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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy