When Archie Fisher played his first paid gig in May 1962 the venue, the North British Hotel in Edinburgh, was appropriate for a man who would go on to be regarded as Scottish folk music royalty.
Josh McRae of the Reivers, the group formed by folklorist Norman Buchan to contribute Scottish songs to a television programme, had to pull out of what was essentially a cabaret slot during a dance that evening. So Archie stepped in as a temporary Reiver. The North British went on to become the Balmoral Hotel and Archie is now revered for his sustained contribution over the years as a singer, guitarist, songwriter and broadcaster.
The £5 fee he earned as Josh McRae’s dep is one of several rewards, including the first prize of 60 Embassy cigarettes in a skiffle competition in Coatbridge, that stand out in a story that begins at school in Glasgow. Norman Buchan gave a talk about Scottish folk music to the pupils at Hyndland Secondary and Archie and a classmate, Hamish Imlach, both remembered this leaving an impression.
It was in Newark, New Jersey, while working on an oil tanker as a sixteen year old who had run off to sea, however, that Archie was inspired to take up playing and singing music. In a dockside café he heard Lonnie Donegan’s Rock Island Line on the jukebox. A shipmate owned a guitar and despite its diminishing number of strings, Archie learned some rudiments before returning home in time to receive a guitar – purple in colour and Palm Beach by model – for his seventeenth birthday.
Initially he played in a skiffle group, as did many of his generation under Donegan’s influence, and then he and his sister Ray formed a duo that featured regularly on radio and television, with Ray singing blues and jazz standards to Archie’s guitar accompaniments learned by playing Big Bill Broonzy “45’s” at 33rpm. Archie also played banjo, spurred on by a lesson from Ralph Rinzler of visiting New York bluegrass band the Greenbriar Boys. With fiddler Bobby Campbell, he and Ray then became the Wayfarers and further media appearances followed.
In 1968, Archie recorded his first, self-titled album for the XTRA label and although his output has been comparatively sparse, his influence has been felt widely. Legend has it that Archie gave Bert Jansch guitar lessons, a compliment Archie says is overstated, and the songwriting Archie honed by writing to deadlines on the radio show Here & Now has been recognised in his songs being covered by artists including Fairport Convention, Eva Cassidy, Wizz Jones, and John Renbourn.
After working in a short-lived group with Rab Noakes and Barbara Dickson, the in the 1970s Archie became further involved in broadcasting, contributing songs and items to schools programmes and talk features. This led to his becoming the voice of the Scottish folk scene on BBC Radio Scotland’s Travelling Folk, a position he shared initially with Robin Hall before going on to lend his insightful commentaries and superbly well- informed interviewing to the programme for twenty-seven years.
When he retired from Travelling Folk in 2010, Archie says that many of the musicians and bands he was featuring by then hadn’t been born when he began on the programme. His audience knew his history, though, and his return to performing in the UK and across the Atlantic, where he forged relationships with Tom Paxton and Canadian troubadour Garnet Rodgers, has been greeted by his appointment as MBE in 2006 and the continuing popularity befitting an enduring prince among Scottish singer-songwriter-guitarists.