Robin Morton has been a dynamic presence on the folk scene man and “Boy”. As a founder member and player-manager of Boys of the Lough, he established an international touring network that earned the group world renown. As manager and in effect non-playing member of Battlefield Band, he has guided one of Scottish music’s most enduring attractions for close to forty years, offering an early platform for talents including Brian McNeill, John McCusker and Karine Polwart, and through his record production work and Temple Records business he has nurtured traditional music through good times and not so good times.
Born in Portadown, County Armagh on Christmas Eve 1939, Robin came to folk music through his first love, jazz, which he inherited from his father. Despite being crushed to discover that Jelly Roll Morton was not, in fact, a distant relative, Robin learned to play cornet in the school band in a bid to emulate Bunk Johnson and from there moved on to Louis Armstrong. Then when British jazz musicians such as Chris Barber brought blues players including Big Bill Broonzy and Muddy Waters over here to tour, they in turn led Robin to Appalachian folk songs, which he soon discovered had links to his homeland.
During the late 1950s and 1960s Robin combined studies in teacher training and social work and an early career in broadcasting with investigating, researching, collecting and promoting folk music. With a group of fellow enthusiasts he founded the Ulster Folk Music Society and while writing and preparing a radio ballad he inadvertently formed Boys of the Lough with Tommy Gunn and Cathal McConnell.
Through a series of line-ups that included Aly Bain, Mike Whellans, Dick Gaughan and their current guiding light Dave Richardson, The Boys took traditional music to huge audiences and into new markets, playing massive festivals in America and reaching rock music’s readership through Rolling Stone magazine, and after ten hectic years Robin felt that the group could carry on without him. He turned to record production, quickly winning acclaim with Cilla Fisher & Artie Trezise’s Cilla & Arty album for Topic Records, which won the coveted Melody Maker Album of the Year title in 1979, overseeing Dick Gaughan’s classic A Handful of Earth album and championing harp music and Gaelic song through records with Alison Kinnaird, Flora MacNeil and Christine Primrose.
In this – as in much else – Robin has been a pioneer and visionary. His massive contribution to traditional music in particular and music in Scotland in general includes three years as Edinburgh Folk Festival director, uncountable hours and even more words as an advocate for the tradition, a period as chairman of the Scottish Record Industry Association and unseen work behind the scenes, fighting for musicians’ rights. It’s no exaggeration to say then that, culturally, without Robin Morton, we’d all be the poorer.
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