Here is an affectionate, varied and authoritative presentation of many facets of a rare man.
In any attempt to grasp his personality, creativity, generosity, erudition, skills, solitude, work or versatility, we need this rich cabinet of material. Wisely, no attempt has been made at a facile summing-up of the man.
Pat Shaw was a polymath, the Brunel of Folk, and from this collection harvested diligently by Brenda Godrich and her team we can join the anecdotal dots to form or reform our views, marvel at the breadth of his abilities or just rummage through the delightful boxroom of photos and memories. Some will recall his jokes; others will prefer (or pretend) not to.
It is the custom to lean toward eulogy but you can read between the dots too, albeit with humanity. Readers will find from the enthusiastic, overlapping quilt of stories a pervading sense of person. Not just a character but many, some with a nod to Kenneth Graham, but a force in the right places and at the right times, for the causes he embraced: the research, nurture, development and sharing of Folk, whatever that is, at home or abroad. We have also to recognise that his work at home is all the more vital to us, the only European country whose governments for many decades have apparently been unaware of their responsibilities for its Folk, except when politically expedient. With great drive, humour (and ego!), Pat gave hugely to further this heritage without displacing or emulating other people. Here you can witness some of his generosity to the stature of others.
As a valued collective memory, this book will show that he himself cannot be emulated.
Yes, distance lends enchantment – de mortuis and all that – but we do miss him. Never mind. This is an overdue book about a great bloke. Read the learned bits in your armchair and share the anecdotes with your friends, together with the jokes untold here… Dance the dances; sing the songs. Remember him with affection, respect and laughter.
Review in the Shetland Times, 16 April 2010
In 1946 – as the world was beginning to enjoy its first summer of peace after seven years of war – a young Englishman appeared in the north isles of Shetland, and spent much of his time seeking out those who still knew the old tunes and songs. Old fiddlers were amazed by the ease with which he could listen to a tune, jot it down rapidly in a manuscript notebook, then play it back immediately on his accordion. The young man’s name was Patrick Noel Shuldham-Shaw, a former student of music at Cambridge University, now seeking relaxation and musical adventure after hard wartime years in the National Fire Service.
He returned to Shetland many times in the following decade, summer and winter, and became renowned throughout town, country and isles for his outstanding musical abilities. Musicologist, collector, composer, performer, singer, dancer, entertainer; he was unique. He saved tunes from old players who were no longer alive when tape recorders became available, along with fragments of ancient songs and ballads, notably ‘King Orfeo’. He sang ditties at regatta concerts, and even stood in at very short notice for the snowbound tenor at a Lerwick performance of the ‘Messiah’ during the winter of 1947.
Shetland was lucky to have Shaw when it did. It was he who initiated the collecting of Shetland’s traditional music – and Tom Anderson admitted in a 1990 interview that it was Shaw who convinced Tom not to emigrate to New Zealand but to stay and devote himself to continuing the task.
Although only a few people in Shetland now have personal memories of Pat Shaw, it’s certain that most of the population recognise ‘Margaret’s Waltz’, a Shaw composition heard by Aly Bain on the other side of the Atlantic and recorded by him to become the most played track on Scottish radio for three successive years. Otherwise, Shaw’s life and musical achievements have remained unknown and unrecognised here for fifty years and more, for after his Shetland interlude Pat Shaw went on to have an incredibly productive life in folk music and dance before his death in 1977 at the age of only 59.
Now, however, an account of his life is newly available, through the determined and impressive efforts of his admirers. Entitled simply ‘Pat Shaw 1917-1977’ and subtitled ‘His life through memories of his friends, his music, dances and songs’ it presents a vivid picture of, quite simply, a musical genius in his chosen fields. The early memories take us through his life from childhood in a musical family that so firmly grounded him in English folk-song and dance, to his musical education at school and university. Later came the free-lance career – dancing-master, composer, singer, teacher; mostly throughout England and Wales but as far afield as Holland, South Africa and the USA. He was an authority on English Country Dances, a dance composer of prodigious output, a multi-instrumentalist and speaker of many languages. At the time of his death he lived and worked in Edinburgh as editor of the great Greig-Duncan Collection of Scottish folk songs, published in eight volumes after his death.
The memories of this extraordinary man range from those of family friends, colleagues, fellow dancers and players, through students and admirers to people who met him only once or twice. In particular the Shetland memories illuminate a critical time for the islands’ folk culture and provide valuable details of the “rescue operation” for which Pat Shaw deserved much credit.
The end result of what must have been a huge task for editor Brenda Godrich is a fascinating must-read for anybody interested in folk music and culture.
Chairman of the Shetland Folklore Society