Joan Baez sings farewell to Scotland

Joan Baez


SHE was the voice of a generation that demanded change in the world.

From standing alongside Martin Luther King Jr in the civil rights movement to protesting about the Vietnam War, Joan Baez provided the soundtrack to that period of unrest in the ’60s and ’70s.

As the veteran singer-songwriter prepares to perform in Scotland for the final time, she says the world is in a much worse place now, but is clinging to a newfound hope that today’s younger generation is about to stand up and force change.

“If someone had predicted how bad the world would become, I don’t think they would ever believe it would be as bad as this,” Joan mused.

“Things are worse now than they were back in my day.

“We have about 50 Vietnams going on now, so where do you turn your attention?

“Working with Dr King, I could see the results.

“In America, the right-wing Tea Party people hated the civil rights movement all along. Now we have Trump in power whose politics have no empathy.

“As a backdrop to it all is global warming and the day is probably coming when that will affect everyone.

“I live in denial 80-90% of the time otherwise I would go crazy. It’s either that or I build a straw house and jump on a cycle to provide energy and I’m not ready for that yet, so it’s in denial where I need to remain.

“I’ve been watching interviews with the kids from Florida who have made a movement against the gun lobbies and it has made me think there is a cohesive movement for the first time since the ’60s and there really is something here for serious change.

“The fact they are young has shocked us all, but I would love to spend some time with them.

“My 14-year-old granddaughter got in touch and said she and her classmates were going to organise a walk-out in their classroom and asked if I had any advice.

“I sent her a huge email and told her she could stop reading at any point – I haven’t heard back from her, so maybe I went too far!”

Joan has continued to be an activist, participating in the likes of Occupy Wall Street and the Women’s March.

Activism has always been in her blood and it’s what led her to first pick up a guitar when she was 15.

Her first new album in a decade, Whistle Down The Wind, might also be her swansong, and her current tour is likely to be her last.

“Years ago, when I was in my 30s, I hired a vocal coach and asked how I would know when to quit and she said your voice will tell you,” Joan explained.

“It’s exhausting fighting against gravity and the question is how long do I want to keep that fight going. It’s very tiring – no one has any idea how hard it is just to keep it going in the low range.

“Plus I’m 77, so climbing on and off a bus, bouncing around on the road, it’s kind of crazy. I love it, but this is probably my last time with my touring family.

“We wanted to go back to places on this tour where I’m a familiar name to people, places such as Germany, France and the UK, but also to places I went when there was strife, like Istanbul and Sarajevo.

“Even Belfast, when I was there the first time, they were all nervous about the car I was travelling in and were checking it for bombs.

“But it was all just part of who I am and something I decided I would do when I was young.”

Joan is coming back to Scotland, the birthplace of her mum.

“I called my mom when I was in Scotland one time before and asked which church my grandfather used to be a deacon in.

“She told me it was a modest little church on Edinburgh’s Princes Street, so I went up and down the road looking for somewhere with that description.

“I couldn’t see anything, so I called back and said, ‘It doesn’t happen to be called St John’s, does it?’ and she said it was.

“It’s a cathedral so big I couldn’t fit it all in the picture!

“I feel I have an extra connection to Scotland and I’m looking forward to visiting again.”

Joan Baez, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Fri-Sat