Iain MacKintosh:
came from Scotland with
a banjo on his knee

An interview by Tom Knapp,
October 1994

Iain MacKintosh's career as a Scottish folksinger and guitarist got off to a dismal start. When a friend asked for guitar lessons, MacKintosh gladly obliged. "But within a week, he was better than me," he said. "So I bought a banjo."

The banjo is not an instrument often linked with Celtic traditional music, but MacKintosh -- who dislikes the "traditional" label anyway -- has made it his own. "This was in 1959," he recalled. "Just about that time I saw Pete Seeger play in Glasgow. He was terrific ... and I fell in love with the instrument. I knew it was for me."

Now, his music is dominated by an eclectic mix of cultures. "I don't like to put a label on it," he said. "I'm not traditional. I'm not completely contemporary either. I sing a real mixture, songs I can believe in."

Drawing mostly from the Scottish and American folk traditions, MacKintosh said his music sometimes tells stories and is often political. Some songs, for instance, relate to the Scottish efforts to regain independence from England. "I try to find songs that say what I want them to say," he said. "If I can't find one, I'll write one."

MacKintosh also plays concertina, harmonica and the electric bagpipe in his shows. The electric bagpipe, he explains, "looks like a Walkman with a tube coming out of it. People don't take it seriously."

MacKintosh doesn't always take himself seriously either, often poking fun at himself with whimsical tunes. Audiences at his live performances and people picking up any of his dozen or so solo albums can expect to hear humor mixed with melancholy as he runs through tunes well suited for adults and children alike.

"I'll make them think a bit for sure," he said of his music. "I'll make them sing a bit, I'll make them smile a bit. Hopefully they will listen and think about what they hear."

[ by Tom Knapp ]