Back in September, we were privileged enough to have a recording session with Adam McNaughton. Adam is one of the leading authorities on Scottish folk music and a folk singer himself. A product of the 60s folk revival, Adam has written several of his own songs and has undertaken a great deal of research on ‘The Poet’s Box’, a shop that was set up in Glasgow in the mid-nineteenth century to print off broadside songs and poems. When he came along to our archives event at the National Library of Scotland in May, we invited him to perform some political songs c.1832-1918 and we were delighted when he accepted.
On 27 September, Adam and I met at Green Door Studios in Finnieston. I had gone down early to introduce myself to one of the owners, Sam, but I managed to get the wrong door and walked in on a Belle & Sebastian rehearsal. Oops! I eventually found Sam though and Adam arrived.
Adam had prepared seven political songs for us, six from 1832-1918 and one of his own about the political reformer Thomas Muir. He had also written an invaluable introduction to the songs, which we recorded.
The first song Adam performed is from the Edinburgh election of 1832, following the passing of the 1832 Reform Bill. The song encourages the listener to get out and back the Whigs (who were the main party behind the Bill). The subject of the second song is the Glasgow Clothlappers, who went on strike for a reduction in the working day from 12 hours to 10. The third song is from a Glasgow by-election in 1837, which urges the electors to replace the Liberal, James Oswald, with another Liberal, John Dennistoun, and to reject the Tory candidate, Robert Menteith. Like the second song, the fourth song concerns the short-time movement and focuses on ploughmen. The fifth song is Adam’s own song on Thomas Muir of Huntershill (1765-1799), a Scottish reformer who was sentenced to transportation to Australia for sedition. The sixth song is a famous pro-reform song, Dark Bonnymuir, which concerns the battle of Bonnymuir in 1820, where 19 radicals were arrested and transported. The two leaders of the insurrection, Baird and Hardie, were executed. The final song is one written by the Communist suffragette, Helen Crawfurd, which calls for the extension of the franchise to women.
Adam’s essay and all seven songs will be available to download from our website in due course – stay tuned! For now, here is one of the songs we recorded, ‘Thomas Muir of Huntershill’.
And if you want to learn more about Thomas Muir, a new collection of essays about his life is being released this week: Thomas Muir of Huntershill: Essays for the Twenty First Century, ed. by Gerard Carruthers and Don Martin, featuring essays by Sir Tom Devine, Alex Salmond and many others.