Archive for Sunday, April 5, 1992


April 5, 1992


It may seem bizarre that Scots would ignore their own rich folk music and play Elvis Presley and Kenny Rogers on the radio. But that's what happens, according to Jean Redpath.

The Scottish find their own native music so commonplace that they barely notice it.

"The folk music is seen as part of the environment when you grow up, so why record it?,'' asked Redpath, a Scottish folk singer who brings her act Tuesday to Douglas County. "You're more likely to hear American country music than you are folk music.

Redpath will perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Rice Auditorium at Baker University in Baldwin as part of Baker's 1991-92 Co-Curricular Events series.

DESPITE THE blase attitude of some of her peers, Redpath has taken Scottish music to heart, performing solo across the United States and in Europe. Like a contemporary troubadour, she sings and plays the guitar, making selections from her repertoire as she goes along.

"It depends on all the elements of the presentation, such as the physical place I sing and the audience and whether they (the audience members) have a low or high level of energy,'' she said in a recent telephone interview from a stop in Miami, Fla. "I find that I sing different tunes in a 1890s wood music hall than I would in a 3,000-seat auditorium.''

Redpath was born and raised in Fife, north of Edinburgh, on the east side of Scotland. She drew many of her songs from her parents; her mother sang and her father played the hammer dulcimer.

"I GREW UP listening to it, so by the time I was at university I had a fairly solid experience in it,'' she said. "Both sides of my family were musical. Some of the songs played by my mother have stayed in my memory, but none of it was ever seen as quote `real' music.''

After she began her college career in the United Kingdom, she got the urge to wander. Some friends in the United States provided her an avenue for escape in 1961.

"It was a pure accident,'' she said. "I had friends in California who invited me to sing at their wedding. So in exchange for singing at the wedding I got them to sponsor my emigration. I stayed in California with no aim, no job, for about five months. But compared with Scottish climate I thought I had died and gone to heaven.''

WITH LITTLE formal musical study, Redpath began to sing folk music, eventually performing on the East Coast and running into a record producer who recorded her. Nowadays she divides her time between Scotland and the United States.

Her presentation mixes formal singing with informal remarks about the songs, a technique Redpath says keeps her audience off-balance. She sings mainly songs from the Lowlands, traditionally the wealthier, more cosmopolitan areas of Scotland around Edinburgh and Glasgow. As a result, many of the lyrics are in English and not Gaelic. But that doesn't mean the older songs are easy to understand.

"Some songs take about three minutes to sing and about 10 minutes to explain,'' she said.

IN RECENT months, Scottish nationalism has resurfaced; some Scots are calling for some separation from the United Kingdom and entrance into the European Community. Redpath, who said these movements come about once every generation, has her doubts about the wisdom of separating.

"I've always been a cultural nationalist, but I'm not at all sure about political independence,'' she said. "We have a long history of dependence and independence, and perhaps if we removed England as the unifying foe we would all come apart.''

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