Even leaving aside, for a moment, his immeasurable contribution to Scottish folk music as a broadcaster, Archie Fisher’s achievements as a singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer make his place in the annals secure. He stands as a linchpin figure between that music’s rural past and its largely urban present; between the Celtic and American folk-song traditions, both old and new.
The son of a Gaelic-speaking mother, from Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides, and a father who sang in the City of Glasgow Police Choir, Archie thus absorbed his first lessons in songcraft from both the time-tested eloquence of traditional ballads, and the literary brio of light opera and music-hall. The 1950s skiffle boom drew his sights Stateside, where he discovered kindred spirits and role-models like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and through them the power of song as a vehicle for contemporary politics and protest.
Archie has described how he taught himself to write songs originally through patching up incomplete traditional material, following its example in the potent visual imagery and poetic economy which became his own trademarks. His first recordings, with his sister Ray and other family members, were followed by his self-titled solo debut in 1968, while Ray and Archie also won widespread popularity with their TV appearances, singing topical songs on the current-affairs magazine show Here and Now. This early apprenticeship in writing to order, on specific subjects (later continued in his work for BBC Schools Radio), helped reinforce the expertise in marrying rhythm, melody and language which has characterised his songwriting ever since, with many of his compositions having entered the contemporary folk-song canon.
As a guitarist, Archie – along with Martin Carthy and Davey Graham – was among the earliest steel-string players in British folk music, devising a mix of new tunings and inventive picking that has influenced generations of successors. The range of his talents has led to collaborations with such legendary names as Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem, Silly Wizard, Bert Jansch and Tom Paxton, while his specific contribution to the Edinburgh folk scene, which began when he ran the Howff club in the early 1960s, continued during his directorship of the Edinburgh Folk Festival, from 1988 to 1992.
Coming of age as he did at a time when folk music enjoyed its highest ever profile on the nation’s airwaves, Archie was also to emerge – in parallel with his performing career – as one of the genre’s most important ambassadors and advocates in the broadcasting world. As presenter of BBC Radio Scotland’s weekly flagship show Travelling Folk, which he took over in 1983, he has consistently and eloquently championed the very best of Scottish folk music, complementing his support for new artists with his vast knowledge of the music’s history and international context.