September 2010 saw the passing of a dear friend and colleague, Scottish folk legend, Lionel McClelland. Kirsten Easdale and I have co-produced the album Lionel was recording at the time of his death. Many of Lionel’s colleagues helped to put the finishing touches on their good friend’s ultimate album which was released on Thursday, 2nd August 2012, in Moffat Town Hall.
Moffat’s own Lionel McClelland was a musician, composer, singer, songwriter, poet, storyteller and one of the finest reciters of poetry in the Scots language. He was one of Scotland’s greatest characters well known for his sense of justice, integrity and great love of humanity. Kirsten and I feel privileged to have known and worked with Lionel and we believe that the legacy of music, song and poetry that Lionel has left us will be, and is already seen as, an essential part of the canon of our Scottish musical tradition and culture.
Lionel toured the world with his band ‘Blackeyed Biddy’, who released 3 albums,
“Guid Neighbours” (Birnock Records),
“High Spirits” (Dunkeld Records) and
“Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure” (Greentrax Records).
He performed at many festivals, including, most recently, Celtic Connections 2010.
He was featured on Dumfries and Galloway Arts Association’s, “Sang O the Solway” project. Lionel was very active in teaching traditional music in schools, some of his poetry and song, now being part of the school curriculum.
Lionel was a stalwart of the Scottish folk scene. When he wasn’t performing, he was busy passing on to the next generation, through his many workshops for various bodies, and leading sessions for the ‘Traditional Music and Song Association’, the musical and poetical traditions and culture, of his own beloved Dumfries & Galloway.
“I have lost a friend and mentor. I respected Lionel as a musician but more so as a human being....We are already recording 'The Silent Majority' and may consider a few more.” [of his songs].
BBC Radio Scotland Folk Award winner 2009
Growing up so close to Craigieburn, Moffat, Lionel was well aware from an early age, of it’s Burns’ connections, and he must have drawn much inspiration from his many visits there. It is highly appropriate, therefore, that Lionel recorded two of the ‘Chloris’ (Jean Lorimer, born at Craigieburn) songs for the Linn Records definitive collection, “The Complete Songs of Robert Burns”, which he sang with great authority and authenticity.
“Sleep’st Thou Or Wak’st Thou – The Lover’s Morning Salute To His Mistress” 1794
“Mark Yonder Pomp Of Costly Fashion” 1795
Dr Fred Freeman, Hon. Fellow in English, at the University of Edinburgh, and the Producer of Linn records’ definitive collection “The Complete Songs of Robert Burns”, said of Lionel,
“a rare talent - really, what we need more of in the present day....the voice of social reform and cultural regeneration : rediscovering and reshaping the heritage of Burns and our immortal songsters . Groups like 'Black-Eyed Biddy', of which Lionel was the keystone, had both great flare and purpose behind everything they did....It was a privilege to work with the man on the Burns series....A fine man; a sensitive man; a great creative spark in our midst.”
Lionel had a great love and passion for the work of Robert Burns, and his own guitar arrangements to things like ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ were so incredibly thoughtful and insightful as were his compositions on tin whistle.
“A man who captured the essence of the Bard and made it accessible to us all.”
President of The Robert Burns Worldwide Federation, David Baird.
Lionel’s work as an actor on such productions as Arthur Millar’s, ‘The Crucible’ and Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s ‘Sunset Song’ with Tag Theatre Company which ran at The Citizens Theatre, may well have been a contributing factor as to his ability to recite Scots poetry and verse like no other.
Renowned actor and author, John Cairney said of Lionel’s recitation of Tam O’ Shanter that it was
“like hearing an old friend telling him a wonderful story over a pint; an excellent narration with every nuance there.”
Lionel also recorded sessions with such people as Brian McNeil, Finbar Furey and guitarist Martin Taylor. He loved a tune with his pals in local Ceilidh band ‘Two Left Feet’ and he was very excited about his new band, ‘Bring In The Spirit’, with whom he had just completed a run of concerts for Visit Scotland, as part of their ‘Scottsland’ 2010 celebrations, his charismatic performances enthralling audiences.
His poem, ‘The Craw’, is a masterpiece and captures beautifully Lionel’s ability to see the human side of things.
His ballad, ‘The Earl O’ Marches Daughter’, is entrancing and Lionel took the fact that many people thought that this was a classic traditional song as the ultimate compliment to his writing.
His grizzly tale of Sawney Bean has all the elements required for a good old fashioned shiver up the spine.
His ‘Toodle Pip’ and ‘MP’s Expenses Song’ are perceptive, hilarious pieces that showed Lionel’s contempt for greed and deceit.
It is a rare thing indeed nowadays, that such a man, can be born, raised, live, die, and be buried, within such a short distance.
“His uncomb'd hoary locks, wild-staring, thatched
A head for thought profound and clear unmatch'd;
Yet tho' his caustic wit was biting rude,
His heart was warm, benevolent and good.”
From: ‘The Poet’s Progress’ 1788
Facebook group for Lionel McClelland