How does one become a folksinger? This chapter in the life of Dolina Maclennan started at a party in a castle, outside of Edinburgh, in 1958.
Move on to party that occurred half a century later and Dolina found herself retelling stories of her early years in the Scottish capital, when it was suggested that they be recorded.
Dolina’s book begins as a story of a childhood in South Lochs. Brought up with Gaelic in a time when it was actively rejected in society, Dolina’s illustrious career in entertainment would find her at the forefront of the Gaelic revival.
Her teenage years in Stornoway in the 50s- recounted in Dolina’s own words put on paper in the 60s - tell of her time at the Nicolson Institute, and the sad death of her father, resulting in her having to reluctantly leave the choir as ‘singing just wasn’t on.’
She spent five years in the Louise Carnegie Girls’ Hostel, now an Lanntair, which used to accommodate girls from surrounding Uig, Carloway, Ness and Shawbost under a fondly-remembered strict regime of early nights, earlier mornings and study.
The conversational style highlights Dolina’s natural storytelling flair, and a vibrant portrait of a Stornoway that only scarcely now remains is painted on the book’s pages.
Many readers may remember the music from the same fairs that drifted in through Dolina’s bedroom window, buying a tuppence-worth of broken biscuits from Woolies for the walk to school, or the same teachers at the Nicolson Institute.
It’s here that Dolina brings up her first steps into drama and the creative arts, being in her first theatre production, ‘The Dear Departed’, and seeing her name in the Gazette for the first time.
From Stornoway to Moffat, to Fife, Dolina’s story travels on to Edinburgh where Dolina met Stewart MacGregor at that party in Edinburgh, in 1958, when she was announced to be the first great discovery of the Edinburgh University Folk Club.
From that point the book sweeps on through years of the entertainment industry in Edinburgh, from writing radio drama, The Morrisons, in the 70s, acting in film and theatre and paving the way for Gaelic at the BBC.
The book continues on to cover Dolina’s time running a B&B in Perthshire, and her involvement in Politics, joining the SNP in 1974 and her part in campaigning in Edinburgh.
Her theatre work in Edinburgh in the 60s; part of Plain Songs and all the Jazz, her membership in the original cast of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black Oil in the 70s and her part in Gaelic soap Machair in the 90s resulted in Dolina being awarded the Fletcher of Saltoun Award for her significant contribution to Scotland’s life and culture in 2012.
The book begins with: ‘This is not an autobiography, so you can all relax.’ And that pretty well sums it up.
It’s a very easy-read through an eventful lifetime; its short chapters and conversational tone make it feel like a brisk walk in fresh air.
It’s the collection of three years of recordings whilst Dolina recalled her past to Jim Gilchrist and Stuart Eydmann, and whilst the emotion of many years remains in the text you get the impression that Gilchrist and Eydmann didn’t have the taxing time that Dolina makes it out to have been.