“If people had known the origins of the melody they would probably have choked on their porridge”
A Scottish Soldier
By 1960, thanks to the popularity of The White Heather Club, Andy was already on the threshold of national fame, but the overwhelming success of his recording of A Scottish Soldier, was about to take everyone by surprise.
Andy signed his first recording contract with the small British label of Top Rank (part of The Rank Organisation) in 1959, a label that eclectically released records by American artists like Doo-Wop group The Flamingos and Rock ‘n’ Roller Freddy Cannon as well as home-grown talent like John Leyton and Craig Douglas. Andy made his first recording, Donald, Where’s Your Troosers? as a light-hearted, almost throwaway track, during a Robert Wilson recording session with his White Heather Group. However Top Rank considered it worth releasing as a 45RPM single just at the time the record label (having severe financial debts reported to be over half a million pounds) was being taken over by the Electrical and Musical Industries (EMI) organisation. No money was involved in the take-over; EMI was “simply taking over the assets and liabilities” Chairman Sir Joseph Lockwood announced in August 1960.
EMI’s real interest in Top Rank lay in the access to American recordings but although not initially keen, EMI agreed to fulfil previous Top Rank commitments, keep the label name and continue British artist contracts. Under these agreements Donald, Where’s Your Troosers? was released as planned credited to ‘Andy Stewart with The White Heather Group directed by Robert Wilson’, on Top Rank International (JAR 427). Through the new EMI distribution channels it sold well, particularly in Scotland, registering a minor hit in the UK charts and peaking at number 37.
For Andy’s next single release, his first proper for EMI, he already had the perfect choice, A Scottish Soldier. Andy had based the song on an old pipe-tune The Green Hills of Tyrol, a tune he had first heard as a boy when the family visited Braemar Highland Games. The song had been growing in popularity following repeat performances on The White Heather Club – performances demanded by the sheer number of viewers requests to the BBC.
“I had always known and loved ‘The Green Hills of Tyrol’ and the tune came to me. My father was a musician and played it on his fiddle and I remembered it from when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. It was one of the few things I could play as a boy on the mouth organ and I’d always had an ambition to write words to the tune. When I first began putting words to music, I was haunted by this tune and eventually inspiration came during rehearsals for ‘The White Heather Club’. I got an idea for the lyric for the song. It was a story about a Scottish soldier who finds himself in a far land, his soldiering days are over and the call of his own country takes him back for his final resting to Scotland. And I sat down and the words just came to me: “there was a soldier, a Scottish soldier…”
I wrote two verses and then I got pianist Harry Carmichael to fit the tune to my words. The next day we were doing the song and I knew it wasn’t right. It was Bobby MacLeod’s Black Band that was playing it with us and of course they didn’t need the music, they knew the tune, they just had to play the arrangement that had been set down of the tune. So I went down to one of pubs in Springburn Road and I wrote on the back of an envelope the third verse (the slow verse) and came back and just sang the song.”
A Trip To London
In September 1960 following a record breaking summer season in Dundee, Andy travelled to EMI’s London studios at Abbey Road to record the song for record release. In the recording studio he was accompanied by The Michael Sammes Singers with Orchestra conducted by Bernard Ebbinghouse.
“I flew down from Dundee to record it on a Sunday and I should have known it would go alright because that was through public demand – the first night I sang it on ‘The White Heather Club’, for example, we had about 800 letters the next day saying they liked the song. I got this message left saying “I hope you realise this is Sunday and it’s double-time and we hope this is all going to be worth it…”
Shortly after that we went on holiday and I remember saying to my wife “Well I don’t care if there is only one copy bought”, rather immodestly I suppose, but under the circumstances it wasn’t immodesty because I was untried in the realms of recording, I said “I think it’s a jolly good song – and I like it”. I honestly do not know how much money I’ve made from the record – I’m still getting royalties. But I do know that in one year alone it earned me £10,000.”
The recording was produced by EMI staff producer Walter J. (Wally) Ridley, who would produce all of Andy’s EMI records.
At the time EMI had three main “labels” with their own staff producers; Columbia headed by Norrie Paramor, Parlophone headed by George Martin and HMV headed by Wally Ridley. Not just concerned with the “sound” of a record, producers in the 50s and 60s were also responsible for auditioning and signing acts to their respective labels. Wally – a talented musician himself – was no exception, auditioning and signing Max Bygraves, Ronnie Hilton, Alma Cogan, Johnny Kidd & the Pirates and The Swinging Blue Jeans, among others. In his 28 years with HMV, Wally Ridley won two Ivor Novello Awards for his work in the UK entertainment industry and penned over 200 songs. In no uncertain terms, he cannot be given enough praise for creating the rich, full, production sound of Andy’s EMI catalogue recordings. As Wally himself explained: “When you’re making a record, all the elements have to be right and that includes a record producer who understands what you are trying to do and he has to heal the little wounds along the way as well as balancing the sound”.
A Scottish Soldier – The Untold Story
The popular romantic idea of the Scottish soldier defending his beloved Scotland – patriotic to the end, and the notion of the tune being an old Scottish traditional, were actually far from the truth behind the origins of A Scottish Soldier.
The tune, The Green Hills of Tyrol, a well-known “Scottish” melody was transcribed for the pipes by Pipe-Major John MacLeod of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders during the Crimean War (1853-56) from the third act of Rossini’s 1829 opera William Tell.
Rossini in-turn had adapted that tune from Alpine folk music – nothing at all to do with Scotland. However that did not stop Andy receiving a backlash from traditionalists who wrote to him saying he had ruined a “fine old Scottish pipe tune” by putting words to it.
“If those people had known the origins for the melody, they would probably have choked on their porridge. The tune is actually a traditional Swiss air heard in Sardinia and borrowed by a Scottish Pipe-Major during the Crimean War.
Also (regarding the “soldier”) I was really thinking of a mercenary soldier, somewhere around the 16th or 17th century, as part of the Scottish guard of the French Kings perhaps.”
The theme of the dying soldier, wishing to return to the hills of home rather than die in a foreign country is not a straightforwardly sentimental one. The soldier Andy was imagining was far away from home for reasons of monetary gain, war being to him a lucrative business, defending those who rewarded him well. Although there may have been “battles glorious and deeds victorious”, when “the bugle ceases” the underlying story is not one of patriotic heroism.
UK Chart Success
The 45RPM single was recorded; pressed and out for sale in the UK all within a couple of weeks in September 1960 on Top Rank International (JAR 512). It’s popularity was instant – and lasting – spending 40 weeks in the singles chart breaking the record for the longest consecutive chart run without making the top ten (from 19th January 1961 to 21st October 1961) eventually reaching number 19 and was the fourth top-ranked UK hit single of 1961.
Following this success, the single was released in most other western-speaking countries and was soon picking up interest.
The United States Of America
The USA was the first to receive A Scottish Soldier. US music trade paper Billboard reviewed it on the 21st November 1960 issued on Top Rank:
“Andy Stewart sings of a Scottish Soldier with a Scotch burr in his voice on this lovely folk-styled tune. Tune is also called ‘Green Hills of Tyrol’. Listenable jockey wax.”
However by February still nothing much was happening. The single really began to take off in March when Warwick Records bought the master-tape from Top Rank and began some heavy promotion of its own which was reported regularly in Billboard. Radio station WLEE of Richmond Virginia also helped raise interest in the disc with regular plays as part of a drive to play more “foreign” records.
The first news on the Warwick release came on March the 20th 1961 when Billboard gave the single three stars (Moderate Sales Potential)
“This tune which is getting action on the Warwick label, receives a potent performance from Andy Stewart. Could get spins.”
A week later strong “activity” (industry speak for “picking up airplays”) in the South-West of the US was reported and by April 3rd it was reported as a top market ‘breakout’ (beginning to sell) in Detroit and Buffalo and the single entered the Billboard Hot 100 at 94. The following week it was reported as ‘breaking-out’ in Cleveland. By June it was at No.83 and rising.
The song eventually peaked at number 69 but crucially remained on the US Billboard chart for 12 months making it one of the top fifty selling records in the USA for 1961.
Lee Farley, National Sales Manager for record manufacturer and distributor Quality Records in Toronto remembered how the song came to be a hit in Canada:
“There was a chap from Canada who went to Glasgow, heard the record, liked it and brought one or two copies home with him. He took a copy to a radio station in Winnipeg. The station played it, got a lot of queries about it, and sent the queries to me. I listened to it four or five times. It seemed to have something – what, I didn’t know. I’m Irish and I don’t know much about Scottish music. I checked to find out how many Scots there were in Toronto, Calgary and everywhere else and I decided if the Scotsmen bought it; it would be quite a record.
A tremendous number of hits were being shipped into the country but I thought this was something different. I hoped the Scots-Canadians would think of it as part of home. We put on an extensive promotion, area by area, and in about two weeks it started to catch on. From there on, it just soared off.”
In Canada A Scottish Soldier entered the charts at number 26 on 30th January 1961, leaping to number three the following week, then reaching the coveted number one spot which it held for three weeks: 13th, 20th & 27th February 1961, only to be replaced by Donald, Where’s Your Troosers? on the 6th March.
Andy became one of only 4 artists that replaced themselves at the top of the charts in Canadian chart history.
Next to fall before the soldier was Australia. On the 1st May 1961 A Scottish Soldier entered the charts at number five, rising to number two the following week. All through June it stayed at number two, to hit the top spot on the 10th July. On the 31st July The Battle’s O’er (Andy’s follow-up single) went straight in at number one, knocking A Scottish Soldier down to number two.
By September 11th Andy had three records in the top twenty: The Battle’s O’er at number five, Donald Where’s Your Troosers? straight in at number 12 (eventually reaching number six) and A Scottish Soldier still selling well at number 15.
In Australia A Scottish Soldier became the biggest selling single since Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock in 1956, and in October, Festival Records, the Australian distributor, issued a thanks to all the radio publicity and the record buying public, reporting that Andy’s record sales had been at a level “approaching pre-TV buying”.
In New Zealand Andy was going down well too. It was reported on the 24th July 1961 that A Scottish Soldier was “making an impact in New Zealand” going straight into the charts at number ten. By 1st August it was number four, a week later it had slipped to number seven, only to rise again the following week to three, then on the 21st August hitting number one.
Dazed by Fantastic Success
The single sold amazingly well all over the world. It sold in Hong Kong, charted in South Africa and became a top five hit in India. In the three months since its release the single had sold 175,000 copies in Britain alone, by May it had sold 250,000.
It is often forgotten nowadays that sheet-music had its own chart too, in the early sixties. A Scottish Soldier was the third best selling sheet-music in Britain for the year 1961.
In the early sixties Andy would appear regularly in the music papers. In the post Rock ‘n’ Roll, pre-Beatles era of music Andy mixed freely alongside ballad singers, jazz musicians, blues artists, instrumentalists, novelty acts, etc. – all mingling in the world of “popular” music. Pop was defined, basically, as anything that wasn’t “classical”. An examination of the UK charts for the year 1961 is a perfect illustration of this uniquely varied time in music.
Pop music was consumed by any age; mums and dads, grandparents, uncles, aunts and kids. It was only the arrival of The Beatles and the groups that followed in a veritable tidal wave during 1963 that redefined what pop music actually was – i.e. appealing strictly to the teenager. From then on, and very quickly, artists that had appeared regularly in the popular music press began to be classified and pigeon-holed and were dropped from the music papers. Regulars from the early sixties like Shirley Bassey, Frankie Vaughan and Acker Bilk were most definitely out, replaced by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, et al. But in 1961 Andy was still definitely seen as a pop artist.
The Real-Life Scottish Soldier
On the 5th May 1961 Andy was awarded a silver disc by the British popular music magazine Disc for passing the quarter-of-a-million mark for sales of the 45RPM single – the first Scottish artiste ever to receive one.
Andy received his disc on the stage of the Glasgow Empire theatre during the second-house performance of The Andy Stewart Show from a real-life Scottish Soldier Lance-Corporal David McCullough of Stranraer who was stationed with the 1st Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borders at Redford Barracks, Edinburgh.
McCullough, a 22-year-old regimental policeman, was chosen from 700 other Scottish Borderers because he was a regular soldier, a re-enlistment who had come back into the regiment and “a fine example” of the regiment. Among the audience at the Empire was McCullough’s Berlin-born wife Judda, whom he married while stationed in Germany.
After the presentation, Lance-Corporal McCullough would invite Andy to be the honoured guest at the Battalion’s “Mothers and Fathers Day” at their Berwick depot in June.
Andy was featured on the front of Disc magazine in June 1961: “Dazed by Fantastic Success”.
By 1963 the single had achieved “gold” status and remained in print throughout the world during the sixties, selling steadily. Ten years after it was recorded it was still available to buy as a 7″ record and neared two million in total sales.
Attaining international recognition is notoriously difficult and the fact that many British artist’s fame remains insular even in today’s world of global communications, gives even greater credit to a man establishing his fame throughout the world, whilst performing traditional Scottish music. Andy was now in demand as a recording artist and as such he needed more material that specifically suited his style.