When Bobby Eaglesham joined Five Hand Reel in 1975, he not only became synonymous with a group that made a lasting impact, he inadvertently gave himself and his colleague, Dick Gaughan, twin headaches that proved similarly durable.
Eaglesham and Gaughan's voices, although individually distinctive, shared a common craggy quality. So, when one sang behind the other, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between them, and for years after the group disbanded, Gaughan was plagued by people asking him to sing certain songs on which Eaglesham had sung lead. Eaglesham would endure similar requests.
Coming from a family where, like Gaughan's, music was always playing or being played, Eaglesham took up guitar and emerged on the Scottish folk scene during the 1960s, when the music was enjoying a major resurgence. He established himself as a solo performer and played in a duo called The Other Half with Glaswegian singer and banjo player Iain MacKintosh. This became a trio with the arrival of Tam Harvey of The Humblebums-fame.
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As well as playing on album sessions, for Watt Nicol among others, Eaglesham also played
in a duo with Gaughan and became good friends with Five Hand Reel fiddler-to-be Chuck Fleming. So when, shortly after it formed, Five Hand Reel changed personnel, he was a natural choice to join Gaughan in the front line.
Folk-rock was doing well at this time. Steeleye Span were album chart regulars and RCA Records signed Five Hand Reel hoping for similar results. Unlike a lot of bands, who simply
grafted a rock beat onto traditional songs, Five Hand Reel's approach was more organic, absorbing jazz, rock and pipe band influences. Eaglesham added dulcimer and mandolin as well as guitar and vocals, and brought both traditional songs and his own Death of Argyll, often mistaken for a traditional ballad, to the repertoire.
Although they didn't meet the record company's sales expectations, the group built up a loyal following, which included John Peel and Elvis Costello, played prestigious events such as
Reading Festival and recorded in such typically rockbiz locations as Rockfield Studios in Wales. RCA feted them with champagne album-launches, which the band had to borrow train fares to attend, and reviews in the music press were always enthusiastic - their first, eponymous album won a Melody Maker album of the year award. Five albums in, though, with Gaughan already off on a solo career, the group faltered.
Eaglesham went on to record the well-received solo album, Weather the Storm, with assistance from Gaughan and Fleming in 1982, but shortly afterwards, looking for a more secure income, he moved into the catering business, first in Stamford and then in Kendal, before making a change of direction that would sustain him for the rest of his life.
Always a talented, self-taught artist, in the early 1990s, he enrolled at Edinburgh College of Art. Here, he threw himself into not just painting but the academic side of his subject with even more passion and dedication than he'd brought to his music. He gained a BA followed by an MA, won a scholarship to Cleveland College, Ohio, and exhibited his large, vibrant canvases at both the Edinburgh College and the Loft Gallery in Hamilton Place, where for a time he also rented a studio. His artwork reunited him with Gaughan when he provided the cover art for Gaughan's Sail On album, and he subsequently reunited with Chuck Fleming in a duo, touring all over the UK, Holland and Germany and releasing the acclaimed The Live Set CD, in 1998.
He was responsible for setting up, in 1995, the Festival Folk at the Oak concert series during the Edinburgh Fringe in the folk music bar in Infirmary Street, which still runs each August, and he played there and in other folk clubs, his strong, persuasive singing voice and stylish guitar-playing still to the fore.
Some of the best examples of his musical talent were captured in 1999, on volumes seven and eight of Dr Fred Freeman's Complete Songs of Robert Burns series of CDs, for Linn Records, where he sang songs such as the bawdy My Girl She's Airy, with both great relish and fine judgment.
Latterly, while continuing to paint and to play gigs intermittently, he taught art at Polmont Prison, passing on his skills. He was enjoying a coffee break in the prison on Thursday when he suffered a massive heart attack. He'll be sadly missed.
Bobby Eaglesham, singer, musician and artist; born June 18, 1943, died October 14, 2004.