Sunday, 4 August 2013

The 2013 Edinburgh Peoples Festival Hamish Henderson Memorial Lecture

This years Hamish Henderson Memorial lecture marks his lifelong friendship with Nelson Mandela.
Delivered jointly by Larry Flanagan, EIS General Secretary and Eberhardt 'Paddy' Bort of 'The Carrying Steam'- with music from Stuart McHardy - the event takes place on Wednesday 7th August at 7pm in Word Power bookshop in West Nicholson Street, Edinburgh. FREE

One of the founders of the Edinburgh Peoples Festival Hamish Henderson was also a very important figure in the post war arts scene in Scotland. He died in 2002.
Our memorial lecture has been delivered in past years by his biographer Timothy Neat, his colleague at the School of Scottish Studies Dr Fred Freeman, the poet Tessa Ransford and the former Independent MSP Campbell Martin. This year we are delighted to welcome EIS General Secretary Larry Flanagan and Eberhardt ‘Paddy’ Bort to tell us about the special relationship Hamish Henderson enjoyed with Nelson Mandela over many years. Stuart McHardy has kindly agreed to add the music. 
Born in Blairgowrie in 1919 in the aftermath of WW1 to a single parent mother Hamish Henderson was orphaned in early childhood and brought up by relatives in England. A bright boy he won a scholarship  to Dulwich College, London and then to Oxford University. After graduating in English and Modern Languages he enlisted in the British Army. He saw active service during WW2 at El Alamein in North Africa – of which he wrote the beautiful poems ‘Ellegy’s for the Dead in Cyrenaica’ - and in Italy. There he met up with Italian Partisans and was hugely impressed both by their anti-Nazi resistance and their Gramscian socialism. He later translated Gramsci’s work into English for the first time.
Returning to Scotland after the war he was instrumental in establishing the folk music revival. His work in the Edinburgh People’s Festival saw him collaborate with figures such as Ewan McColl, Joan Littlewood, Norman and Janey Buchan and Joe Corrie. A great advocate of traditional music and Scots culture he wrote many songs and poems including the ‘Ballad of John Maclean’ about the Red Clydeside leader and the anthem ‘Freedom Come all Ye’. He also helped establish the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University and famously advised an up and coming young folk singer named Billy Connolly to concentrate on his comedy. Hamish was also a socialist activist who refused an OBE ‘for his services to folk music’ because he was a devout republican. He was an internationalist who championed the civil & human rights of the black majority in South Africa long before it was popular to do so and wrote the song ‘The Men of Rivonia’ which he dedicated to ANC leader Nelson Mandela jailed for confronting Apartheid. The song became an official ANC anthem. Mandela & Hamish began corresponding in the 1960’s and Hamish was prominent in the anti-apartheid struggle here in Scotland. He was famously arrested, in his 70’s, for running on to the pitch at Murrayfield to disrupt a Scotland vs Springboks rugby match but received little sympathy from the ‘rugger-buggers’ in the crowd who boo’ed him and he spent the night in jail.
When Mandela, finally released from prison after 27 years, visited Glasgow in the 1990’s to accept the freedom of the city he specifically asked that Hamish lead the official delegation in welcome. Tonight’s lecture allows us to remember Hamish, to reflect on his relationship with Mandela and celebrate their fervent internationalism. 

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