Duncan MacLennan, founder member and driving force behind Inverness Folk Club and Folk Festival for many years, died quietly on February 1st in Raigmore Hospital after a long illness.
Duncan was born and brought up in the small community of Kiltarlity, just 12 miles west of Inverness. He wasn’t a native Gaelic speaker, but as a boy was always spoken to by his grandfather in that language when he delivered milk every morning. In later years he acquired a much deeper knowledge of it by himself.
During his university years he got caught up in the excitement of the Folk Revival, learned guitar, and spent many hours in Kings College library copying out songs and ballads from the Greig-Duncan manuscripts. There too he met his wife to be, Deirdre Denoon, and the pair often visited Jeannie Robertson at her home in Tillydrone. These visits continued for a number of years, as they also attended Teachers Training College together. By the time he and Deirdre moved to Inverness to start teaching at Millburn School, he had developed a pretty good claw-hammer guitar style and a deep interest in the big ballads.
Duncan regularly attended a singaround session, started by married couple Dorothy and Ivan Fryman in The Jazz Club Room above MacKay’s ironmongery store, and this seeded the idea for a dedicated folksong club; so in 1964, Duncan and a group of like-minded friends formed the Inverness Folk Club, which ran every Sunday night in the Gellions Hotel. The club was an instant success with a number of local singers and musicians, and many will remember the performances of Barad Dur and The Albert Band – both groups featuring Duncan, and with the former performing regularly on radio and TV. However, fewer know of Duncan’s first singing success. In 1966, with fellow club members Elsa Stevens and Irene Brown, under the name Na Muillearan, he entered the newly introduced Folk Group Competition at the National Mod - and won.
The club went from strength to strength, and linked up with the newly formed Folk Federation (of Scottish folk clubs) to ensure Inverness was firmly established on the map for touring artists. Duncan enjoyed folk song in all its forms and successfully balanced traditional and mainstream performers. In later years he also found time to master the English concertina.
The first Inverness Festival was held in 1969 and blossomed into a major UK event. Duncan was instrumental in attracting great artists, usually just before they became unaffordable, and the guest lists of both festival and club now look like a Who’s Who of the heyday of folk music. The festival ran for 30 years at Easter, before sadly coming to a close in 1998. Over many of those years, and thanks to the hard work of Duncan and the various committees and organisers, many lasting friendships were formed.
The great legacy that Duncan gave the folk song community of Inverness and beyond was his mentoring, help and advice to all aspiring performers, and his generosity in sharing the songs and music which he had collected over the years.
Tom Spiers & Donald Davidson