Tom Hamilton

A tribute to Tom by his long time friend Willie Sinclair

It’s sometimes hard to remember when you first met someone who became a friend.

Tom Hamilton was a regular fixture at Irvine Folk Club for years. I’m pretty sure he was doing floor spots before I started as MC, and that was long long ago, at the Redburn Hotel. I can’t remember if he came to the sessions at the Hip Flask in Saltcoats. Probably. He could have walked there. He certainly came to the Tuesday sessions when they moved to the Marina Inn. He used to remind us, quietly, when it was the anniversary of the session’s move to Irvine because it was on his birthday.

His Folk Club floor spot contributions became a fixture and he made a point of singing songs that he had just learned. I reckon of all us floor singers Tom repeated the fewest songs. Not all of them made the transition to his set-list.

When he was comfortable and knew a song well his voice was powerful and his guitar strumming style confident. Maybe the pressure of being first to play on club nights inhibited his persona but in a band or a session he came out of his shell. He played with us at many Rumplefyke gigs, in ceilidh band and festival formats. His voice amplified and projected really well and fitted into the harmonies we were doing. Because he played left-handed he was always on my right side in the band. His guitar would get tangled up with mine if we were the other way round. I remember a charity fundraiser at the Volunteer Rooms, compered by Danny Kyle. The sound system was great and we had on-stage monitors. Rumplefyke were playing a set. Charlie was doing one of his rare solo voice and guitar pieces, The Lakes of Ponchartrain, away over to my left and I was playing a simple whistle melody accompaniment, because Mike McCann was absent. As the song went on I became aware of the distant sound of another whistle in my monitor but with limited sideways vision I could see no-one else playing. The others were all sitting back from their microphones. I was slightly spooked but carried on and afterwards asked if anyone else had heard it? Nobody had. Years later I was retelling the story. With a grin, Tom said “Oh, that was me, whistling to myself”……. He and I had a private laugh when a session would play the set of hornpipes that included “Harvest Home”. There’s a run of notes that’s easier for the fiddle than the mandolin and I would always mess it up or simplify it and Tom would catch my eye and smile. Nobody else noticed, but he did. In a session he would sit with his big heavy songbook on the table and flick through it for inspiration, but there wasn’t any point in trying to guess what he would sing next because when he stopped turning the pages and reached for his guitar that just meant he had decided, on the basis of a song that had caught his eye. It might be The Leaving of Liverpool on the page but he would sing a Beatles song instead. We eventually learned not to pay any attention to the page!

For the past several years Tom and I would set up in a corner at the Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Hospital’s open day in June, and busk. Sometimes we had help: Dick and Maureen, Dawn, Ann and Stevie, my old pal Peter, but several times it was just the two of us for 3-4 hours. It’s hard work but we looked forward to it. This year it would have been the 14th of June but was cancelled, of course. I was remembering our previous jaunts not realising that Tom was ill.

Not all of his songs were cheerful, but that’s Folksongs for you, and sometimes the newest ones were a bit creaky but we’ve all been a bit shaky trying out songs for the first time.

My best memories of Tom will be his sneaky, cheeky, sly wee smile in a session and a photograph of him playing a gig at a Festival in Australia surrounded by PA gear and grinning from ear to ear.

I’ll miss him and Irvine Folk Club has lost a stalwart.