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Hamish Imlach


Brief Biography
PLUS A Story of the Man courtesy of Ewan McVicar


b. 10 February 1940, Calcutta, India, d. 1 January 1996, Motherwell, Scotland. Imlach was a larger-than-life singer and humorist who toured regularly up until his death. Meeting Ralph Rinzler in Glasgow in 1958, he was introduced to finger picking guitar technique. In 1959, Imlach played on the first night of the Glasgow Folk Club, at Corner House Cafe, Glasgow, eventually going on to run the club with artists such as Archie Fisher, Ewan McVicar, and Jackie O'Conner. That same year, Imlach, along with Josh MacRae and Bobby Campbell, recorded six tracks (released as three singles) of Irish Rebel songs for the Decca/Beltona label. They made the recordings as the Emmettones, and one track, "Bold Robert Emmett", reached number 1 in the Irish charts. In the early 60s, Imlach was being booked to play Folk Clubs all over Scotland, and in 1962, he played his first bookings in England, in Coventry and Leicester. In 1961, Imlach was involved with other singers, among them Josh MacRae and Nigel Denver, at the first Anti-Polaris demonstration. The demonstrations were covered by Russian television, with the subsequent live recordings being issued on a Russian record label, and eventually on Folkways Records in the USA. In 1963, Imlach played four tracks on Folksong At The Edinburgh Festival (Volumes 1 & 2), and became a resident performer at Scotland's first all-night folk club, Clive's Incredible Folk Club. On his first album he was accompanied by Clive Palmer and Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band. Decamping to Dublin in 1978, Imlach worked with various members of Moving Hearts and singer Mary Black on the single, "Sonny's Dream"/"Maryanne". From 1989, he toured with partner Muriel Graves, who had originally sung backing vocals on some of his Transatlantic recordings from the 60s. Years of serious drinking and ill-health took their toll when he died at the beginning of 1996.

Biography (Courtesy of Ewan McVicar).

Hamish Imlach, who died aged 55, was a movable feast. Wherever he was became quickly the center of a party, marked by uproarious laughter, the consumption of copious draughts of any available beverage, and the cooking and demolition of exotic foods. Of Scottish parentage, he was born in India and lived in Australia before coming to Scotland at 13. On the flight stopover in Raffles Hotel, Singapore, he had become thirsty, so consumed 11 bottles of the strongest beer then known to science, under the impression that he was drinking shandy. It made him feel sleepy, but gave him a taste for a brew.
In Glasgow, Hamish attended school with Archie and Ray Fisher, and became part of the 1960's revolution in traditional music called the Folk Revival - as exciting and subversive in its day as punk was later. The Fishers became major interpreters of traditional Scottish song. While Hamish had a fine way with an old Scots ballad, a sea shanty or a love song, his eclectic tastes led him to become Scotland's first blues guitar stylist, teaching and influencing John Martyn, Bert Jansch and the members of The Incredible String Band.
Political commitment made Hamish one of the key singers for Holy Loch anti-Polaris demonstrators and for many good causes thereafter. His biting recordings of Scottish and Irish political songs helped put him on the right-wing political blacklist of the Economic League. But he will be best remembered for his comic style.
For hilarious songs of over-indulgence in alcohol, tobacco, sex and other bodily functions he employed a voice quality like piano wire scrubbed with Grade A sandpaper, although for other song genres his voice and guitar would sound sweet, sad and quite haunting. Hamish pioneered the genre of folk comedian, throwing anecdotes and cracks into the middle of songs, and linking them into stream-of- consciousness narratives. Much of his material was autobiographical, and many of his base lines were lifted and used by other performers. One was "I think I have an allergic reaction to leather. I find that every time I wake in the morning with my shoes on I have a headache." He paved the way for Mike Harding, jasper Carrot and above all Billy Connolly, whom Hamish took under his performing wing.

Many established singers shy away from exciting younger talent as a threat, but Hamish saw it as a way of improving the quality of the evening's gig and therefore creating more pleasure for all. He became the biggest star of the Revival in Scotland, able to reach beyond the folk song community and fill cinemas and dancehalls. He appeared on more than 30 albums, many on Transatlantic's Xtra label alone. A developing singing career in England and Ireland led to enduring friendships with Christy Moore and the Dubliners. At one point he was invited to become a Dubliner. As the British folk scene dwindled, Hamish began to work more in Denmark and Germany- He was a fixture at the Tonder Folk Festival in Denmark for many years, where as well as performing and competing he would cook curries for 300 folkies.

Germany became his main performance base, and in recent years he recorded and released some eight albums there, two of them joint productions with his occasional touring partner, the respected Glasgow singer Iain MacKintosh. Hamish's best-known song became the most requested number on British Army of the Rhine Radio. It is an epic tale of a post palais de dance kneetrembler in the Gorbals dark, which results in pregnancy tonics for the girl while the boy enlists. The song, "Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice", also provided the title for Hamish's autobiography, published in 1992 and subtitled Reminiscences Of A Fat Folk Singer. He had threatened for many years to write it, but there was always a tale to tell, a recipe to try or a friend to chat to first.

Finally I sat him down with a tape recorder, let the stories flow, then transcribed them minus my frequent cackles of laughter. When I told him that under the law of libel he and not the publisher paid out, he removed half the names from the manuscript, though he swore all was true. Weighing in at over 20 stone, of solid goodwill to all, Hamish was an outsize personality with gargantuan appetites who was mightily loved by most who met him, although some couldn't quite believe he was real. While friends and medical advisors despaired of his shape and lifestyle, he was tolerant of our concern but always unashamed. He knew he would never make old bones and lived for the day, the day that he enlivened with wit and good living.

Ewan McVicar

Two stories, not mentioned above on Hamish,

The first relates to the now legendary Tonder Folk Festival.
Hamish was a regular, along with other 'ex-pats' like Alex Campbell, and the festival was and still is run by and for the good people of Tonder over 1000 of whom volunteer to work at the three day event in whatever capacity the organising committee see fit. Their reward is a 'staff only' event after the festival has ended, and many of the 'star guests' stay on just to perform at this event.
There was a question of how to 'better reward them for their service and goodwill' and the bold Hamish, also quite highly rated for his culinery skills, decided that he would make them a curry.
As you will appreciate, making a feast for over 1,000 people is just a wee bit different from cooking for, say, half-a-dozen house guests. So Hamish simply called upon the festival organisers to contact the Danish Army and request huge army field pots, stoves, everything they had. Surprising to all the army took to the request with great enthusiasm and delivered all that was requested and more, they sent their cooks.
Hamish calculated his needs and acquired them and with such trained assistants made a huge curry.
To this day the Tonder Festival staff continue this tradition and enjoy a curry within their 'end of festival' celebrations.

Hamish's passing stunned everyone. But not Hamish. He had already set out the scenario for his own funeral.
As the family funeral party arrived at the gates of the crematorium every one decanted from their cars and were led up to the chapel by a New Orleas style jazzband, led by folksong contemporary Alastair McDonald on banjo.
The huge crowd was way too much for the accommodation available within the chapel so folks such as The Dubliners, Danny Kyle, the members of Ossian, in fact most of the famous faces of Scottish and Irish folk music, stood solemly outside listening to the service on an extension speaker system.
After the funeral all guests moved gingerly to Motherwell Civic Theatre for, for Hamish, a more respectable send off - lots of food, lots of drink and lots of great music.
One helluva night for (from?) one helluva man.

You can listen to short samples from some of the tracks from this artist using the player below.




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