Dick Gaughan is Scotland’s most passionate troubadour, a singer and guitarist whose performances both burn with a fierce conviction and smoulder with equally heartfelt compassion and invigorate audiences across the world with eloquently expressed conviction.
Gaughan was born in Glasgow on May 17, 1948, while his father was working temporarily as an engine driver at Colville’s Steelworks, and grew up in Leith surrounded by music. His mother was a native Gaelic speaker from Lochaber who sang Gaelic and English songs and his father, whose Irish parents played fiddle and accordion and sang, was a semi-professional guitarist in a Hot Club de France-style swing group, and all of these nourished the young Gaughan’s imagination.
On his first guitar, inherited from his father when he was seven, Gaughan learned the rudiments and presently, despite having strings like heavy duty steel ropes and a centimetres-high action to deal with, he began to emulate his great instrumental heroes, bluegrass picker Doc Watson and guitar adventurer Davey Graham. With a love of poetry and traditional ballads passed on by his mother, Gaughan forged a singing and guitar playing style that fused influences as varied as Hank Williams, Robert Burns, Woody Guthrie and Jeannie Robertson into a delivery that became recognised as distinctively his own.
He turned professional in 1970 and recorded his first album, No More Forever, the following year before replacing Mike Whellans in the already popular Boys of the Lough in 1972. With an increased profile, he returned to solo work, producing the landmark instrumental album Coppers & Brass, and formed the electric folk band Five Hand Reel, which signed to a major record company and gave Gaughan a taste of the rock music business, appearing at major festivals and releasing three enduringly popular albums.
The 1980s highlighted the breadth of Gaughan’s interests. His masterpiece, A Handful of Earth became the Melody Maker Folk Album of the Year for 1981 and Folk Roots magazine’s Album of the Decade. He recorded another classic album with Irish troubadour Andy Irvine, joined the 7:84 theatre company as an actor and musical director, trained as a computer programmer, which subsequently led to him becoming an accomplished website builder and designer, and released an album of folk-rooted free improvisation with Dundee-born drummer Ken Hyder.
Throughout the 1990s and into the new century Gaughan has continued to tour as a politically committed singer and guitarist. He has also led the eight-piece Clan Alba, an ultimately unwieldy grouping of leading Scottish musicians that briefly flew the flag for Scotland at festivals throughout the UK and Europe and released one album overseen by Gaughan in another of his roles, record producer. A songwriter of rare perception, Gaughan’s work has been covered by artists including Capercaillie, Christy Moore, Billy Bragg and Mary Black and his more recent interest in orchestral compositions has produced Timewaves, in 2004, and Treaty 300, in 2007, both of which were premiered at Celtic Connections.
Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame is run by
Hands Up for Trad.