An Interview with Duncan Lunan – Part Two (unabridged)

An Interview with Duncan Lunan – Part Two (unabridged)

by Michael S. Collins and the Winterwind Staff

Editor’s Note: Due to the pleasantly surprising detailed and in-depth answers in the interview, it was decided to publish it in two parts, and in two formats: an abridged version in the ezine and an unabridged version on the main site. This is the unabridged version of Part Two. The unabridged version of Part One can be read here.

What happened in the Epsilon Boötis affair?

That’s a big change in topic – but then, it was a big change of direction in my writing life. One of the early participants in the “Man and the Stars” discussions was the late John Macvey, author of “Journey to Alpha Centauri” and a string of later books. He drew attention to the suggestion by Prof. Ron Bracewell, of Stanford University, that a probe from another civilisation had tried to contact us, using long-delayed radio ‘echoes’ (LDE’s), first reported in the 1920’s.

Actually, the ‘echoes’ were much too powerful to be simple reflections of signals from Earth. Experimenters studying round-the-world propagation of radio waves found their outgoing pulses were being returned to them with a delay of three seconds, as if they were being amplified and returned by something at the distance of the Moon – but definitely not the Moon itself. In later experiments the delay times began to vary upwards from three seconds, in increasingly complicated sequences, but with no variation in intensity – still indicating a single source amplifying and returning the pulses.

Prof. Bracewell suggested in 1960 that the ‘echoes’ might have been rebroadcast by an unmanned probe from another civilisation, trying to attract our attention, and in 1972 I worked out a ‘translation’ of the 1920’s echo patterns. The variations of delay times appeared random; but Prof. Bracewell himself had suggested the first signal from such a probe might be a star map, and the stars are spaced at random in the sky.

I tried plotting the delay times against the order in which the echoes were received, and at only the second attempt I found what looked like a star map – in which it appeared that the probe had come from the double star Epsilon Boötis, in the constellation Boötes, the Herdsman. Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation, seemed to be out of place in the map; but on checking, was shown at its place about 13,000 years ago. I was on the train from Glasgow to Troon when I roughed out the graph and recognised what it appeared to be: it was as fast as, “That looks more like an intelligent signal, in fact it looks familiar, and I know what that is.” That was the moment when my writing career swung from fiction to nonfiction.

Other parts of the supposed message seemed to give the scale of their planetary system, orbiting Epsilon Boötis A, and seemed at first to make sense. Epsilon Boötis A is an orange giant star, and the translation indicated that the probe makers had evolved on its second planet, emigrating later to the sixth when their sun began to expand. But there was a problem: the companion star (Epsilon B) was bright blue, apparently a short-lived sun of spectral type A2. The distance given for the star in most reference books was too low, and at the true distance of 203 light-years, Epsilon B really was an A2 star and the orange giant Epsilon A had been an AO, like Sirius – too massive and with too high a radiation output to sustain habitable planets, too short-lived for life to have evolved there. At the same time, more accurate 1920’s records were located, and most of the ‘star map’ translations were ruled out – not the ‘Epsilon Boötis’ one, but it too had to be treated as suspect. I withdrew the entire translation, but now it seems I may have gone too far.

Dropping it didn’t rule out the space probe suggested by Prof. Bracewell (though he later abandoned the idea). James Strong of the British Interplanetary Society suggested that the probe could be located in either the ‘Lagrange 4’ or ‘L5’ point, also called ‘Trojan’ or ‘Equilateral’ points, equidistant from the Earth and Moon. The dates and times of the 1920’s LDE’s showed that the L5 point was at least one source of the effect. Anthony Lawton of the BIS suggested that in ideal conditions the Trojan points could form temporary, stable ionospheres of their own which would generate LDE’s; it was reported that I accepted that, but scientists I consulted replied that such clouds would be disrupted by currents in the Earth’s magnetosphere, or at other times of the month by the Solar Wind, the constant outflow of charged particles from the Sun.

In any case, as the Lagrange points have no gravitational fields of their own, a cloud of charged particles would be scattered by their mutual electrostatic repulsion – unless there was a powerful magnetic or electrostatic field to hold them in place. If this was produced by a spacecraft, I suggested, Lawton might have hit upon the method by which the Bracewell probe generated LDE’s – by accident!

Many books and articles said that Lawton conducted an active radio search for LDE’s, but in reality he stopped after getting an initial ‘reply’, on the grounds that further transmissions “would constitute a biased experiment”. Optical searches of the Lagrange points failed to find anything as large as the Skylab space station, or, in a later search, as large as the Pioneer 10 space probe. Meanwhile, however, Epsilon Boötis just would not lie down.

There are several real or suggested Zodiacal star maps, laid out on the ground, which centre on Boötes. That’s just because the constellation lies near the pole of the Ecliptic, perpendicular to the Earth’s orbital plane around the sun, so any Zodiacal map will be centred near it. But also, we are in Boötes as viewed from Tau Ceti, one of the nearest stars like our Sun, and at relativistic speeds, Epsilon Boötis would be a prime navigational reference on the journey here. And there was an even stranger development.

After “Man and the Stars” came out, I was contacted by Alan Evans, who was then a Captain in British Military Intelligence. He liked the analysis I’d made of Erich von Däniken’s claims, where I concluded that Earth had not been visited more than four times, at most. Alan suggested we jointly attempt something still more systematic: if the Earth had ever been visited, our aim would be to find proof. He stressed that his was purely a personal interest, which had to remain confidential, but as he’s since left the Army that no longer applies.

We tightened up my approach into four categories of possible evidence. Category A would be our objective, an artefact of unquestionably extraterrestrial origin. Category B would be optical or electromagnetic anomalies pinpointing such an object (like the Tycho monolith in 2001); Category D would be the ‘von Däniken material’ of legends, drawings etc. which were no use except in suggesting areas to search for other types of evidence. But Alan pressed me to include a new category, C, which would be anomalous astronomical alignments in man-made structures – anomalous because they revealed knowledge which the builders should not have had. For example, on high-resolution photographs of Stonehenge, he had identified markings which seemed to indicate galactic alignments.

I wasn’t impressed at first. Having studied megalithic astronomy under Archie Roy, I’d seen nothing unusual; there was no correlation even with Category D; and when I did the calculations, the markings Alan had found didn’t seem to be galactic. At the time when he put this to me, circa 1975, it was supposed that Stone­henge I was built in 1800 BC, near the end of the Stone Age in Britain (not many people realise that Stonehenge was one of the last megaliths), with Stonehenge III, the inner circle, still later in the Bronze Age. Soon afterwards, however, Archie Roy himself published an article from which we learned that the radiocarbon dating scale had been revised, pushing Stonehenge I back from 1800 BC to 2700 BC. Further revision made it c.2840 BC, and that radically changed the whole position.

To cut to the chase, the photographs show markings in Stonehenge 1 which are lined up with the rising point of the Galactic Centre, and the intersection of the Galactic Equator with the Ecliptic – and you can’t determine galactic coordinates without a radiotelescope. The declination of the North Galactic Pole was equal to the latitude of Stonehenge, so when the Galactic Centre rose, the Galactic Equator coincided with the horizon, the Galactic Pole was overhead, and all the altitudes and azimuths measured from the Pole-to-Centre meridian were equal to galactic coordinates. It looks as if Stonehenge 1 was built round something, and if that something was a starship, or a lander from one, its attitude control platform would be lined up with the sky once a day.

But that’s not the end of it. Alan has an amazing intuitive grasp of spatial relationships, and he’s spotted that the diagonal across two of the lunar stones in Stonehenge 1 is an Ecliptic meridian, activated once a day. It meets the equator at the prime meridian of the great pyramids, built shortly after Stonehenge 1, and when we checked, the same two galactic alignments are built into the Step Pyramid and the Great Pyramid, the first and the last of them. Alan just looks at a globe or a site plan and sees these relationships, I take pages of calculations to check them – but then you can go to a planetarium and see them for yourself.

We verified the galactic and ecliptic ones at the planetarium in Jewel and Esk College, twice, then John Braithwaite and I verified them at Armagh Planetarium (more about John below). We also verified something else extraordinary. Because you can’t see the Galactic Pole etc, I looked for a star which could be an optical marker for it, and it turned out that c.2800 BC that star was Epsilon Boötis.

In 1996 I organised an event at the Edinburgh Science Festival called ‘Heresies in Archaeoastronomy’, looking at ideas so controversial that even archaeoastronomers won’t willingly discuss them. By then I was in touch with Robert Bauval, the author of “The Orion Mystery”. I took him to the planetarium at Glasgow Nautical College to see what we had, and when I showed him the galactic alignment at Stonehenge I, he said, “It’s the same at Giza at the First Time, we just didn’t know what it meant.”

The First Time of ancient Egypt, according to Graham Hancock and Robert, was c.10,500 BC, coinciding with the apparent date of the LDE ‘Boötes map’. So we had the planetarium projector reset to Giza at the time of the Pyramids, verified the alignments of “The Orion Mystery”, and then reset the date to the First Time. Sure enough, the Galactic Pole went through the zenith and the Milky Way lined up with the Horizon, just as at Stonehenge 1 eight thousand years later. So on impulse we went back to Stonehenge, which was just on the edge of the ice sheets then, and let the sky wheel on through the day – and Epsilon Boötis went through the zenith. 8000 years later, when they built Stonehenge 1, it was back there.

This isn’t proof that Earth has been visited. If Category A evidence stands for ‘artefact’, Category B for ‘beacon’ and Category D for ‘Däniken’, Category C stands for ‘circumstantial’. But we aren’t talking about one astonishing coincidence here, we’re talking about one astonishing coincidence piled upon another, over and over again, until the only sensible conclusion is that all this has been very carefully planned to signpost the fact that we have indeed been visited, at least once, maybe twice or more. And apparently Epsilon Boötis had some major significance to whoever came here.

So, you believe strongly in the possibility of life on other planets?

Obviously yes, though not everyone agrees. For instance Robert Bauval’s co-author on his subsequent books, Graham Hancock, was with us at the Nautical College and he was totally unconvinced, because he doesn’t believe in extraterrestrials at all. He believes there was a civilisation which persisted on Earth for over 8000 years without leaving any major traces, apart from the Sphinx, but he can’t explain how they would determine galactic coordinates or why they would need them.

What’s the story with the Green Children of Woolpit?

That was an entirely different enquiry, to begin with. I first came across it when I was a student. In The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton (1651), Part 2 Mem.3, ‘A Digression of the Air’, includes all he knows about astronomy. Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo had proved the planets were actual worlds, moving in ellipses, not solid crystal shells, so space travel might be possible – “to take wings and fly up… command the spheres and heavens, and see what is done amongst them.” And if we can go to them, “Then (I say) the Earth, [Mars, and Venus] be planets alike, inhabited alike, moved about [the Sun] alike, and it may be that those two green children which Nubrigensis speaks of in his time, that fell from heaven, came from thence…”

The story is told by William of Newburgh (Nubrigensis) in his Historia Rerum Anglicarum (History of English Affairs) in 1195-98. He was sceptical about wonderful events, and he was uneasy about this one, but he interviewed so many witnesses, witnesses of such quality that they convinced him. During the reign of king Stephn, he says, at an earthwork near Woolpit village in Suffolk, (East Anglia), seven miles east of Bury St. Edmunds, at harvest time, “there emerged two children, a male and a female, green of the entire body and dressed in clothing of extraordinary colour and unknown material.” They were given no food at first, but even near death they wouldn’t consider any food which was offered. They were saved eventually by bean plants, which happened to be just the same colour they were; but even then, they looked first for nourishment in the stalks. After that, they were weaned on to bread and by degrees to a full normal diet: their green colour faded and they became normal themselves.

Ralph, sixth abbot of Coggeshall monastery in Essex, 25 miles south of Woolpit, tells the same story in his Chronicon Anglicanum. There’s no copying; the few words they share seem significant – and Ralph got the story from the family with whom the formerly green girl was living as an adult. One of the few differences is that he implies the event was about twenty years later, in the reign of Henry II. Not only was the children’s clothing unfamiliar, but they spoke an unknown language – doubly strange when Woolpit was a market town on the major pilgrim route in England, at the time. When they had lost the green colour and learned “our manner of speaking… it seemed to the wise that they might be christened, and even that was done” (note the emphasis). But when they were asked about their origin, they described life in a land of permanent twilight, separated by a very broad river from a country of permanent sunlight. Burton knew such conditions couldn’t be found anywhere on Earth. It sounds like an earth-like world, with a trapped rotation, keeping one face to its sun as the Moon does to us.

In 1992 I was covering a conference at the British National Space Centre for the Herald, and I took the bus up to East Anglia to get some local colour for an article about the green children. Beforehand, I had worked out a list of questions with Bill Ramsay, a past President of ASTRA and a history graduate. People in Woolpit were as helpful as they could be, but they kept saying, “You’d have to go to the County Records Office for that.” So I went to Bury St. Edmunds, joined the County Archive Research Network, and five hours later, exhausted, starving and dehydrated, I reeled out with the conviction that I was on to a best seller. The answers to the questions were there, and the deeper I went into it from then on, the more fascinating the story became.

Cutting to the chase, again, this incident was the tip of a much bigger iceberg, one of a number at sites around Great Britain over roughly 150 years. The date apparently was 1173. It or something like it was expected: Henry II had annexed the village from Bury St. Edmunds Abbey, then the major shrine in England, thirteen years earlier. His excuse was that he had a poor clerk who needed the income of ten pounds a year, but he put his Vice-Chancellor, about the richest man in England, in personal charge. When the children appeared he broke off from the biggest war of his reign, rushed back to East Anglia for four days, and put 300 crack troops into Woolpit which had only 60 people.

The formerly green boy died, but the girl grew up and married – and I’ve discovered that apparently she was Agnes, the wife of Richard Barre, one of Henry II’s senior ambassadors, which rather puts paid to the ‘runaways from some primitive tribe’ class of explanations. Her first, illegitimate child may have been fathered by Henry himself. I’ve traced her descendants to the present – one of them was deputy head of the House of Lords under Margaret Thatcher, and he thinks it’s a hoot. “I knew my ancestors were colourful, but not that colourful.”

It looks as if the children grew up in a human colony on a planet with a trapped rotation and were returned to Earth in a matter-transmitter accident, one of a number which happened while the Earth’s magnetic field was disturbed by the most violent solar activity since the Bronze Age. Putting it all together, though I find it hard to believe what I’m looking at, it’s mass abductions, for extraterrestrial research purposes, with the knowledge if not the connivance of at least some of the terrestrial authorities. It’s The X-Files in the twelfth century!

Among aspects I haven’t yet published, is that since my articles on all this in Analog in the late 1980s, the three investigations have converged. I’ve found the link between the Green Children and the other two, so Epsilon Boötis, Stonehenge and the Pyramids, and the Green Children are all facets of the same enquiry. So do I believe in life on other worlds? Definitely.

And do you believe in UFOs?

That depends what you mean by ‘belief’. Obviously people see things in the sky they can’t explain – in “Man and the Stars” I said, “Anyone who isn’t fooled at least once a year by Venus, at least for a moment, isn’t watching the sky enough to see spaceships.” I’ve seen quite a number of things I couldn’t explain at the time, but I’ve always found out eventually what they were. I do a talk called ‘The Truth about UFOs – Some of Them’ which is all about cases which have been explained. It seriously annoys true believers.

What a lot of people find hard to get on with, given what I do believe intellectually about past Contact, is that I don’t believe there’s anyone else here now – I haven’t seen any plausible sign that we’re currently in any kind of Contact situation. Over the last fifty years the space policies of governments throughout the developed world, including the Obama one right now, just aren’t compatible with the scenario that we’re being visited.

What about ghosts then?

[To the reader] Michael’s asking that because I wrote up the three experiences of that kind which I’ve had, for his fiancée’s university thesis. Again we’re into shades of meaning of the word ‘belief’. I’m an atheist – not an agnostic: I firmly believe, for reasons which seem to me to be compelling, that there is no God. Like my belief in extraterrestrial and non-belief in UFO’s as spaceships, that’s an intellectual belief, not a matter of faith.

It’s embarrassing for an atheist to be haunted, but honesty compels me to admit that I have been, three times. Once in 1968-69, when I shared a house in Somerset with John Braithwaite and Charlie Muir, with whom I used to run folk song clubs; again over a series of drives through Glencoe in the 1970s; and between 1975 and 1982, when I lived in an 18th century house in Irvine. Put me on a lie detector and ask me to deny those events, and you’ll get a ‘false’ reading. That’s not intellectual belief, it’s a conviction based on experience.

That said, I didn’t feel that I was dealing with conscious entities – just a reaction of a responsive mind to some kind of recording from the past, like Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tapes. There were just two episodes in Irvine that didn’t fit that pattern, and they were really strange, a lot stranger than your ‘normal’ ghost story.

You’ve mentioned John Braithwaite several times. How did your working partnership with John come about?

In 1964 I was in collision with a double-decker bus while driving a Lambretta to a late-night Chris Barber concert at the Edinburgh Festival. A former girlfriend helped me put together the guest list for the party when I got compensation, and she suggested the late David Godwin, poet and debater, who agreed to come if he could bring two friends. One was the sculptor Ray Thomson and the other was John Braithwaite, who became engaged to her. We next met at my birthday party, where he said, “I noticed that you have a collection of Victorian astronomy books, but you don’t have Herschel’s Outlines. I thought you might like this mint 7th edition with your University’s crest on it” – a pretty good way of getting my attention! As with Chris Boyce, we became big friends and after I graduated, I spent the winter of 1968-69 in Somerset with John and others, one of the most intense creative periods of my life. That was when I formulated the Politics of Survival, which has been the core of most of my work since.

John gave up his conventional business career in 1978 to launch what’s now Braithwaite Telescopes, the only telescope maker in Scotland. He was Technical Supervisor when I was Manager of the Glasgow Parks Astronomy project, building the first astronomically aligned stone circle for 3000 years. He was a consultant to the team at Strathclyde University which made the first breakthrough in adaptive optics, and now he’s made an equally big one in 3-D projection without glasses. The hand-held game versions are also on the market in the Far East, the arcade game versions are rolling out and the domestic TV one will be on sale very shortly. We’ve stayed friends through all this and he’s now helping me with a project to start an observatory in the Falkland Islands – more on that below.

How did the Sighthill Stone Circle come about?

In the late 1970s, the SNP was making big headway in Scotland with the ‘It’s Scotland’s Oil’ campaign (John had a lot to do with it). The Labour government of the day set up the Jobs Creation Scheme, making it as difficult as possible to get the money so they could say we’d been offered it and turned it down. All the jobs ‘created’ had to be temporary, non-profit, non-unionised, etc.. They offered £4 million to Glasgow, forgetting that the city has more parkland per head of population than any other city in Europe, and jobs in parks and gardens met the guidelines. That said, they couldn’t spend it all in one shop, and another rule required there to be additional special projects. For that they brought in a whiz-kid from Northern Ireland called Ken Naylor, who coined lots of great ideas including astronomy. He knew nothing about it, so he held a schools competition in which the winning entry was to build a copy in modern materials of Stonehenge or Callanish, in one of the city’s parks.

Ken asked Archie Roy to head the project, and he said no, but suggested me. The first thing I had to do was convince the Parks Dept and the Manpower Services Commission that a simple copy of an ancient site wouldn’t work. The latitude would be wrong, the tilt of the Earth’s axis has altered by half a degree, and each of them is integrated with the skyline at its location. For Glasgow in the 20th century, I would have to design a new monument according to the ancient principles – which I knew, having studied archaeoastronomy under Archie Roy back in the 60s. Having won that battle, I then convinced them to drop the modern materials and build it in stone, dedicating it to Prof. Alexander Thom, Dr. Archie Thom, Archie Roy and Dr. Euan Mackie, all pioneers in the field and strongly linked to Glasgow University. Out of 18 sites I was offered, I chose the new Sighthill Park overlooking the M8 motorway, due north of the city centre.

Then the fun really started. John Braithwaite joined me as Technical Supervisor, Gavin Roberts as Art and Photographic Supervisor, and the late David Proffitt, RN, gave us a lot of help as an explosives expert and with getting a Royal Navy helicopter to complete the circle. We were in every quarry in the west of Scotland and eventually found the stones we wanted at the Back-of-the-Hill Quarry in Kilsyth; we got a Navy Sea King to fly in the solar, star and central stones, the local schools got the day off and the park was ringed by thousands of cheering children, with the Thoms and Euan Mackie right in the midst of it.

For what possible reasons did the Thatcher government of the late 70’s halt work on the Sighthill circle? And if they were purely political, do you detect the same signs of resistance with the government of the 21st century?

In the late 1970s the unemployment figures had passed one million and the slogan of her campaign had been ‘Labour isn’t working’, with the famous poster of a dole queue. Just six days after the election, our shop steward came in to tell me that she had just announced in the House of Commons that she would end unemployment by the end of 1980, so the Jobs Creation programme would wind up at the end of 1979 “and there will be no more nonsense like the Glasgow Parks Astronomy Project”.

I don’t know why we were singled out, though she was against spending on astronomy and space in general. (The quote isn’t in Hansard, but That Was the Week That Was showed how often speeches are edited before they appear there.) The following day, the Manpower Services Commission Liaison Officer came in to tell me that we could go on till the end of the year with the big exhibition we were creating, and our work in schools, but all our construction work was to stop, including the circle. (We were going to create a giant sundial on the Clyde Walkway, for instance.)

The circle was never finished, and there are four unused stones under a tree in the park to this day. It was finally landscaped into the Park in 1982, when it was to be photographed on an aerial archaeology flight which I coordinated and navigated, but I wasn’t there to supervise and the plans were misread, so the stones are now half buried and look a lot less spectacular. There’s nothing to tell you who built it, whom it’s dedicated to or how it works, and I’m told local children are afraid of it, which is really sad.

Of course, unemployment was trebled instead of being eliminated. The Astronomy Project was fully manned with ten people, several of them disabled and who never got a proper job again. Two years later when the government was forced to bring back a version called the Community Programme, the application forms for funding were quite cynically the old ones for the Special Temporary Employment Programme, with a new front page.

What’s happening now? There was a recent presentation there for the Summer Solstice, wasn’t there?

ASTRA is currently meeting in Glasgow on two Mondays a month, one of which fell on the summer solstice this year. We’ve had a tradition for many years of going up to the circle for midsummer sunset, so I was to give a lecture first. I got married in April and Linda decided to put out a press release about the talk and visit, which drew about 100 people for the talk and about 50 for the sunset. I have a detailed new breakdown of costs to complete and renovate the circle, from Land and Environment Services, and I have a possible sponsor for the identifying plaque. I haven’t met any political opposition to the proposal, though the Chairman of the local housing association is against it because he wants to build on it. There’s a long tradition of developers trying to build on Glasgow’s parks and I don’t think he has much chance.

What is holding me back, is that I may not be around to see renovation through. Linda has family in the Falkland Islands, including a daughter she hasn’t seen in twenty years and a grand-daughter she’s never seen. While on honeymoon in Wales we visited my old friend Jay Tate, at the Spaceguard Observatory in Powys, from whom we learned that the Falkland Islands Development Corporation are interested in having an observatory there. Linda has started a new organisation called Astronomers of the Future, for beginners, but we might well get to do the feasibility study for the Observatory, maybe even set it up and run it.

Space programs are notoriously underfunded, especially in comparison to military spending. What level of funding do you think is required for a viable, progressive space program?

How long is a piece of string? My argument in the Politics of Survival is that we need space development for long-term solutions to our problems on Earth, so it should be at the core of economical planning, not an add-on the way it is at present.

Considering the current lack of wide-scale interest and support for space exploration, on both a public and governmental level, do you realistically believe we will return to the moon or send a manned mission to Mars in the next 25-50 years?

In Jeff Hawke, 1959, Sydney Jordan drew a plaque on the Moon showing the date of the Moon landing as August 4th, 1969. Interviewed on the Apollo 11 night, he said he’d set it ten years ahead, and assumed that the Americans would go for July 4th, but encounter a delay and have to wait a month for the next launch window.

In Lance McLane, in 1984 he predicted that the first manned mission to Mars would be a landing on Phobos in 2033. Before the Obama-led hiatus NASA was going for 2031, but if it causes them to miss one Earth-Mars opposition, Sydney will be right again.

What’s your involvement with folk music?

When I went up to University in 1963, Sandy Glover, who was my predecessor when I first became ASTRA President, introduced me to the Glasgow Folk Centre. I quickly saw past the commercial favourites of the day and became fascinated by the traditional music and the contemporary singer-songwriters who were continuing it. My sister is now married to Dave Goulder, who was one of the big names then. I ran folk clubs in Ayrshire for 16 years, many of them with Charlie Muir and later David Proffitt. Because I did so many opening spots I built up a repertoire of over 300 songs, to avoid repeating any of them too often, and apparently that’s unusually large. I found that out when I was ‘collected’ by a German folklorist who was researching the survival of the ballads.

How did the TMSA come about then?

Although I’m a founder member I can’t claim any credit for that. I was at the first folk festival in Scotland in 1966, in Blairgowrie, and I was in the hall voting ‘yes’ to set up the Traditional Music and Song Association.

My only real claim to folk fame stems from the following year at Blairgowrie, when I asked a very shy teenager from Shetland to play at my Irvine Club before he went home, for a whole £5 which he tried to refuse, he was so nervous. It was his first paid gig and his biography reproduces the poster my sister drew for the door, ‘Introducing Aly Bain’.

How does it feel to be one of the more requested Burns Supper speakers around?

It was fun while it lasted. I had a lot of invitations in the 1970s when I was running the Troon Folk Song Club, but mainly as a singer, though I gave the Immortal Memory in Sanquhar on the Burns Heritage Trail, which is an honour for any Scottish writer. In the 1990s I had a standing invitation to give the Address to the Haggis at an annual Burns Supper on Loch Lomond-side. I’ve only had four invitations in recent years, two of them to sing and to read Tam o’Shanter at the Glasgow Housing Association’s bashes in the Royal Concert Hall. They changed the format this year, so it may not happen again.

Who’s your all-time favourite folk singer?

That’s like asking ‘Who’s your favourite SF writer?’ – so many different styles and subjects to choose from.

Note: Duncan Lunan’s new book, “Children from the Sky”, with illustrations by Sydney Jordan, will be published by Mutus Liber of Edinburgh at the end of May, 2012 at £16.99.

Note – This interview was originally published on the old Winterwind Productions site in December, 2011, prior to our switch to WordPress in 2020.

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