Fraser Bruce believes that folk songs should tell stories, and in Big Al and the Ibrox Disaster, he recounts a resonantly personal one about how, on New Year’s Day 1971, he and his friend Alan Morris narrowly escaped being caught up in the infamous terracing crush that killed 66 people at that day’s Old Firm match.
He and Morris had been given tickets for the fatal Copeland Road end, but had adjourned beforehand to the Scotia Bar, where they were leading a folk session. When they got up to head for the match, the manager offered them free drink if they would stay on and maintain the session. They succumbed, and missed the game. Only on the taxi radio on their way home did they hear the steadily mounting death toll.
The song comes from Bruce’s album Every Song’s a Story, which he released last November, although he stresses he didn’t write it with January’s 50th anniversary of the tragedy in mind – the album was due for release at the end of 2019 but was delayed. “It’s about songs as stories. I’m a song man; I enjoy the instrumental side but it’s not my connection to folk music.”
During lockdown the Perthshire-based singer, at 74 a veteran of the Scottish folk scene who also toured and recorded for many years with his brother Ian, has spent lockdown finishing a story of his own – a book chronicling Scotland’s early folk club scene, for which he has gathered reminiscences from many singers.
While he records the earliest clubs, such as Edinburgh University Folk Song Society, opened in 1958, and The Howff, he delves back much further to wider influences including from the United States, prompted by conversations with Peggy Seeger, among others. “I’ve called it The Folk River,” says Bruce, “on the basis that there are so many streams running to create folk music.”
For more on Frase Bruce, see www.fraserbruce.co.uk
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