ABOUT HAMISH HENDERSON
HAMISH HENDERSON was born on 11 November 1919 in Blairgowrie to a single mother. Hamish attended Blairgowrie High School before moving to England with his mother who sadly died before he started school at Dulwich College, London. Living in an orphanage, Hamish managed to secure a place at CAMBRIDGE where he would study Modern Languages.
While a student visiting Germany he acted as a courier for a Quaker network which helped refugees escape the Nazi regime, later serving with the Intelligence Corps in Europe and North Africa as an interrogator.
His experience of war acted as a catalyst for his poem sequence ELEGIES FOR THE DEAD IN CYRENAICA for which he received the Somerset Maugham Award in 1949. He used the prize money to fund his journey to Italy where he translated the PRISON LETTERS OF ANTONIO GRAMSCI; given the sensitivity of the subject it wasn’t published till years later and he was asked to leave the country.
Henderson became an integral part of the Scottish folk movement when he accompanied the American folklorist ALAN LOMAX on a collection tour of Scotland.
His career as a collector not only established his place as a permanent member of staff at the SCHOOL OF SCOTTISH STUDIES but also led him to return to his native Blairgowrie making the travellers who berry-picked in summer his particular area of activity. He beautifully described this time as like “sitting under Niagara Falls with a tin can”.
Henderson helped establish the EDINBURGH PEOPLE’S FESTIVAL in 1951. It put traditional Scottish folk music on a public stage for the first time and arguably evolved into the internationally renowned EDINBURGH FRINGE as we know it today.
As folk clubs sprung up and modern folk songs bled into the mainstream, often these songs contained political themes and Henderson’s own compositions FREEDOM COME Aa’ YE & THE JOHN MACLEAN MARCH were written into the fabric of Scottish culture.
In 1983 he turned down an OBE in protest of the nuclear arms policy under the THATCHER GOVERNMENT and as a result was voted SCOT OF THE YEAR by BBC Radio Scotland listeners. He was openly bisexual and campaigned for equal rights, Scottish independence and was a strong supporter of the release of NELSON MANDELA.