Tradition is a matter of continuity and it is essential to the survival of all oral culture that this continuity be unbroken. One often has the feeling that the revival in British folksong clubs has little to do with this process: either the singers are musical antiquarians and see the songs as such dead things that they can never be expected to make them come to life, or they are so intent on being up to date, and ignore all the virtues accrued in the past, that they produce something so tied to today's fashion that it has no chance of survival tomorrow.
In the midst of this it is a pleasure and a cause for hope when someone like Norman Kennedy emerges, who has deep roots in the rich soil of his native tradition and has the understanding and sureness which allows him to adapt and change without losing the essential qualities. A great deal of this talent can be attributed to the environment in which he grew up.
Norman was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, a city as yet not too remote from its rural background. His father worked in the shipyards and, like many of his forebears, went to sea. Norman's childhood was spent during the War, and when he was nine the family lived for some time across the road from the now famous Jeannie Robertson and her mother, Maria, little knowing the great influence Jeannie was to have on him in later years. Another early musical memory is of listening to Davy Stewart singing in the Castlegate, only a few minutes' walk from the Kennedy house.
At the age of 16, Norman left Aberdeen Academy to work, first as a messenger boy, later as an income tax collector. While still in, school he had become interested in traditional crafts and had built himself a small hand loom. He had also begun to learn Gaelic and mastered the language by spending his holidays on the Island of Barra, in the Outer Hebrides. In 1951 he attended a Folklore Convention in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis and there he met Annie Johnstone who soon became his chief mentor and teacher. To impress on him the value of the songs, she would insist that he complete some household chore or other for every song or tale she gave him. In this way he got to know the more everyday aspects of highland life, as well as learning their traditional arts. The west coast style of singing has rubbed off on him and is apparent in all his singing, not only that in Gaelic. Nearer home, Norman was particularly fond of visiting some of his mother's relatives in the small village of Methlick, not many miles from Aberdeen, where he learned the basic repertoire of the rural northeast.
Norman joined the Aberdeen Folk Song Club soon after it was formed in 1963, and rapidly became its most prized singer. It was at the club that Mike Seeger heard him and ensured him an invitation to the Newport Folk Festival in the summer of 1965 where he was such a success that he has been asked back every year since.