Songs, Stories, and Reflections of Duncan Williamson, Scottish Traveller
An exploration into the life, family, and art of one of the world's premier storytellers
Born in 1928 in a tent on the shore of Loch Fyne, Argyll, Duncan Williamson (d. 2007) eventually came to be recognized as one of the foremost storytellers in Scotland and the world. Webspinner: Songs, Stories, and Reflections of Duncan Williamson, Scottish Traveller is based on more than a hundred hours of tape-recorded interviews undertaken with him in the 1980s. Williamson tells of his birth and upbringing in the west of Scotland, his family background as one of Scotland’s seminomadic travelling people, his varied work experiences after setting out from home at about age fifteen, and the challenges he later faced while raising a family of his own, living on the road for half the year.
The recordings on which the book is based were made by John D. Niles, who was then an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Niles has transcribed selections from his field tapes with scrupulous accuracy, arranging them alongside commentary, photos, and other scholarly aids, making this priceless self-portrait of a brilliant storyteller available to the public. The result is a delight to read. It is also a mine of information concerning a vanished way of life and the place of singing and storytelling in Traveller culture. In chapters that feature many colorful anecdotes and that mirror the spontaneity of oral delivery, readers learn much about how Williamson and other members of his persecuted minority had the resourcefulness to make a living on the outskirts of society, owning very little in the way of material goods but sustained by a rich oral heritage.
"Well thought-out and uniquely assembled, John D. Niles’s work highlights underexplored facets of Williamson’s life and artistry, giving rich and invaluable context to the wonderful stories and songs for which Williamson is best known."- Thomas McKean, Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen
"Duncan Williamson, widely acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest storytellers, has been the focus of innumerable biographies, collections, studies, and homages, but Webspinner combines and transcends them all. It is arguably the best in all four categories."- Carl Lindahl, professor at University of Houston and editor of American Folktales: From the Collections of the Library of Congress and Perspectives on the Jack Tales and Other North American Märchen