“At the age of twelve, I heard my father playing on his violin a tune he had written. I went off to my bedroom, and a short time later appeared with the words of ‘My Hameland’ – the first song I ever composed”
Andy was going to make sure he was never short of material to perform on stage, TV or record – by continuing to write it himself. His gift as a prolific songwriter began at an early age when he, aged 12, was “introduced” to music by his father.
“At the age of twelve, I heard my father playing on his violin a tune he had written.
I went off to my bedroom, and a short time later appeared with the words of ‘My Hameland’ – the first song I ever composed”
The Gilbert & Sullivan Of Scottish Music
In 1958 Andy’s first writing credit on a record came with new lyrics he had penned to the tune of The Dashing White Sergeant for Robert Wilson to record on HMV, however it was his creative partnership with friend and producer of The White Heather Club; Iain MacFadyen (receiving credit under his nom-de-plume Neil Grant), that would produce most of the classics in the Stewart catalogue.
Iain MacFadyen was born on the Island of Lismore near Oban and educated in Glasgow at Hillhead High School with Stanley Baxter and Gordon Jackson among his classmates. 200 yards away from the school stood the BBC in Queen Margaret Drive and Iain began his career there aged just 17 in 1943, as a junior programme engineer for radio: “This really consisted of using coconut shells, and other sound effects, like opening and closing doors.”
After a spell in London providing sound effects on BBC favourites ITMA and Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh, Iain returned to Scotland producing his first ever radio show from the Music Hall in Aberdeen: “My baptism of fire” he recalled, as the star of the show Harry Gordon had a heart attack half-an-hour before the show was due on air. “Those were thrilling days in radio, working with people like Jimmy Logan and Stanley Baxter. We got huge audiences and the artists became celebrities.”
After attending “telly-school” with the BBC in London, Iain produced his first TV programme in Scotland, the 1957 Hogmanay show which was a huge success and in turn launched the equally successful White Heather Club. Iain would eventually rise to the post of ‘Head of Light Entertainment’ for the BBC in Scotland. Producing Hogmanay specials for the BBC for 24 years would earn him the affectionate nickname among BBC staff “The Ayatolla Hogmanay”.
As well as being a talented producer, Iain had once played piano in an amateur jazz band and having a great ear for music was a talented musical arranger as Andy soon found out:
“I really had run out of the kind of songs that I could sing in The White Heather Club, doing almost every week – I mean, one year we actually did (or two or three years maybe) 52 White Heather Clubs, so we had to start writing songs so, along with Iain MacFadyen, we wrote the opening song together: ‘Come In Come In, It’s Nice to See You’ and we wrote a lot of songs – well it’s over a hundred songs that we wrote together… ‘Lassie Come and Dance with Me’; ‘The Summer Road’, and oh, they just go on and on…”
The Songs Of Scotland
The creativity flourished under the pressure of the constant need for songs to perform on the weekly television show The White Heather Club.
“Not being your traditional kind of Scottish singer with a glorious voice like Kenneth McKellar, I had to find material that suited me and I started to write a lot. I was writing about three a week at that time. And I think necessity is definitely the mother of invention, when you’ve got to find three new songs for a television show every week, your writing starts to flow and inspiration seems to come much more easily and the rest follows.”
In 1962 Andy started his own publishing company, Lochside Music Publishing Company Ltd to administer his songs as his catalogue increased and putting lyrics to tunes became his chosen method of composing – providing a magic formula for the “hits”.
Andy’s musical touring party from 1967-1977 was headed by accordionist Jimmy Blue who had firsthand knowledge of Andy’s composing skills:
“He always had a good listening ear for tunes, that’s where he got A Scottish Soldier of course, from The Green Hills of Tyrol…
“We played various things like The Battle’s O’er (The Battle is Over/Soldier Laddie), and with Lochanside, he wrote a song called By the Lochside, and Take Me Back and Campbeltown Loch (as you know Roddy McMillan actually wrote the chorus of that).”
“Regarding Campbeltown Loch, we were going for a tour of Australia and New Zealand and when we got to whatever place we were going he said to the boys “look I’ve got this thing finished, we’ll try it the night…” and as you know it went on to be a big hit.”
Andy would raise an eyebrow when he would quite often see some of his songs such as Campbeltown Loch listed simply as “traditional”. He accepted these errors gracefully viewing such as a compliment that his work had become so well established. In resurrecting traditional melodies and giving them new lyrics he was passing on the “old folk” to the new folk.
In The Beginning Was The Word(s)
Donald Where’s Your Troosers? became Andy’s first composition of note. It wasn’t an original song, but with new lyrics and his additional “Elvis Presley” section it would eventually become one of the defining songs of his career.
Andy accompanied The White Heather Group to London for a recording session, basically as an onlooker, not having any contribution to make. During the session it was suggested that he should join in, perhaps recording some sort of novelty Scots song and include some of his impressions.
He began with a comic version of Dancing In Kyle, sending up a selection of popular singers and incorporating parodies of their songs, when producer Walter J Ridley warned that he was breaking all sorts of copyright laws. Recording was halted and Robert Wilson suggested that Andy should just do his Elvis Presley impression. But the problem was, what song would he sing? He quickly came up with the idea of Donald, Where’s Your Troosers?
“I had been playing around with it for a long time. I got the chorus and a verse or two from band leader Bobby MacLeod back about 1957 or 58. It’s a Skye song and I obviously had to expand on it a bit to make it whole as a song for singing. Of course I made a living doing impressions in those days – I was not yet recording.
I got the lads together and we sort of had 10 minutes together in a rest room. We kind of laid out a routine and went back and recorded it, and that was the record that came out.”
Andy had inadvertently stumbled upon his winning formula of taking traditional Scottish tunes and fitting new lyrics around them, but the Stewart-Grant writing partnership would develop further upon this practice.
When Andy wrote lyrics based on a traditional tune – Iain would provide a “new” appropriate arrangement of that melody, but if the lyrics were written with no existing melody – Iain would produce a brand new tune that complemented the lyrics perfectly.
“Iain MacFadyen and I discovered that I had the knack of writing out lyrics for songs. I would always write the lyric first, Iain would take the lyric home and almost inevitably would produce a tune the next day. I wasn’t a singer you see, I was in no way a singer. I was a trained young actor. I could sing, I could tell a story, but I couldn’t do any of the traditional songs.”
If Andy could tell a story in song, he could also paint a vivid picture in words alone. Using his talent for comedy, mimicry and dialect, he regularly performed spoken pieces on television and on stage. These monologues quickly became known as “Andylogues”, and their popularity was featured in a 1961 edition of the Scottish newspaper ‘The People’s Journal’ with a competition asking readers to submit their own poetic efforts, to be judged by Andy. The quality of entries was high, Andy eventually choosing Ma Pair O’ Workin’ Buits penned by a Mrs. J. Turnbull of Fife and featuring it on his 1963 LP, solely comprising of Andylogues, entitled Andy the Rhymer, a pun referencing the Scottish prophet Thomas Learmonth also known as Thomas the Rhymer.
Andy wrote and performed many other monologues over the years usually featuring one or two throughout his album releases, but probably the most popular and most requested was The Rumour, a virtual trip though Scotland via local dialects and accents. First published in 1963, he would continue to regularly perform and re-record it throughout the next thirty years of his career.
The Rumour by Andy Stewart.
A composite re-telling comprising of a half-dozen performances from the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties.
All over the world people were now listening to Andy Stewart’s songs and buying his records. Soon they would get the opportunity to see him in performance.