Alias MacAlias: Writings on Songs, Folk and Literature

Alias MacAlias: Writings on Songs, Folk and Literature

Alias MacAlias: Writings on Songs, Folk and Literature

Alias MacAlias: Writings on Songs, Folk and Literature


"Hamish Henderson was one of the most significant figures in the cultural life of twentieth-century Scotland; he was a man of extraordinary intellectual versatility, a committed Republican and socialist, and, as the pioneer of the great post-war Scottish folk revival, he made an important contribution to Scotland's culture and to the growth of a national consciousness." "Henderson was continually drawn to the North-East and its folk art heritage; in particular, the tinker-gypsies, whose contribution to folk culture he gave full recognition. He was a scholarly song and folktale collector, a songwriter, a serious political fighter who rejected Margaret Thatcher's offer of an OBE, and a poet whose sequence of war poems Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica won the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1949." "The essays in this collection, extensively expanded by friend and editor Alec Finlay, range from humorous autobiographical reminiscences, wartime memoirs, flytings, chatty reviews and scholarly critiques of songs and tales, to his introductory essay to Gramsci's famous Prison Letters. Subjects include Hugh MacDiarmid, Lorca, the tinker-gypsies, ballads, the burgeoning folk scene and the Clearances. Completing the volume are tributes to individuals such as Jeannie Robertson, Ewan McCall and Roy Williamson." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


These essays span some fifty years, from the first, ‘Germany in Defeat’, which Hamish wrote when he was 27 and sent home to be published by Hugh MacDiarmid in The Voice of Scotland in June of 1947, to the late episodes in autobiography that he gave to his friend Ray Ross for Cencrastus magazine. the first predates his Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica, the work which won him his first literary recognition, while the last date from his years of retirement from academic life.

Most of the essays were published during Hamish’s years at the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh University, which he joined in 1952–he was never a conventional academic and as many appeared in the fugitive pages of little magazines as did in scholarly periodicals. Hamish devoted himself to the living folk traditions of Scotland and the Revival that he campaigned for has been an important contribution to the wider growth in national consciousness. the essays descry a constant faith in the possibilities of renewal and offer an illuminating commentary on our national character, its vicissitudes and virtues.

As Hamish describes, the folk tradition proceeds by a series of revivals, as each generation rediscovers and recreates the culture of the past. His essays were one of the ways in which he sought to guide the movement, setting up the finest performers and material as examples to the new generation of singers, musicians and collectors. As well as actively contributing to the Revival, his writings form a critical history of the movement, one authored by its principal strategist. Particular attention is paid to the early years of the movement, including the arrival of Alan Lomax, the ‘discovery’ of Jeannie Robertson, and the People’s Festival Ceilidhs of 1951, 1952 and 1953, which Hamish referred to as ‘epoch making’.

The essays range in style from amusing autobiographical reminiscences, chatty reviews, flytings and scholarly analyses of songs and tales. They form a rich commentary on a folk culture that is now commonly available on radio, television, video and dvd, recordings and live performances. This expanded edition benefits from the inclusion of Hamish’s long essay on Antonio Gramsci, first published in the Zwan edition of his translation of the Prison Letters.

As Hamish makes clear, some of the greatest riches of folk arts are preserved on the fringes of Scotland, geographically and socially. in his case, it was the North-East that he returned to, again and again, and especially the tinker-gypsies, whose contribution to contemporary folk culture is given full and rightful recognition. He lived to see one of the singers nourished within the Revival, Sheena Wellington, sing a Burns song . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.