There was a time in Scotland when "folksinger" and "Hamish Imlach" were synonymous and his name on any bill meant a full house. His public image was that of the big boozing, belly-laughing raconteur and very funny singer of songs about Hairy Mary and the horrors of hangovers.
But that ignores the fact that the bulk of the song content of most of his performances was actually quite serious. The man who recorded "Ballads of Booze", an album of outrageous drinking songs, also recorded, "A Man's A Man", a collection of very serious songs. And many Scots guitarists, like John Martyn, credit Hamish as a primary influence.
Far from being just the heavy-boozing jester of his public persona, Hamish was a highly complex man. He would play the clown but he would also spend an entire day cooking a superb Indian meal for 800 people for the monday night party at Tønder Festival.
His generosity was legend and not just in buying rounds of drinks. He would do anything he could to encourage and help younger performers. For example, when I was struggling to earn a few pennies busking in Portobello Road in London in 1971, Hamish came to London on a short tour and we met up in Mooney's bar in the Strand, a haunt for Irish and Scots musicians in those days. He insisted that I come with him round the clubs he was playing and would instruct the promoter that I was to be allowed to do a spot and several gigs came my way as a result.
Although his repertoire regularly included songs commenting on political issues and he was certainly well to the left of centre, he was never what would be called a "political" performer and he was highly amused at finding he was included on the Economic League's blacklist of so-called "Communist" agitators. He commented, "I have friends who regard me as a wishy-washy liberal!"
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©Dick Gaughan February 2001. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form, material or electronic, without the written permission of the author.
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Followup emails received about Hamish
The following email was sent by Jeffrey Ollswang
When I was an architectural grad student at Strathclyde, 1970-72, I met Hamish. As I was an American banjo player/singer from "Your Father's Mustache" I was always looking for 'good people'. As soon as I met Hamish at the Scotia Pub in Glasgow we became good friends. We stayed friends all the time I was in Scotland. He was one of the most generous people I ever met. He introduced me to all the Pubs and people who formed the 'folk circle' in those days.
I began travelling all over Scotland with Hamish, to his gigs and often played second on the bill. I cannot describe Hamish's warmth and kindness. We shared songs and a genuine love of laughter. He was fascinated by my stories of when I played in New Orleans, and learning some great tunes from the older black musicians still alive then. His favorites were, "Don't you turm your back on me, Papa", "Hole in the Wall", and "Nobody Knows you when you're Down and Out", the last of which we often sang together.
I said to Hamish one night, "...a day without laughter is a day wasted". Hamish embodied that thought. He and Wilma entertained me at their home in Motherwell and it was always full of children, food, music and laughter. Now, almost 30 years later, as a Professor of Architecture at the University of Wisconsin, I still have the fondest, happiest and most poignent memories of Scotland and Hamish... as he tried to teach me "I belong to Glasgow".
Finding your site, and learning of Hamish's death has brought back all those vivid memories. We shared the same birth year and love of good friends and song. God bless him, his family, and all of our friends I ought to have kept in touch with....
I remain as ever a friend, Jeffrey Ollswang, AIA, Professor of Architecture, University of Wisconsin.
If any of the old timers are still around, I still sing "M-O-T-H-E-R", and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
And this one was sent by Molly Mockford
Yes, he was a glorious man - whether in his earlier, full-blown days, with a belly which could defeat any contender, or in his later, diet-suffering ones, when he had still lost nothing of his humour, generosity and bonhomie. I first knew him in Edinburgh (my home town) and last saw him many years later at a folk club in St Neots, in what was then Hunts & Peterborough, when there wasn't much left of him bar his immense personality. As the only person in the room who had met him before, I greeted him and offered him a drink - instant, total refusal to accept one at my hands, and insistence on buying me one instead! But my principal memory of him is that wonderful, perfect laugh, welling up from somewhere around his crotch and, by the time it burst out of his mouth, making the entire room shake.