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BBC Radio 3’s Sunday Feature this weekend tells the remarkable story of Margaret Fay Shaw, who gave up a privileged upbringing and classical music training in 1920s New York, to live in a Gaelic-speaking community in the Outer Hebrides.
Without any knowledge of Gaelic, she used her classical training to notate and later record the first proper archive of traditional, unaccompanied song and folklore from the Western Isles.
Later, she married folklorist John Lorne Campbell. They settled in the ‘Big House’ on the Isle of Canna and for decades they embarked on recording expeditions throughout the Western Isles.
Fay Shaw died in 2004, aged 101, and her priceless archive of song sheets, recordings and photographs is stored on Canna.
Archivist Fiona Mackenzie, one of Scotland’s leading Gaelic singers, is curating and
digitising this huge collection, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and says it is her dream job.
Margaret Fay Shaw’s life and work is her inspiration and obsession, and she regularly gives talks, illustrated with archive recordings and her own live performance, to
bring the story to wider audiences.
Recorded on location, Fiona explores the songs and folklore which mean so much to her
and which drew her muse from New York to the Western Isles.
She says the songs of love, lament, work and exile have an enduring relevance, and she describes the earliest recordings as ‘pinpricks of sound’, but says they echo a vanished way of life’, telling us who we are and where we came from’.
The 45-minute programme, which starts at 6.45pm, was produced by John Deering and Kathleen Carragher of Yamal Productions, an independent radio company, based in Ardnamurchan.