Thanks to the Gaelic poet and writer Angus Peter Campbell (and incidentally, my former colleague at Grampian Television) for the link to the Global Jukebox, which has put online 17,000 songs and stories recorded by Alan Lomax, perhaps the greatest folksong collector of all time. Among them are dozens from Scotland, including many from Daliburgh and Garrynamonie in Angus Peter’s native South Uist.
Lomax recorded them in the 1950s as part of his ambitious project to record the folk traditions of every nation in the world. He had persuaded Columbia Records to finance him and tried to enlist the help of local collectors wherever he could. He wrote to John Lorne Campbell in 1950 and at first John was amenable, but then began to have second thoughts, backed out and tried to persuade other Scottish collectors to boycott Lomax.
Behind John’s reticence was a mistaken belief that Lomax was paying singers and reciters – which would have ended his own collecting career since he could hardly afford his travel expenses, let alone paying for contributions. He also believed, wrongly, that Lomax planned to claim copyright on songs collected.
John Campbell had been recovering from a nervous breakdown and may not have been thinking entirely clearly. His opposition to anyone co-operating with Lomax nearly lost him several friendships, including with Calum Maclean, brother of the poet Sorley, who was himself a prodigious collector and preserver of Gaelic tradition.
Lomax stayed in Scotland for six years, working on his folk library and recording programmes for the BBC. He wasn’t the easiest character to get along with and eventually fell out with many of his collaborators, including Hamish Henderson, who is pictured with Lomax recording students in the University of Edinburgh on the website of Cultural Equity, the US foundation which has put together the Global Jukebox.
Many of John Lorne Campbell’s recordings from the Western Isles, including South Uist, are already online at Tobar an Dualchais.