Jock Tamson’s Bairns - Child's play

This article is from 2008.

Thirty years on from their formation, Scottish folk legends Jock Tamson’s Bairns still have fire in their bellys. Rachel Devine meets them

Bands have a saying that you are only as young as your youngest member. That places Jock Tamson’s Bairns at about 33 years old, the age of their newest member, the fiddler Anna Wendy Stevenson, who joined the legendary Scottish folk combo in 2006.

‘I was commissioned to write a piece of music about Edinburgh for Celtic Connections, afterwards they asked me to join there and then,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t really turn them down.’

It wasn’t a completely random recruitment. Stevenson had previously played with the Bairns’s Derek Hoy in a ceilidh band called Bella McNab’s Dance Band and the group were looking for a new fiddler following the departure of Ian Hardie. Stevenson was regarded as one of the best young fiddle players in the UK. Still, it was an honour to be asked to join.

‘I’d always been a big fan of Jock Tamson’s Bairns,’ she says. ‘There was something quite apposite about the whole thing. The Bairns are an Edinburgh folk band. I’m from Edinburgh and the piece of music I’d written when they asked me to join was about Edinburgh, so the Edinburgh connection was strong.’
Though classically trained Stevenson became interested in folk music in her early-20s, around about the time Jock Tamson’s Bairns came out of ‘retirement’ in the late-1990s. Folk music was in Stevenson’s blood: her aunt is Savourna Stevenson, the renowned Scottish clarsach player, and her father Gordon a fiddle player and violin maker. Fittingly, some of the first folk tunes she ever learned were from an early Jock Tamson’s Bairns album.

‘That was one of my targets, to learn all their repertoire,’ she laughs. ‘That came in quite handy when I was asked to join them. And I was always a huge fan of Rod Paterson’s singing. I think he’s one of Scotland’s most talented singers. Of course, I never thought I’d end up part of the group.’

Jock Tamson’s Bairns were formed in the late-1970s, the halcyon days of the first Scottish folk revival. Their Lasses Fashion album of the 1980s is still regarded as a benchmark for modern interpretations of traditional Scottish song and was famously included by Richard Thomson in his top ten albums ever for Q magazine.

They have never been particularly prolific in the studio - there have been just two albums, May You Never Lack a Scone and Rare, since the second coming. ‘Because I’ve not been involved in doing an album yet it’s something I would really love to do,’ she says. ‘But everybody in the group is involved with different things and very busy, so we’ll see. Rod does a fair bit of solo stuff, we all teach and Norman [Chalmers] works on a lot of different collaborations.’

Stevenson is currently living in Uist where she lectures in traditional music at the University of the Highlands and Islands. The Bairns come together ‘two or three times a year for concentrated period,’ usually before a cluster of concerts. This Sunday they play the Acoustic Music Centre at St Bride’s, the hub of folk music during the Fringe. It’s a rich year for the classics with gigs from Bert Jansch, John Renbourn and Dick Gaughan. For Stevenson, it’s always nice to play a gig in her hometown. ‘We spend a lot of energy on the arrangements,’ she says. ‘It’s wonderful to be in that kind of environment and play with a band who work to those kind of high standards and who are such great musicians.’

And after two and half years, Stevenson is at ease and in her element. ‘They have loads of stories from the past, and I absorb those gratefully, but we’re making stories of our own now.’

Acoustic Music Centre @ St Brides, 346 1405, 17 Aug, 9pm, £10 (£8).

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