Not the best loved of months, but certainly the only month of the year where I feel genuinely, and proudly Scottish. Hogmanay may, of course, occur in December, but it's that spilling over into New Year at midnight and that celebration of all things Caledonian that makes me feel just that little more Pictish....soaking up fine malt Whisky with shortbread, the firing of Mons Meg, the skirl and jig of the pipes and fiddles. Yep, I may only stomach it once a year, but it reminds me of where I'm from.
And, of course, January also sees the celebration of our national poet Robert Burns as we gather together, eat sheep's stomachs, act like alcoholics, and deliver poetry that sounds more Double Dutch than our native tongue....only joking. of course, I love Burns' Night as I get to have vegetarian haggis, neeps and tatties accompanied by a wee dram, and reflect on Burns who has been a huge influence on Scottish culture, including our own ~Sighrens~.
And just as last years Burn's Night where I celebrated the MacDonald Sisters, I've come along tonight to pay homage to the wonderful Anne Briggs.
Now, sceptics will immediately cry that Anne Briggs is NOT Scottish!! No, indeed she isn't....she was born in Nottinghamshire, but she has been a fine interpreter of Scottish folk songs and, indeed, the work of Burns, and was once romantically involved with the late Scottish acoustic guitar hero Bert Jansch.
I have to admit to being terribly shallow here, but I first became interested in Anne when I saw this picture in Record Collector some time in the late 1980s....
....I was immediately smitten and found it quite beguiling that someone could look so modern (I thought she looked like the kind of Breton shirt wearing cool Indie goddess I was waiting my whole life to meet), yet this was in a photograph that was taken in 1962!
Anne became one of the foundation stones of the British Folk boom of the early/mid-60s along with such contemporaries as the aforementioned Jansch, as well as June Tabor, Sandy Denny and Davy Graham. She gained almost immediate acclaim due to her startling unaccompanied delivery....literally standing up at open mikes and belting out well known (and some fairly obscure) ballads, without any guitar backing, in a voice of radiant clarity that stopped even the harshest critic in their tracks.
She became the cult draw of the Centre 42 tour of 1962, in which the trade unions, the Communist Party and the CND aligned to put on a travelling revue of folk music and leftist politics. It was on this tour that folk legend Ewan McColl took her under his wing and convinced her of her talents.
Throughout the 1960s, Anne cut a number of albums and toured constantly, but a propensity for wild living and heavy drinking, to combat severe nerves she suffered before performing, led to an erratic recording career and a potentially destructive private life in which she was often found blind drunk or even unconscious.
There was also the fact that Anne didn't like the sound of her recorded voice, and took more and more persuading to get into the recording studio, and in 1971 she recorded her last solo album. She appeared once more in 1973 backed by a folk-rock ensemble, but that was it! She retired a year shy of her 30th birthday and has not recorded since.
Yet Anne remains a huge influence on such modern artists as Kate Rusby, Eliza Carthy and Beth Orton.
Like that other spectral folk enigma Mary Margaret O'Hara, Anne has received both constant plaudits, and perennial request to return either to the stage or to record but, aside form a one-off performance at a memorial concert for friend and British folk legend Bert Lloyd in 1990, and a one song performance on a TV tribute to Bert Jansch in 1993, there has been nothing. Her silence preserves both her legacy and her enigma.
Her 1960s original albums all fetch a huge price on sites like Ebay which is why it wasn't until 1999, when Topic records released what still remains the only collection of her songs, that I finally got to hear her voice.
So let's raise a dram to one of the finest, yet sadly little heard voices in British Folk....
Slàinte mhòr agaibh!