Maggie has given many years of her life organising music for everyone to enjoy – including, of course, the famous Stonehaven Folk Club and Festival, and more recently The Garmouth Folk Club in her home in Moray. She has met many amazing people along the way and is hugely grateful for recognition in the Hall of Fame.
Maggie’s first introduction to music was through playing music at home with her family. Later, in the early 70s – and as the Folk Revival was really taking off – she would go along to the Falkirk Tech Folk Club with friends. After leaving home for University, she soon discovered the folk music community in Aberdeen, meeting Janice Clark, Kenny Hadden and others, and became very involved with the University’s Folk Club. She reflects,
“Not many people know this, but there was an Aberdeen Folk Festival in October 1975 with Five Hand Reel, Archie Fisher, The Tannahill Weavers and Lizzie Higgins among others. I was involved in a very minor way in the organisation of that! It was great fun and very successful.”
Once she left University, Maggie joined the committee for the Aberdeen Folk Song Club. She recalls, “I was still performing in floor spots but recognised that I probably wasn’t going to have a career in folk music as a performer!” Her last real involvement with the Aberdeen club was in 1983 when, with Jane Fraser and Alison Mackinnon, she helped organise the club’s 21st birthday party. The event took place over a weekend and had many guests from previous years at the club, including Mirk, Ray Fisher, Black Donald and many others.
In 1984, Maggie moved to Stonehaven with her small daughter, Jenny, and then had her son, Alastair in 1986. At this time, she found it almost impossible to organise visits over to Aberdeen and found that she really missed playing music with other people. Eventually, she says, the ‘light bulb’ moment hit in 1987 when she realised that there must be others in Stonehaven who would have an interest in folk music. “There was a new wine bar that looked like an ideal venue, so I approached the owner who said he’d be delighted to host a club. He also said that his wife was interested in folk music too.” This turned out to be Meg Findlay – the other stalwart of Stonehaven Folk Club and Festival – and together they agreed that an advert should go in the local paper. There was a pretty good turn out on the first night, and a session ensued…
Maggie and Meg decided that there should be a Guest Night at least once a month, and with Maggie’s not inconsiderable address book of artists from her involvement with the Aberdeen Folk Song Club, she called in lots of favours to bring in some amazing guests. Remembering the club’s first Guest Night, she recalls,
“I had asked Janice Clark, who was singing with a blues group at that point, and she agreed to play. Spider MacKenzie was with them. She sang some gorgeous ballads and they’d alternate with the wild blues stuff, keeping the traditionalists and the contemporary fans happy…win, win! It was a brilliant night; the place was packed out. I was standing at the door near the back when the police arrived. Janice was in the middle of a heartfelt, tragic ballad and you could have heard a pin drop…The poor policeman, who had stormed in, was horrified as everyone turned round and told him to shush. He muttered that they were there to answer a complaint about the noise from the people upstairs and had obviously got it wrong as they stumbled out of the door. Spider then jumped on the table with his moothie miked up and gave it his all!”
Stonehaven Folk Club continued very successfully that first year and they were soon approached by a council member to consider a festival (they had heard it might be good for tourism!). Maggie was a bit wary at first because she knew well the amount of work involved; she wasn’t sure if they’d have enough people prepared to help, but at the same time, she also didn’t want to start small. “If we were going to do this we would have to attract audiences with fantastic artists, but also have people who would play in sessions and make it THE festival to be at.”
Needless to say, the ambitious festival did go ahead, and the list of performers on the roster would still attract huge audiences today. Dougie Maclean was the headline act on the Friday, Capercaillie on the Saturday, Andy Stewart and Manus Lunny on the Sunday. The Singing Kettle performed for the children’s concert (who were not very well known then!) and lots of other guests performed over the course of the weekend, including Black Eyed Biddy, Marilyn Middleton Pollock, The Gaugers and Long Johnny Moore. The sessions in all the pubs were brilliant
Over the years, despite teaching full time and looking after her two children, Maggie had been tirelessly booking artists (she nearly always ended up doing the first floor spot too, with no-one else stepping up) for the folk club every Friday until the summer months, when she was able to spend more time with her beloved children.
In 1996 – along with Danny Kyle, Joe Duncan, Jim McIver, Sheena Wellington and others – Maggie was involved in trying to set up an Alliance of Scottish Folk Clubs to raise the profile of Scottish Folk music. “We wanted to ensure more realistic media coverage and make clubs more welcoming for younger people. I am delighted to say that this seems to have been achieved of late!”
In 2006, Maggie and her family left for Houston, Texas to teach; by that time she had stepped back from the club and the festival in Stonehaven owing to the fact that she had become the principal teacher in English at Aberdeen Grammar and work was overwhelming. On their return from Houston in 2016, her family settled in Garmouth in Moray in 2016. Having sort of retired from teaching, Maggie decided – of course – that Garmouth needed a folk club too, which began the following year.
“The area around Garmouth is famous for the Fochabers’ fiddlers so sessions are amazing, but we have also managed to book some fantastic guests including Tony McManus straight from Celtic Connections, Archie Fisher, my old pal, and the Sangsters among others. We have also had quite a few of the young up and coming performers.”
Sadly, the Garmouth club has losts its venue as a consequence of Covid, but the club hopes to reconvene in the Golf Club where they had previously held some guest nights. “Hopefully, once venues are allowed to have music, we will rise from the ashes and I’ll be on the phone and emails keeping music live! I very much hope to continue to bring amazing musicians to our little place.”