Sheena Wellington is one of Scottish traditional music’s most passionate advocates, an internationally recognised champion of Robert Burns and in her proudest achievement, the singer who will forever be remembered for her stirring singing of A Man’s a Man for a’ That at the Scottish Parliament’s opening in 1999.
Born in Dundee on August, 29, 1945, Sheena grew up in a family who were always singing. Her father was a well-known Burns aficionado around Dundee and Sheena inherited his enthusiasm, going on to win the coveted Leng Medal with her singing of The Winter it is Past and becoming the chief soloist in the Harris Academy choir.
In the early 1960s, motivated by hearing Robin Hall & Jimmie MacGregor on BBC TV’s Tonight programme, Sheena began attending the local folk club where she was encouraged to sing by Christine Stewart, who later appeared with Jim Reid in the Foundry Bar Band. She also joined fellow club members in protesting against Polaris missiles and having been arrested and spent the night in jail on one such campaign, had her five shillings fine paid by the MP and folk music activist, Norman Buchan.
After leaving school, Sheena joined the WRNS to see the world – and ended up in Lossiemouth. She and her husband, Malcolm, presently enjoyed various other postings, however, particularly Southampton and Somerset, where Sheena heard Cyril Tawney and Shirley Collins and joined the Friday night pub singing sessions. Leaving the service, the couple set up a bed and breakfast in St Andrews and it was here that Sheena’s career really blossomed.
As a resident singer at the nearby folk club, she was invited to appear at festivals including Auchtermuchty and Kirriemuir and during one post-folk club session in St Andrews she was invited to record her first album, Kerelaw, in Dougie Maclean’s bathroom. She was also given a trial programme by Radio Tay which led to a six-week run and eventually turned into an eight-year stay.
Kerelaw was followed by Sheena’s second album, Clearsong, and two coast to coast tours of America with Dougie Maclean in Fiona Ritchie’s Heather & Shamrock presentation. She has subsequently taken her repertoire of Burns, traditional ballads and her own pithy songs across Canada, to China and Spain and has appeared at Burns suppers as far afield as London, Cairo and Singapore.
As a tireless campaigner for traditional music from school room to concert hall, she has served as convenor and national organiser for the Traditional Music and Song Association of Scotland, was traditional music’s first representative on the Scottish Arts Council’s music committee, and became Scotland’s first traditional arts development officer, spending five years in her adopted home of Fife encouraging artists in all disciplines to feel valued and to pass on their skills.
Now back living in Dundee, Sheena continues to work in education with the Youth Music Initiative and as a guest lecturer at the RSAMD in Glasgow and is creative director of Dundee’s Fest ‘n’ Furious annual celebration of the traditional arts. A trustee of the Scottish Arts Trust and the Dewar Awards, her many honours include the Heritage of Scotland Award and honorary doctorates from the universities of St Andrews and Dundee and the RSAMD.