group received the Danish Folk Music Prize at the Skagen Festival.

After the McCalmans, Nick performed across Europe with the acclaimed Tolkien Ensemble, which included working with Sir Christopher Lee on the back of The Lord of the Rings films. He also played with the Holbaek Ensemble of Denmark playing a mix of Scots and Irish traditional music laced with the baroque of Correlli and Vivaldi.

At the same time, he developed a solo career as a singer-songwriter, his tenor voice featuring on the collected works of Robert Tannahill and producing four CDs – Rumours of Snow, All Over this Town, Fishing Up the Moon and latterly in 2012, while already ill, The Edge of Night to considerable critical acclaim.

In 2012, he was diagnosed with a serious illness and courageously battled on, delivering his final performance in the spring at the Queen’s Hall, the McCalmans’ home venue and within yards of where he had grown up and lived nearly all his life.

A traditional folk singer’s farewell took place at the Queen’s Hall on Monday, following cremation and a memorial service at St Peter’s Episcopal Church. That so many came to the funeral to bid him farewell and then sing together with laughter and tears bore testament to the passing of a gentle, kind soul, a true poet and devoted lover of Edinburgh.

 
 
 

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