• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Ian Campbell

Folk singer, lyricist and father of UB40 musicians;

Born: 10 June 1933; Died: 24 November 2012.

Ian Campbell, the well-known folk singer and lyricist who has died in London aged 79, had a lasting influence on generations of folk singers and his songs also gained a wide following with the general public. He had a broad knowledge of the traditions of folk and his various groups commanded huge respect throughout the industry. He is, rightly, credited as being a leading member of the British folk revival of the 1960s.

Campbell's records sold widely and his 1965 version of Bob Dylan's classic The Times They Are a-Changin' brought him chart success: a rare event in folk music. In his early days as a singer, he and his sister Lorna formed the Clarion Singers, a popular socialist community choir.

It was entirely appropriate that his contribution to folk music was recognised at this year's BBC Folk Awards ceremony. He won the Good Tradition Award for his contribution to the continuation of traditional folk music. On receiving the award, to everyone's delight, he launched into a rendering of the traditional song, Rattlin' Roarin' Willie.

Ian Campbell was born in Aberdeenshire to parents who were both singers specialising in the songs of the area. In 1946, the family moved to Birmingham and for some years he worked as an engraver in the jewellery industry. But he had inherited his parents' love of traditional folk music and the Ian Campbell Folk Group became one of the most popular and admired groups in the folk clubs of the 1960s.

Campbell had appeared in the 1960s with the defiantly left-wing Ewan MacColl (who had also been a member of the Clarion Players) in a popular series of documentaries on television called Radio Ballads, which recorded for posterity the voices and songs of well-known folk singers. It proved a groundbreaking series of documentaries-with-songs capturing, with much authenticity, the lives of and conditions of working people. The series was widely popular when it was broadcast over five years by the BBC.

Their first recording to gain wide recognition was Ceilidh at the Crown in 1962 and was the first live folk club recording to be released on vinyl. The group was to record widely with the Transatlantic Records label. The following year they were invited to perform at the Edinburgh Festival but his employers refused him l the time off from his job. He decided to turn professional so he could devote more time to his singing career.

He and his sister became the hosts of popular folk evenings at several pubs around the Midlands and under his guidance they incorporated the fiddle playing of Dave Swarbrick and John Dunkerley's banjo. Their contribution gave the group a distinctive and personal – but still firmly traditional – sound. Their popularity was recognised when the band peroformed sold-out gigs at major venues such as London's Royal Festival Hall, the Royal Albert Hall and the Newport folk festival. They were often seen performing spots on television programmes – especially the folk music programmes Hullabaloo.

All his life Mr Campbell remained true to his left-wing principles. He strongly supported the CND movement and wrote some radical and haunting lyrics that were much sung on the likes of the Aldermastson Marches in the 1960s. One number in particular, The Old Man's Tale (last lines: "When you think of all the wasted lives it makes you want to cry/ I'm not sure how to change things, but by Christ we'll have to try") was particularly popular. One song had a particularly poignant place in the peace movement. The Sun is Burning was the first anti-war song to achieve popularity and wide circulation with the CND in Britain. The demonstrators often marched to its lyrics: "Now the sun has disappeared/ All that's left is darkness pain and fear." Campbell wrote the emotional song for his sister Lorna who made it her own.

In 1978 the Ian Campbell Folk Group split and Mr Campbell took a degree in theatre studies at Warwick University. On graduating he became a producer and director with TV-am. His 1952 marriage to Pat was dissolved. He is survived by their three sons, Robin, Duncan and Ali who are or have been members of UB40 and their eldest son, David, who was the band's manager.

Contextual targeting label: 
Block list

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

128859