Thursday, November 22, 2007

Duncan Williamson, 1928-2007


I was greatly saddened to read of the death of Duncan Williamson, one of the last of the great Travellers and a fine story teller.

Duncan was born in Argyll but travelled widely through Perthshire and Fife in his youth. When I was a lad the "tinks" as we called them then, not knowing any better, were still a very common sight, particularly around tattie-picking time when they took over the Meadows. In his autobiography, The Horsieman, Duncan mentions my home town several times and, although I do not remember him, he describes a couple of characters whom I clearly remember from the early 70s. It is less than a lifetime ago, but already it feels like a lost world.

Duncan was a superb storyteller in the Traveller tradition. For those who are interested - and anyone who wants to be a writer can learn a massive amount from their rhythms and cadences, from the structures of their stories and from the focus on language for beauty and meaning, but not for show - would do well to buy the two Travellers' Tales CDs produced by Kyloe Records.

His death not so much leaves a hole in the Travellers' tradition, but brings another massive strand of it to its conclusion. There are still more out there, such as Jess Smith, whose mother knew my mother when they were little girls, and who is still young and intent on maintaining the tradition, but with the loss of people like Duncan the Traveller tradition, the whole of Scottish culture and, indeed, the world of literature is impoverished.

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