By Mike Ritchie

NEW songs and contemporary music can thrill fans in many ways.

But music dug out of the depths of time from communities, where lives were eked out in tough conditions with few of the home comforts that we can take for granted today, also has a charm with a meaning that helps them live on.

Two musicians who firmly believe in the lasting power of certain songs are singer, Kenna Campbell, one of the contemporary Gaelic world’s leading tradition bearers and her former Royal Conservatoire of Scotland student, singer/songwriter, Ainsley Hamill.

They have co-edited a new book focusing on the work of one of the great unsung heroines of Scottish Gaelic song, Frances Tolmie, from the Isle of Skye, who died in 1926.

The book, Gun Sireadh, Gun Iarraidh (Without Seeking, Without Asking), seeks to open up Tolmie’s songs and life’s work to new audiences.

Although a Tolmie collection was first published in 1911 in the journal of the London-based Folk-Song Society a new edition was considered overdue to recognise the scale of Tolmie’s work.

Campbell, who was a principal lecturer in Gaelic Song at The Conservatoire, spent many hours working through the original manuscript notebooks in the National Library of Scotland, restoring the Gaelic texts and examining anew the methodology and guiding principle of Tolmie’s work.

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Invited to co-edit, Hamill helped prepare the music for publication and, with valuable input from a number of other people, it has been described as “worthy of Frances Tolmie’s ethos of care and respect for the songs, the language and the tradition so clearly evident in her original manuscript.”

The songs have made an impact on Hamill and she includes a selection on her setlists.

“I perform them because I am captivated by them and care about them so much,” said Hamill, whose critically acclaimed 2021 album, Not Just Ship Land, had its roots in the history of the Govan area of Glasgow.

Over the years, Campbell has readily passed Tolmie’s song collection to her students who have subsequently carried them gleefully and respectfully into their own repertoire and style, shaping each of their careers.

Hamill, originally from Cardross in Argyll and Bute who performs traditional songs in English, Scots and Gaelic, agrees.

“These songs, without a doubt, have played a part in developing my career and I’ve sung them all over the world,” she said.

“In a way they are all still so relevant in today’s world as the sentiments in the songs are applicable to life today – they are about feelings and reactions to life situations.

“They evolve and change over time but the song authors are mainly anonymous.

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“But what we do know is that they were collected from mostly ordinary, intelligent women who sang them to accompany their work, such as when they were waulking the cloth.

“These women were not entertainers but the songs they sang all those years ago have never lost their warmth or value or sentiment. They are wonderful to sing and audiences react so positively.

“These are seminal songs and the collection has influenced generations of singers from the early 20th century right up to the present day and we hope this new collection will continue to do so.

“This new edition is a collection of Gaelic songs gathered over a lifetime in Gaelic-speaking communities where songs were the life-breath of daily work and play.”

Tolmie was born on the Isle of Skye to a family associated with the MacLeod chiefs of Dunvegan and brought up as part of her uncle’s family following the death of her father.

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The two women hope Tolmie’s songs and life’s work will inspire new audiences with this edition, which re-unites songs, lyrics and background, and which, they argue, returns Tolmie to rightful prominence.

“A lot of traditional singers are looking for songs and versions of songs that audiences don’t know, so The Tolmie Collection is a goldmine for people like me who want to create new versions,” said Hamill.

At Celtic Connections recently in Glasgow, Hamill and Campbell were joined by other acts to perform a specially created show to launch this reworked collection.

“It was such a great night and a joy to MC,” said Hamill, who starts a 25-date tour of Germany next month with her band Fourth Moon to promote their new album, Odyssey.

“Bringing Frances’ marvellous songs to life again felt so good, so rewarding. For me, these are songs I’ll never stop singing.”

•Gun Sireadh, Gun Iarraidh (Without Seeking, Without Asking) is available from Acair Books