Pete Shepheard is a singer, musician, and song collector whose involvement in, and contribution to, the folk song revival since the early 1960s has encompassed roles as organiser of both the original Blairgowrie Folk Festival and the annual Fife Traditional Singing Festival and as a founder member of the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland (TMSA). As the creator of Springthyme Records he has captured a number of significant recordings for posterity and he has also recorded two albums as part of a trio, Shepheard, Spiers and Watson, with Tom Spiers and Arthur Watson.
Originally from Stroud in Gloucestershire, Pete came to Scotland to study for a BSc in Zoology at St Andrews University where with fellow students he founded the folk club in 1962. The following summer he met Hamish Henderson at the Edinburgh Folk Festival where the guests included some of the great traditional singers who Hamish had discovered and/or recorded: Jeannie Robertson, Jimmy McBeath and the Stewarts of Blair. Later that year he met Luke Kelly and the newly formed Dubliners in Edinburgh, bought a small tape recorder, and followed them over to Dublin where he spent time in O’Donoghue’s and with Séamus Ennis the noted Irish collector and Uilleann piper. Inspired by Hamish and Séamus and the traditional singers and musicians he had met, Pete and others from the St Andrews Folk Club, were soon beating a path to Jeannie Robertson’s house in Aberdeen and Alex and Belle Stewart and Family in Blairgowie. And soon the club were inviting Jeannie Robertson, Jimmy McBeath and the Stewart Family as guests. The following summer Pete joined the Stewart family on the berrypicking fields of Alyth and Blairgowrie and recorded some of the rich song tradition of the Scottish traveller community, with contacts leading to further exploration of the traveller tradition and extensive song collecting in Ireland, England and Scotland.
While still studying at St Andrews, in 1966 Pete and a small group from Dundee and St Andrews organised the Blairgowrie Festival with the traditional traveller singers as guests along with border shepherd Willie Scott – leading to the formalising of the TMSA in early 1967. After graduating he specialised in neurophysiology and animal behaviour and obtained his PhD from St Andrews in 1969. For the next three years he undertook research fellowships in Canada, firstly with the Canadian Fisheries Research Board in New Brunswick and then at the University of Guelph before returning to Glasgow University in 1972.
Having initially become interested in playing music as a teenage guitarist, Pete later took up the melodeon and accompanied himself on a repertoire that included many songs from his own collecting. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s he made extensive recordings of songs from among the Gypsy Travellers in his native Gloucestershire which went on to be released on the Musical Traditions label of Stroud. His enthusiasm as a singer and collector led to the formation, in 1973, of Springthyme Records based at his home in Fife.
Among the recordings released on Springthyme have been the first album by the groundbreaking Scottish group Ossian and albums by Jim Reid and the Foundry Bar Band, whose 1988 album, Rolling Home, gained the first Scottish Silver Album award from the Scottish Record Industry Association. Other landmark releases include accordionist Iain McLachlan’s An Island Heritage, the first album by ballad singer Jock Duncan, and Jim Reid’s Wild Geese album with his interpretation of Angus poet Violet Jacob’s The Wild Geese/Norland Wind.
As an acknowledged authority on folk song Pete has presented lectures and workshops based on his song and music collecting, on ballad repertoire, traditional singing style, song repertoire among the Gypsy families of Gloucestershire and among the Scottish travelling and farming communities in Fife, Tayside and Aberdeenshire.
In 2015 he completed a book on the fiddle music repertoire and playing style of Tom Hughes of Jedburgh, who had been the subject of a 1981 vinyl production on Springthyme Records. Recordings of traditional songs from Irish travellers, and of musicians including the legendary Irish piper Willie Clancy of Miltown Malbay in Co Clare, have recently been passed on to the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin. However, much of Pete’s archive of recordings has yet to be digitised and some work on this is planned by Scotland’s Sounds – as part of the British Library’s Unlocking the UK’s Sound Heritage Project.