Twenty years ago The Alan Lomax Foundation [ACE] did a deal with Boston-based Rounder Records to issue CDs of as much as possible from his thousands of hours of worldwide recordings and archives. Soon enough they turned to his 1951 collecting roar around Scotland, and his 1950s London hours of song and interview with Jeannie Robertson, Davie Stewart and Jimmy MacBeath.
One of the first CDs was a Portrait of Jeannie, but some embarrassing errors in transcription and understanding made them think again. The School of Scottish Studies kindly recommended me to assist, and I received a wonderful pile of copies of raw recordings of the Scots material, while Margaret Bennett took on the super-rich Gaeltacht material.
I started by contributing song transcripts and notes for song Portraits of John Strachan, Davie and Jimmy, and graduated to selecting, editing and explaining about Kids Songs, then a double CD of Jimmy and Davie that included their storytelling. Anna Lomax, Alan’s daughter, said what a pity it was that there was not enough material to make a satisfactory CD from the 1951 Edinburgh People’s Festival Ceilidh material. I listened through, and said, ‘Yes there is if we include Hamish Henderson’s introductions’.
We made it work, and got ourselves a five star review in the Herald. But Rounder Records were eventually sold on, and the Lomax Collection has faded from availability. It is an abiding regret for me I could not get any of the Rounder CDs reissued in Scotland.
So when Paddy Bort decided in 2011 to organise a 60th Ceilidh revisit performance in the Oddfellows’ Hall where the 1951 Ceilidh happened, plus a fine book published by Grace Note Publications, I was delighted to be a part.
2021, now 70 years on, what could be done? How about a rough and ready new website, with all the original songs and tunes, including those that were fragmented by Lomax having to change tape reels on the hoof? How about asking present day singers to contribute free online use of their versions of the same songs?
First I must ask the Lomax Archive for permissions. Nathan Salsburg bounced back to say how about them hosting the project as an Exhibit in their Digital Archive? Ya beauty!
I got lots of enthusiastic assent from singers, though surprising silence from several I had hoped would agree, and the timing and tide was wrong to get younger student singers to contribute.
We managed to get it off the launch pad just a couple of days after the 31st August anniversary. Better a bit late than never. See it at https://archive.culturalequity.org/1951ceilidh.