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Dick Gaughan Tribute
Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow
FEW vagabonds have served a cause so faithfully as Dick Gaughan, who for almost 50 years has sung of the struggles of working folk and life at the edge. Now approaching 70, and suffering from ill health, this Celtic Connection benefit concert demonstrated his lasting influence.
The Wilsons, five voices from the same Teesside family, brought force and harmony to the story of the miners’ struggle — “close the mineshaft door, there’s bairns inside” — with angry a cappella numbers ringing out.
They remembered Gaughan not only for singing of the cultural riches of Scotland but also about the people who were just there to make themselves rich.
Martyn Simpson plucked out the eerie passages of Leon Rosselson’s Palaces of Gold, his anguish for the poor in their mould-ridden schools and tomb-like houses and hatred of “sons of company directors.” It reverberated through the hall.
And Karine Polwart sang of the migrant’s plight with Craigie Hill, the song of searching for a new life in America. Basing her rendition on Gaughan’s own version, when she reached the verse on “the landlords and her agents,” she stopped her own accompaniment and a quiet fury took the place of melancholy.
Some gentle lilting by the iconic Dougie Maclean and a cheerfully dallying rendition of Michael Marra’s Like a Rolling Stone by the Bevvy Sisters conveyed an optimism rare to find in Gaughan’s own work.
This is the softer side of the Scottish folk scene, the vocal backing to a nationalist cause that is ever more couthy and content. Gaughan rubbed along with this or, more honestly, he rubbed against it.
But what Marra is to optimism and cheer, Gaughan is to the pessimism and fury of the struggle. It was the revolution that drove him to fight, to tour — poor in coin but rich in words and deeds.
The night captured the history, the oppression, the woes and the plight of the poor. Someone who had come to the concerts off the streets would know Gaughan stood with them and the miners. They would also have sensed his attitude to the rich, his unceasing ferocity towards them and his commitment to a revolutionary hope that he sang to inflame. This kind of politics is voiced less and less.
There's a growing gap in Scottish folk politics where communism used to be. That gap was filled for a short moment when Gaughan himself came on stage at the end of the concert. Instead of his trademark leather jacket, he wore many layers of black and grey, with his silvered hair pulled back in a distinctive ponytail.
Frail in every aspect of his appearance, apart from the firmness of his thanks and the fixedness of his gaze, the audience rose and lifted him up with a heartfelt ovation.
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