SHE SAYS that the highlight of her year is hosting the “House of Song” at Celtic Connections and the Scots Trad Music Awards, but Doris Rougvie has devoted a lifetime to both singing and promoting traditional music.
Her clear tones and strong voice have made her a popular guest at folk festivals and clubs throughout Scotland and Ireland and she has won many trophies for her singing. As an organiser, she was a committee member of Glenfarg Village Folk Club for more than 30 years, and remains a member of Farg Folk, a group of club members who perform at its annual Glenfarg Folk Feast. She has been a moving force behind many concerts, workshops and other events for the Traditional Music & Song Association of Scotland, of which she is an honorary life member.
She has also sung with the Keekin’ Gless, a traditional music and poetry group, along with writer Carl MacDougall, guitarist-singer Ewan Sutherland, fiddler Pete Clarke and Piper Neil Paterson, and has co-written, with folklorist Margaret Bennett, three books of Perthshire memories, published by Grace Note publications.
Doris describes herself as always having had “a great passion for traditional song”.
Now living in Ladybank, Fife, she was born and brought up in Pitcairngreen in rural Perthshire – where, she recalls, kitchen ceilidhs were “a way of life”. Her father, George Lowden, sang bothy ballads and her Uncle Jimmy Leighton who lived with them had a fine voice. “We had an organ in the house,” she recalls, “originally from the manse, which I played by ear, and when I was around 11 years old I bought myself a piano for £5.”
Today, Doris’s daughter is also a fine singer and both her sons play various instruments – “and, moving on a generation, my 17-year-old grandson is a keen guitarist and my nine-year-old granddaughter plays the fiddle and the mandolin.”
Traditional music, she reckons, is in her blood, and she believes in passing it on: “It has always been an important part of my life and I feel it is essential that these traditions are shared and passed on to keep them alive.”
Doris is in her element sharing songs with others in sessions, particularly at Celtic Connections in Glasgow every January, where she hosts the popular House of Song into the wee sma’ hours, welcoming singers from all over the world, as well as members of the public whose singing, she ensures, is given equal attention, encouragement and respect. Notables who have cropped up have included Beth Nielsen Chapman, Michelle Shocked, Siobhan Miller and Bruce Molsky. She also hosts House of Song events at Orkney Folk festival and at the Scots Trad Music Awards.
Singer and broadcaster Frieda Morrison describes Doris as “one of those great singers who has the ability to encourage other singers and give all-comers a sense of place. “I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in some very memorable singing sessions over the years, but most of my favourite sessions have been under the wise and generous leadership of Doris Rougvie. To me, she has a unique ability to engender fun as well as professionalism, but most of all she extends something very special – a wonderful generosity of spirit.”
Martin Hadden, proprietor of Birnam CD and former bassist with Silly Wizard, first got to know Doris during the 1980s when she was on the committee of Glenfarg Village Folk Club, and has always admired her “her unconditional love of folk music and the way she so enthusiastically pursues it to this day”.
Martin also recalls how, In the 1990s, Doris joined the team of presenters on the Ear to the Ground show which he was heading on the fledgling Heartland FM community radio station in Pitlochry. “Because she spent so many weekends at festivals round the country, Doris became our Friday night ‘roving reporter’, regularly recording interviews at festivals all over Scotland and the UK as well as doing live phone-in interviews with well-known performers at festivals.
“We were never sure when Doris would call or what she would have lined up for us. I particularly remember her surprising us on air one Friday night by phoning in during the show to ask if we wanted to talk with Billy Connolly, who she had tracked down at a festival and was standing beside her, waiting to be interviewed. Another time she did a great phone-in with Dolores Keane at the Sands Family’s Fiddler’s Green festival in Rostrevor, just after the singer had been given a lifetime achievement award for her services to Irish Music.
“The Scottish folk scene would not be the same without her.”