Hector Gilchrist, who is well known as an interpreter of Robert Burns' songsMy first experience of singing in public was on the stage of our local village hall in Coylton Ayrshire aged ten. In truth, there was little option as the Schoolmaster was a Burns enthusiast and insisted that any of his pupils with a modicum of talent should enter the annual Burns Competition with either a poem or song. I’m pretty sure that every entrant received a prize. Mine was a copy of “Lorna Doon” yet to be read and probably unlikely now, with such miniature font size!

In that era, our family gatherings were enhanced with songs performed by my parents and my mothers musical siblings, who used to make regular visits from Glasgow to our small farm near Ayr, in the post war years. Thus began my interest in singing, as did that of many of my generation of the “Revival” folk community, at a time before television took over. It is true to say, that most of the popular pre and post war, melodies were to the fore and also others which my folks had learned during their early married life in America following emigration there in the twenties. Of course the songs of Burns and other pieces from the Scottish theatre circuit were included.

Hector Gilchrist, singerIn my late teenage years, I was invited by a well known band leader and arranger, a friend of my uncle’s, to join his orchestra in England, as a potential trainee pianist and vocalist. My eventual choice of becoming a student at The West of Scotland Agricultural College seemed a safer alternative. I was however, fortunate through a friend of my future father in law, to have direct access to the personal papers of Burns held at that time in the old museum at Alloway, which further developed my interest in traditional song and melody.

My first post, after training as a Dairy Technologist, was as an Assistant Lecturer at a College in Nantwich Cheshire and soon I became involved in the start up and residency of a Folk Club in Crewe Cheshire, which ran for many years. I was invited to guest at Clubs within the Region including a couple of concerts with Packie Manus Byrne and Harry Boardman at the MSG in Manchester and I also recorded on an L.P at the Liverpool Folk Festival of 1966.

Liz Thomson & Hector Gilchrist, Selkie, 2014
Selkie, Banbury Burns Evening
Photo by Karen Hemmingham

In 1969, I went to Aberdeen with family, joining the well established club there finally returning to Surrey from which base I was fortunate to have the opportunity initially, to become a resident at The Surbiton Folk Club run by Derek and Hazel Sarjeant and finally to travel to many countries in business, with guitar in tow whenever possible.


A five year spell in Ireland, followed by three in the Isle of Man and two in France kept me away from the British scene for a while although fortunately, not from folk music. I am still trying to make up for lost time before the sand runs out!