Arthur Argo was the great-grandson of the famed North-East song collector Gavin Greig. As a singer, journalist, broadcaster, organiser, editor, collector and enthusiast, Arthur was of crucial importance to the Scottish Folk Revival of the 1960s and 70s. His invitation to become the Artistic Director of the early Marymass Folk Festivals was either a stroke of genius or a stroke of good luck. Either way, it enhances Marymass’ importance in the history of folk music in Scotland.
Arthur helped several well-known performers to get started on their professional careers including Aly Bain, Billy Connolly and Barbara Dickson. He was also able to entice these performers to Irvine where they worked constructively to his brief.
Arthur worked in the BBC and he was in the right position to help to bring traditional singers in front of a wider public. He also worked with singers including Jean Redpath and Archie Fisher, and collaborated with collector and activist Hamish Henderson of the School of Scottish Studies.
Sandy Cheyne, a lifelong friend of Arthur, gives some background on Arthur, the words taken from an appreciation, written by Sandy for a book written about Arthur’s collecting work ‘Arthur Argo Collects, 1960’. “I’ll never forget the first time I set eyes on Arthur. The year was, I believe, 1961, and I was sitting in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall at a folk-song concert which featured some of the great names of the folk revival, like Jeannie Robertson and Matt McGinn. Hamish Henderson came on-stage and announced his latest discovery, the great-grandson of no less a person than Gavin Greig, a young man called Arthur Argo. A wee, scrawny, curly-headed youth came limping on to the stage and, without any words of introduction, started to sing Nicky Tams. He had pitched it rather high and had to stretch his neck considerably to reach the high notes. I took him to be a teenager, maybe nineteen or so, but was later to discover he was the same age as myself – twenty-six. Two years later I moved from Fife up to Aberdeen and got to know Arthur through the Aberdeen Folk Club, which he had founded a year earlier in 1962. Indeed we soon became close friends.”
“Despite his puny physique Arthur was a real live-wire, and lived his life at full throttle. He made many field-trips to the North-east countryside searching for traditional singers and collecting their songs. He it was who brought us ‘The Plooman Laddies’, as sung by Lucy Stewart, saying ‘When I first taped Lucy singing this haunting love-song, I considered it one of the musical highlights of my life.’”
“He made a trip to the USA and met many of the top names in America ‘s folk revival. He got Pete Seeger to come to Aberdeen’s Music Hall simply by lifting the phone on impulse, dialling Pete’s number, and asking him if he fancied coming over to sing for us. When it came to women he was a latter-day Rabbie Burns. I wouldn’t have called him strikingly handsome, although it has to be admitted he had a certain amount of boyish charm, but women, for some reason, seemed to find him irresistible. In infancy Arthur had been crippled by polio, and because of this, and in spite of his success with the fair sex, he felt an obsessive need to prove himself a man among men. This he did by showing everyone he could hold his liquor like the best of us, but the liquor got a hold of him, and the rest is history.”