PETE Heywood has made a hefty contribution to the continued wellbeing of traditional music in Scotland and beyond, through his founding, with his wife Heather, of the Kilmarnock Folk Club and their input to the Girvan Folk Festival, for taking an early initiative in the formation of folk development agencies, and not least for launching The Living Tradition magazine, an invaluable commentary on the UK folk scene and beyond over the past two decades, and its associated Tradition Bearers series of recordings.
Pete regards the formation of the Kilmarnock Folk Club and Girvan Festival as well as some continuing projects as his most significant achievements, although he concedes that The Living Tradition did help raise the music’s profile. On a more personal level, he rates highly his success in encouraging a reluctant Heather Heywood to sing in public, as well as what he sees as a legacy of linking a scattered community of organisers and other enthusiasts, “resulting in lasting friendships and younger generations of musicians with family links”.
Born in Manchester, he first encountered folk music as a teenager during the late Sixties when he attended a youth club where Mike Harding, the future BBC Radio 2 folk show presenter, was a leader, running a Friday night folk club. There and at other local clubs, Pete first heard the likes of Dick Gaughan, Robin and Barry Dransfield, the Fureys and Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick.
Moving to Scotland in 1970, he married Heather Williamson, whom he had met in Blackpool. As Heather Heywood, she would go on to make her name as a fine Scots ballad singer, cutting her teeth at Irvine Folk Club, where the couple became increasingly involved in the flourishing Ayrshire folk scene and established Kilmarnock Folk Club in 1974. The same year, they helped establish Girvan Folk Festival, Pete later becoming one of its principal organisers and acting as artistic director until its twenty-first anniversary.
Like most folk organisers of the time, family and work commitments meant that his involvement was part-time and voluntary. As Girvan continued to take up a lot of his free time, and taking a lead from Alistair Anderson’s Newcastle-based Folkworks and Roger Watson’s Traditional Arts Projects in the south-east of England, he detached himself from his role as a director in a small computer services company, inheriting an office, two-full time employees and one part-timer, and, based initially at Prestwick Airport, established Inform (DATA) – the “DATA” standing for Development Agency for the Traditional Arts. The agency would become Traditional Arts Development, now a community interest company and among the longest-established folk development organisations in the UK.
As part of this venture, Pete took on responsibility for the successor to Sandy Bell’s Broadsheet, originally published from the famous Edinburgh folk pub. He felt, however, that Scottish music deserved a higher UK-wide profile, and when a plan for the Broadsheet to appear as an insert in an established English publication fell through, he launched The Living Tradition.
The magazine became Pete’s most public face, but he regards his more behind-the-scenes activities as his most important contribution. In his organisational role, he engaged with institutions such as the Scottish Arts Council and became one of the first people from Scotland to attend the major US Folk Alliance gatherings in Boston, Washington DC and Portland, Oregon, returning with fresh ideas and encouraging others to examine how they were organising folk music.
Pete’s Folk Alliance experiences – and the American emphasis on educating through summer camps – would inform his establishing Living Tradition summer schools and Common Ground Scotland. “Over here,” he recalls, “it was a difficult sell, but those who experienced them appreciated a mix of festival-like activities in a more relaxed social setting.” He regards Common Ground Scotland as “an American import”, created with help from the visiting American artist Walt Michael.
The American concept could be traced right back to the days of civil rights activism; the Scottish version was heading in the right direction but, he says, “crashed into something of a brick wall when they effectively became whistle-blowers in a situation involving renovation of a large building with some allegedly dodgy local politicians and property developers.
“The dream of refocusing Common Ground on peace education and the role of musicians in their wider communities remains alive – but only just!”
The magazine also gave rise to the short-lived Living Tradition Awards, established in 1996 to help raise the profile of traditional music. Although making a promising start, they were never repeated mainly due to financial and time pressures. Making a more lasting impact has been the Tradition Bearers series of recordings, which aimed at focussing on folk song at a time when, as he puts it, “the art of the solo singer was starting to be lost a little. One of the prompts was Archie Fisher posing the question, ‘Where is traditional folk song in the current Scottish folk revival?’”
The Tradition Bearers series features the likes of Alison McMorland, Geordie McIntyre, Heather Heywood, Bob Blair, Jack Beck and Jimmy Hutchison, but Pete stresses the label’s associated emphasis on “live performance and giving respect, where respect was due, to both performers and material”.
The past few years have seen him working on photographic and sound archives (he was involved in creating background imagery for the Far, Far from Ypres stage show), which he believes “can raise the bar in terms of telling a story and reinforcing the credibility of the music.”
The decades during which Pete has been active in folk music he regards as “a special period. The conditions were right for people to take control of the music and some very significant characters came out of this period. I’m not sure whether we will see their likes again. I have a sense that we are coming to the end of an era. That doesn’t mean that traditional music doesn’t have a healthy future, but circumstances change and what comes next will reflect that.”