I was born in Glasgow on 17th July, 1933 and, apart from Army Service, have lived there all my life After leaving school I went to Glasgow School of An. ll was while I was at Art School that I began to play the guitar and learn about folk songs. Really, I suppose I had known what are called 'folk songs' all my life.
Both my parents are Gaelic speakers, my mother coming from Skye and my father from Lewis, and while spending holidays in Skye I gradually began to learn some Gaelic songs I can still sing them although I can't speak Gaelic.
My first conscious brush with folk music was through seeing Josh White in a film in which he sang The Riddle Song, I sat through the film twice just to hear him sing it again I felt pretty excited at 'discovering' this kind of music and spent hours hunting for records of folk singers. In 1950, they weren't too plentiful but I managed to find some Josh White, Leadbelly and Burl Ives records, and my enthusiasm for folk music was kindled.
While I was at Art School, I met one or two other people with an interest in folk songs, Jimmie MacGregor being one of them. Another student with whom I later worked as part of a group called The Reivers, was Enoch Kent and from him I learned a lot about songs and singing. I didn't really get going on a semi-professional basis until this group, The Reivers, was formed. It was at this time that I met Tony Hatch who arranged The Reivers sessions and, with Tony, I moved to Pye Records when the group broke up. Since then I have been performing solo, except very occasionally.
My first solo record "Talking Army Blues" did not do too badly, and it surprised me by getting into the Top Twenty.
By this time, I had started teaching Art in a Glasgow Secondary School, and I still do.
Being a folk singer has taken me all round the country, meeting new and interesting people. The furthest afield I have been as a singer is Moscow. I visited Moscow three years ago, as a delegate to the World Disarmament Congress, and spent a week there, where among other things I made a record. The record was the result of my having met Yuri Gagarin at a reception where I sang a song which Roddy MacMillon had written about him. Yuri Gagarin was delighted and asked me if I would record it, which I did the following day.
These days I sing mainly in clubs and at concerts all over the country. I like to think that I anticipated and helped to create the current boom in folk music, but even if it faded and audiences dwindled to the sizes they were in the early 50's, I'd still be singing and always will be.
Folk songs speak the truth, and I am in debt to every folk singer from Adam, who started it all, right up to Lead-belly, Jeannie Robertson, Ewan McCall, Pete Seeger and to my mind the greatest of them all and a man whose work, life and honesty are a monument to integrity — Woody Guthrie.
I've learned something from just about everybody who ever sang and made me laugh, more aware, sad, angry, optimistic or simply told me something I didn't know.
It's a slow process, but I'm still learning, and one day I might just know something.