OBITUARY: Hamish Imlach

It was somehow appropriate that Hamish Imlach, the gargantuan Scottish folk singer, should have died quietly in the early hours of Hogmanay morning, for his huge appetite for life found its annual high-point at New Year, whether he was at home in the Glasgow suburb of Motherwell or out on the road in Germany or Denmark, the contractual bottle of whisky on the table before him.

But his 20-stone girth and Rabelaisian sense of humour belied the seriousness of his art, which found its earliest expression in the Holy Loch anti- nuclear protests of the early 1960s, when with Josh Macrae, Jackie O'Connor, Nigel Denver and Morris Blythman (better known under his nom de plume of Thurso Berwick) he created a body of song that is still to be heard on demonstrations, 30 years after.

He was also one of the first to bring to public notice the political songs of Hamish Henderson, the Scots poet whose "Freedom Come-all-ye" has become virtually a second national anthem for Scotland (the other being, of course, the Corries' "Flower of Scotland").

It was this political commitment, no doubt, which led to his being proscribed by the Freedom Association, with the result that he found himself barred from many of the engagements where his hail-fellow-well-met manner might have suited corporate audiences out for a good time.

He was also mentor for many who were to come after, notably Billy Connolly, who borrowed his way with a good story, and John Martyn, who learnt the first rudiments of his now prodigious guitar technique at Imlach's ample knee. He was also invited at one time to join the Dubliners, and was a close friend of Christy Moore, doyen of Ireland's contemporary traditionalists.

Born in Calcutta, in 1940, of Scots parents, he came back to Glasgow with them as a young boy and went to the same school as Ray and Archie Fisher, who introduced him to the joys of folk music. His enormous appetite for music and the good things of life made him a leading member of that select band who could combine entertainment with the sort of profound seriousness which makes a good Shakespearian Falstaff. Even when parodying an American Christmas carol, as in his "Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice", something of the original still shone through, though the belly laughs were more obvious on the surface.

It was never to be expected that such a character could have a long life, and indeed just 20 years ago it was declared that he was medically dead, all body functions having totally failed. He gagged that he made more money from the subsequent benefit concerts than he ever took on his own account. This sold him somewhat short, however, for he was one of the few folk singers who could guarantee to fill a cinema or concert hall in any part of the British Isles, though, like many of his peers, he found more demand for his services on the Continent in recent years.

Very much a live performer, he nevertheless appeared on more than three dozen albums, including compilations, and well over a dozen under his own name. He also produced eight in Germany, and was recently featured on a video of his live act.

Despite having suffered from bronchial and asthmatic problems for years, he continued working in the pre-Christmas period, relying on cold cures and painkillers to conquer the influenza symptoms that should have had him resting in bed. He dozed off about 45 minutes into New Year's morning, and never woke up. It was how he would have chosen to go: "When I die I want everything to be knackered," he joked in his 1992 autobiography: Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice - Reminiscences of a Fat Folk Singer.

Karl Dallas

Hamish Imlach, folk singer: born Calcutta 10 February 1940; married (four children); died Motherwell 1 January 1996.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Compensation and Benefits Manager - Brentwood - Circa £60,000

£60000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Compensation and Benefits Manager - Compensat...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes