Morag Dunbar’s love of folk music started in Kirkcaldy in the 1960s. At the time, the legendary Elbow Room Lounge Bar was a firm fixture on the Scottish folk circuit. She’d be there, every Thursday after school, in the audience for the likes of Archie Fisher, Hamish Imlach, The Corries and Matt McGinn.
Leaving school, she moved to Edinburgh for university and soon found plenty things to get involved in. She joined the Edinburgh University folk club, in her words: “Not as good as The Elbow Room but still good!” Much to her flatmates’ horror, she took up guitar lessons on offer there, and started playing and singing, contributing to the music at club nights, sessions and parties.
She recounts that there were so many opportunities in Edinburgh for folk music: The Crown Bar, Sandy Bells, Ian Green’s legendary Police Social Club, and the University Scottish Nationalist Club, a movement which has always had a strong folk music tradition that continues to this day. As she put it: “My friends all tended to be in the folk scene, so socialising and parties always ended up in music and singing sessions”.
In the early 70s, she moved to the village of Balerno, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Having been surrounded by such a vibrant musical community, the move was no doubt an adjustment – the music on offer limited to one weekly Saturday session in the lounge bar of a local pub. Seeing the need for more, she and some friends began arranging music nights in the Grey Horse pub. The nights started as fundraisers for the Scottish National Party but as the event’s popularity grew, the audiences became steadily larger and more apolitical.
Soon there was talk of a folk club, leading to the institution that is the Balerno Folk Club, which Morag has been involved in running for more than four decades, alongside a dedicated committee of volunteers, which in the early days also included Alex Hood, then organiser of the Edinburgh Police Folk Club. Over the years, the club has given a stage to acts now household names, including: Dougie MacLean, John Martyn, Dick Gaughan, and The McCalmans, who recorded their 1988 album “Listen to the Heat” live in concert at the club.
As well as their regular monthly programme, since 2008 the club has been a partner of the Balerno Music Festival to bring folk events to this annually held three week extravaganza of music in all its forms. The Folk Club’s events form an integral and popular part of the array of events on offer.
These years of involvement in the music have led to many wonderful memories, and unique moments. From being one of the judges for the best folk group competition during the Edinburgh Folk Festival and receiving a demo tape from a young Capercaillie – all still in school at the time, to visits to the TMSA festivals in Kinross and Blairgowrie. But most cherished of all are memories of those earliest days in The Elbow Room, where it all began.