16 July 2009
Folk singer, songwriter and musician; Born May 5, 1934; Died July 6, 2009. Jim Reid, who has died aged 75, was a singer-songwriter who became one of the most valued upholders of the Scottish folk tradition. When he made his now infamous acceptance speech on being proclaimed Scottish Singer of the Year at the 2005 Scots Trad Music Awards - "No' afore time" - nobody would have mistaken it for arrogance. It was more a reluctant acknowledgement, in any case, from a quiet master who was always above anything so vulgar as bragging.
Reid was born in Dundee, grew up in the Stobswell (or Stobbie) district and attended Clepington Primary School, where his teacher, noticing his clear, sweet seven-year-old voice, entered him in a Burns competition. For a biographer looking into the early life of someone who would later shine on Linn Records' Complete Songs of Robert Burns (Reid's rendition of Will Ye Go to the Indies? is one of Volume 9's jewels), this might seem like gold dust. Reid duly won the competition but shrugged aside his triumph to go and play with his pals, much to the displeasure of his mother, who only found out when his sister got home, and alas, further signs of a significant musical career are restricted to him "ay singing" and learning the pipes in the Boys' Brigade, as did many others.
Musical proof that he was taking in, and taking pride in, his surroundings would materialise presently, however. Over the way from Clepington School, at a busy five-way junction, stood the public benches where for generations local worthies would sit and set the world to rights. Reid celebrated this gathering in The Stobbie Parliamentary Picnic, an old song he polished up that also included other local landmarks and mention of the horse-drawn bus that his grandfather operated between Dundee and Forfar.
It's often said that British singers would rather have sung about American locations or far away places with strange sounding names, and that it took Frank Sinatra to eulogise foggy London. But that was pop music. Folk and traditional songs have plenty references to places on our doorsteps and Reid relished them, celebrating Vinney Den, near Letham, and Tullybaccart among many others.
His teenage tastes may have leaned towards the American persuasion - Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole were among his favourites - but his attentions were drawn closer to home when, during National Service, he happened across Irish piper Seamus Ennis's radio programme, As I Roved Out.
The traditional songs and tunes he heard here hooked him instantly and, after he left the army, he joined the Shifters, a Dundee folk group whose name was a handy, localised variation on the then popular Americans, the Weavers'.
The Shifters adopted as their signature song Dundee poet and songwriter Mary Brooksbank's Oh Dear Me, The Mill's Gaein' Fest, a harbinger of more women's words for Reid to sing.
Moving on to the Taysiders, the Foundry Bar Band and An Teallach, Reid became a weel-kent face on the folk scene generally, visiting Ireland and Denmark, and as a keen member of the Traditional Music and Song Association, launching Keith Folk Festival. He befriended folklorist Hamish Henderson and the great tradition-bearers, the Stewarts of Blairgowrie, composing a tune for the family and eventually deputising for the matriarch, Belle Stewart at a folk singing camp in Massachusetts.
Around the time Bob Dylan was emerging, Reid also found his songwriter's voice, composing Who Says Times Are A-Changin' in response to Dylan's famous words of protest. He went on to write sensitively about the Highland Clearances in Spark Among the Heather and with typical wit, lampooned his local accent in Emfae Dundee.
His greatest writing achievements, however, lay in setting Angus poets Violet Jacob and Helen Cruikshank's words to melodies. The Wild Geese (Norland Wind) and Rohallion took Jacob's writing into the folk tradition and in this, as with his inimitably warm, compassionate singing of traditional ballads such as Bogie's Bonnie Belle and Harlaw, Reid influenced younger balladeers, including Jim Malcolm and Steve Byrne, of Malinky.
I got to know Reid slightly when he used to come into our family's music shop to buy moothies, guitar strings and bagpipe reeds, and you'd have been hard-pressed to guess that these items were being bought for anything other than personal amusement.
While others making similar purchases might have volunteered their latest itineraries in detail, "Aye, ah'm daein' a bit o' playin" was about all that Reid might vouchsafe. Even when evidence that he was doing a bit more than that was displayed on the wall behind him, such as his beloved Foundry Bar Band's first LP, and he opened up a little, it would be the music itself and his enjoyment of it that he'd chat about, rather than his own achievements, which became many.
Two years ago, Reid was diagnosed with dementia and in passing he leaves a legacy that includes a series of albums including Freewheeling Now, recorded with the late Dundee accordionist John Huband, and Yont the Tay and a book of songs, tunes and stories, The Better o' a Sang.
He is survived by his long-time partner, Julia, daughter Linda and son Craig.
16 July 2009