Folk, Jazz etc: Crowdsourcing for Hamish Henderson's papers boosts hope of overdue tidy-up

THE LATE Hamish Henderson was many things - scholar, war poet, songwriter, genial patriarch of the Scottish folk revival.

What he was not was tidy, as anyone would know who ever visited him in his eyrie in the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh's George Square, where academic journals and correspondence from numerous countries were interleaved with, say, an LP of Italian zampogna music or a tape reel of songs collected from Scots travellers, all in a sort of compressed folkloric detritus, like geological strata.

Pity then the recently formed Hamish Henderson Trust, striving to secure Henderson's remaining papers for the nation, then to try to make sense of what's been left by this waywardly multifarious character, who died in 2002.

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Some 30 boxes and suitcases full of his notebooks, correspondence, unpublished writings and other material remain in the possession of his family, awaiting proper cataloguing and research.

On 11 July, a brief but signally successful appeal to raise 2,000 to fund a basic inventory of the papers will come to an end, having well surpassed its target sum, but its organisers, the recently formed Hamish Henderson Trust, will continue to appeal and work towards the greater goal of securing the papers, which have been valued at something approaching 100,000, for the nation.

Also on 11 July the Trust will launch a dedicated Hamish Henderson website - something, I suspect, would have left its dedicatee, never one for self-promotion, or even publication, somewhat bemused.

The Trust - and the appeal - only went public on 8 June, says trustee Steve Byrne, musician and ethnologist. "All we wanted to do initially," he says, "was to raise 2,000 to basically pay for my time and perhaps someone else's to spend July going through the papers. That will now happen."

In fact international response to the appeal has boosted the campaign chest to almost 5,000, largely via the Sponsume online "crowd-funding" network, encouraging the Trust to continue to appeal in the hope of acquiring the papers, ideally in conjunction with some public body - although up until now, our national institutions have proved surprisingly reluctant to take the archive on.

On 11 July the present appeal website on will switch to the new Hamish Henderson Trust website (

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The trust also plans to launch a Hamish Henderson journal, at the end of the year, using the archive material at least partly as a resource.

As well as Byrne, trustees include such weel-kent folk scene figures as Eberhard "Paddy" Bort and Frank Bechhofer of Edinburgh Folk Club, which also organises the annual Carrying Stream Festival in Henderson's memory.Byrne is also hoping for support from an interesting quarter, Pete Seeger, having discovered a marvellous recording of the veteran American troubadour singing Henderson's Freedom Come-All-Ye back in the 1960s, with Seeger explaining the Scots lyrics - and evoking their writer - to a Pittsburgh audience.

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Byrne has only had "a fleeting glimpse" of the papers but, as a folk singer, was intrigued to see notebooks once used by Gavin Greig, Aberdeenshire headmaster and a pivotal figure in Scottish folk-song collecting at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

He also speculates that hitherto undiscovered poems or other writings may lurk among the papers.

"Hamish's wasn't an orderly approach, and we have notebooks going back to the 1930s, in all shapes and sizes, from foolscap to the small pocket ones from his Second World War days in the desert."

The papers also contain correspondence with literary and musical figures as diverse as Naomi Mitchison, Norman MacCaig and the aforementioned Seeger.

As Byrne points out, many of these figures have had their papers long committed to national record, and he regards it "as an embarrassment that a culturally unique figure like Hamish, champion of our folk culture, has had to wait for so long".