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.