is one of Scotland's finest traditional singers with a unique repertoire of folk songs and ballads.Born and brought up in Aberdeen, he was a neighbour of the great ballad singer Jeannie Robertson and during the evolving folk scene of the 1960s he picked up many songs from her and from other singers such as the bothy ballad singer Jimmy McBeath and the traveller and street singer Davie Stewart.
The album was recorded live by the Folk Song Society of Greater Boston at a concert held at the First Parish of Watertown Unitarian Universalist Church on the 23rd October 1999.
Songs include an old version of Dainty Davie, the beautiful Plooman Laddies, several of the older ballads - Gypsy Laddies and Binnorie and some Gaelic Mouth Music/ Puirt a Beul. Click for the Full Track Listing.
In 1966 Norman moved to live in the USA after representing Scotland at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival where he was an immediate success with the 'folkies' and the academics alike. The former loved his rela'ed, easy style, whilst the latter recognised a deep knowledge and understanding of the songs, which went way beyond book learning. Here was a young man truly immersed in his tradition and culture. And 36 years later, he has lost none of that magnetism.
But there’s more to Norman than just singing and storytelling. He is an accomplished weaver, who cards, spins and dyes his own wool in the 'old ways'. It is a mark of his quest for perfection that he is as well known in this field as for his singing and, living now in northern Vermont he travels widely in the USA and demonstrating his craft skills and singing the old songs. But he does not see them as separate entities - the songs help him to concentrate on his weaving and the weaving gives rhythm to his songs. When Norman sings as he weaves it seems the art and the craft were meant to be together, and never more so than when performed by a master of both.
Tom Spiers, Auchtermuchty, Fife.
USA National Heritage Fellowship
In August 2003 Norman was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in the USA - one of only 16 such awards given in that year. The fellowship certificate recognises Norman as 'a master traditional artist who has contributed to the shaping of our artistic traditions and to preserving the cultural diversity of the United States’.
From the Campbell family in Birmingham, England, who made several albums in the 1960s. The father, Dave Campbell, was born in Cotton Street in Aberdeen just a few doors along from the tenement where my father was born.
Jock o Hazeldean
From my mother’s singing. She was, like her mother and grandmother, a net-braider. The lassies sang while they did that poorly paid work and she also sang with the local Fisher Girls Choir. Walter Scott built this still popular song from fragments of the ballad John of Hazelgreen (Child #293).
The Plooman Laddies
From singer and song collector Arthur Argo who learned the song from the great north-east traditional singer Lucy Stewart of Fetterangus. I first heard Arthur singing this lovely song while we were walking along Regent Street in London and I later got him to sing it again so I could remember it. Remembering songs or tales from hearing them once was no effort to me when I was younger. As long as I could see the story in my head it was pretty well fixed.
Busk Bonnie Lassie
A song from the glens of Angus - bonnie Glenisla and bonnie Glenshee, a favourite at the folk club in Aberdeen in the early 1960s from the singing of the Stewarts of Blairgowrie - Belle and Alex and Sheila and Cathy. I couldn’t have not learned it - everyone knew the song.
This wonderful ancient ballad (Child #10) is known far and wide - usually known as Binnorie in Scotland but as The Two Sisters in North America. The old singers I knew had different ways of singing the ballad - some with more verses than others. I frequently sing it at waulkings among weavers in America to shrink newly woven blanketing, so many people know it and happily join in the chorus lines.
Brennan on the Moor
A well known song in praise of the Irish highwayman Willie Brennan which I learned from the great Aberdeen traditional singer Jeannie Robertson whose repertoire included a number of Irish songs as well as the ‘big ballads’ or ‘muckle sangs’ for which she was famed.
Another song not uncommonly heard, especially from street singers like Davie Stewart, who I was listening to and learning from the time I was twelve years old. Davie used to sing regularly at the Friday Market in Aberdeen’s Castlegate, just up the road from my parents house.
The Flooers o the Forest
This song was composed in the mid 1700s to a much older tune as a lament for the loss at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 of King James IV and the flower of Scotland’s nobility together with the famed archers of the forest. A common party piece when I was young and sung at weddings and other happy occasions.
The Haughs o Cromdale
From Jimmy McBeath, one of the great north-east characters whose majestic performance of the bothy ballads was an inspiration to the folk revival. My father and I knew Jimmy for many years. He borrowed the price of a pint of beer from my father and then died before he could pay it back, which vexed my da no end.
Story: The Smelly Ghost
A old folk tale from Jeannie Robertson. Jeannie told me this story late one night, which didn’t cheer me on the dark walk home.
The Gallowa Hills
This was one of Jeannie’s favourite songs and, from her singing, the song became one of the standards of the Scottish folk repertoire.
The Gypsy Laddies
One of Jeannie’s ‘muckle sangs’, and one of the most popular of the ballads (Child #200) with versions spreading worldwide from its origins in Scotland and well known in North America in a number of forms. The Laird (actually Earl) of Cassilis is the chief of the Kennedy Clan.
Not one of my mother’s favourites. The ‘Mistress Bruce’ referred to in the song was a distant relative of hers (she being Isabella Petrie Bruce) and took it as a personal affront if I sung it in her presence - but that never stopped me.
I Little Thocht My Love Wid Leave Me
From Isla Cameron. I heard Isla sing this when I shared a gig with her in London in the early 1960s.
Mouth Music/ Puirt a Beul
This is just one of several sets of gaelic mouth music - Puirt a Beul, or Port Beoil as the old folk called it - often used as music for dancing when there were no musicians handy - that I learned long ago and far away.