Joe Aitken is one of the great upholders of Scotland’s bothy ballad tradition and a singer of Scots song who has taken his native tradition to appreciative audiences all over Scotland, in England, Ireland and Germany. The winner of many singing competitions for his authentic narrative style, Joe is literally a champion of champions, having won for a record six times the Bothy Ballad Champions competition held annually at Elgin Town Hall.
Neither wonder! Joe was born into the bothy ballad tradition in 1944 to parents who were both from Aberdeenshire, although working on a farm in Perthshire at that time. Joe’s earliest memories are of that farm and hearing his father singing, and he remembers being hoisted onto a kist at a young age to sing ‘Loch Lomond’ to the men in the farm bothy.
It wasn’t until the early 1980s, however, that Joe began to take singing more seriously. In 1982, the Kinross Folk Festival moved to Kirriemuir, where by this time Joe was working on the family farm, and Joe was encouraged to enter the singing competition. He didn’t win that one but within a few years he had won the first of many cups, at Auchtermuchty, and was mixing with his heroes, including Jock Duncan and Tam Reid.
Jock and Tam were happy to teach Joe any song he showed an interest in and other singers, including Belle Stewart, made tapes of songs for him, making Joe a genuine keeper of the oral tradition. For Joe, who worked on the land for most of his working life, the bothy ballads are a social and political history of farms and farming and the big ballads, or muckle sangs, a treasure trove of stories that he gets great pleasure from sharing. He also enjoys the humour in some of the less reverent traditional songs.
As well as singing in competitions, Joe has sung at festivals including Sidmouth and Whitby and he was honoured to appear in the opening concert at Celtic Connections in 2016, marking the 50th anniversary of the TMSA. He is equally happy to sing to much smaller audiences and enjoys creating a rapport with listeners in intimate venues (like the Waverley!)
He is widely admired among his contemporaries and hugely respected by the many younger singers he has influenced and he was a very popular and deserving winner of the Scots Singer of the Year title at the MG Scots Trad Music Awards in 2010. He is also a member of the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame.
_(Photo of Joe by Louis de Carlo)__________________________________