Steve Byrne: Iconic ‘Flower of Scotland’ instrument saved for the public

This week we’re delighted to welcome folk musician Steve Byrne to The Scots Curator. Steve recently crowdfunded the money required to purchase an iconic instrument – Roy Williamson’s bouzouki used in The Corries’ first public performance of ‘Flower of Scotland’. The 1968 song has since grown in popularity, especially at sporting events, and is now considered to be Scotland’s national anthem.

Thanks to Steve efforts, the instrument has now been donated to the University of Edinburgh and will go on public display as part of their world-renowned music collection at St Cecilia’s Hall. In this interview, Steve tells us why it was important for the bouzouki to be preserved for the public, and what makes ‘Flower of Scotland’ such an iconic song.

O Flower of Scotland
When will we see your like again?
That fought and died for
Your wee bit Hill and Glen

Why did you feel it was important for this instrument to be preserved for the public?

I think it’s important for aspects of our more recent folk culture – even that which was as popular as The Corries – to be given a place in our historic collections alongside other instruments of national and international importance. I think when Roy Williamson died and much of his estate was sold off at auction, while well meaning and a great fundraiser for charity, it rather dissipated his legacy to a degree. Save for a small exhibition at the Falconer Museum in Forres, there isn’t really anywhere else I can think of where The Corries’ huge cultural impact is visibly celebrated. It can’t be underestimated how much they did to bring traditional songs and singers to the wider public consciousness.

What is it about Flower of Scotland which makes it such an iconic song?

I think the most iconic aspect of Flower of Scotland is how it was adopted almost organically by the public. It’s well noted that Roy didn’t really set out to write an anthem, in fact the legend goes that the song sat in a drawer for a while before being brought out when the lads were seeking new material. It seemed to capture the public imagination in the 1970s on the rugby and football terraces and it has just grown from there – the people made it what it is. There’s no greater accolade for a songwriter.

What does it say about Scottish folk that it can incorporate instruments from a variety of cultures?

I don’t think that it’s something than can be viewed as simply as that. Roy was an inveterate collector of instruments and featured numerous unusual ones in his playing – the Spanish bandurria, the Northumbrian pipes, the English guittar. I think it’s more representative of the wider folk scene’s overall acceptance of a multitude of cultural influences and not something uniquely Scottish. The bouzouki was already being used in the late 1950s by Rory and Alex McEwen, who were real trailblazers for Scottish song on network TV, even before Hall & MacGregor or The Corries. There was also a parallel track of its adoption by Irish musicians in the late 1960s to the point where almost a whole new instrument, the flatbacked Irish bouzouki, has become very common.

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