“I wouldn’t be doing all this if I wasn’t a lot better. You’re only here for so long, you might as well do what you enjoy doing”
The Final Comeback
Christmas 1989, and a surprise reissue of Donald, Where’s Your Troosers? put Andy back in the media spotlight once again. The record had been “re-discovered” by BBC Radio One Disc Jockey Simon Mayo on a children’s favourites CD Hello Children Everywhere and after playing it in November on his breakfast show he began receiving requests from listeners to play it again. The song caught the attention of Rod Buckle Managing Director of the UK division of the Swedish Sonet record label and promoter Neil Ferris who quickly negotiated a royalty deal from EMI to re-release the single and had the covers printed and singles pressed within a week.
Rod said: “It looks very good for us. It’s a fun song, ideal for Christmas and it’s going out in time for the start of Glasgow’s Year of Culture.” The single was released on Monday the 27th of November, backed by a £25,000 promotional campaign. Continuing to show his support Mayo gave the song heavy airplay. With thanks, Andy provided the DJ with his very own “sound-bite” jingle: “Hey Simon, Where’s Your Troosers?”
“I am told it’s played in clubs in London which amuses me. There is a disco version with gimmicks thrown in which is not the way I would have recorded it, but it’s fine. I suppose I opened the door by doing the Elvis bit in the middle. They can do all they want electronically but in the end the essence of the record comes through and that is good for me.
Mind you when I say that’s good for me, it would have been good for me had I not retired. There’s a wee bit of sadness there that one can’t follow through on this with personal appearances. Being retired one feels more of a spectator than being involved in the drama.”
The single sold 380,000 copies in three weeks reaching number four in the UK Christmas charts. For those too young to remember the song first time around, the story of the song was popping up in newspapers, magazines and teenage music papers such as Smash Hits.
This renewed interest would provide the kindling for “the fire that never really went out”, as he put it, and following a much-needed second heart by-pass at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary in 1991, he was planning another comeback.
“I had my second by-pass December the 11th 1991. Three days later I was running up and down stairs. I was. They don’t let you leave the hospital till you can climb three flights of stairs. For two years I was unable to walk very far or do anything and really needed the bypass, which fortunately they made available to me.
It’s remarkable the change. If you’d seen me a year ago I just wasn’t interested in anything. If I got from the doctor’s to the chemist I was lucky. I wouldn’t be doing all this if I wasn’t a lot better. You’re only here for so long, you might as well do what you enjoy doing.”
On The Road Again
In 1992 Andy was back in the swing of things. He resumed touring in and around Scotland, made another successful 19 date return visit to Canada and appeared on BBC TV’s holiday programme The Travel Show delivering a travelogue from the Isle of Skye. In November he released his first VHS video release, Andy Stewart’s Scotland, a virtual tour around Scotland complete with newly recorded versions of his most popular songs and took on the role of Billy Crusoe in the Pantomime Robinson Crusoe.
The Travel Show (BBC 1992)
On BBC TV’s holiday programme The Travel Show, Andy delivers a travelogue from the Isle of Skye with Carol Smillie.
Andy ended 1992 appropriately, with a return to the Hogmanay programme Out with the Old… for Scottish Television. Featuring one of the best line-ups of any Hogmanay show, the cast reading like a Who’s Who of the Scottish stage with (among others) Johnny Beattie, Ronnie Browne, Andy Cameron, Walter Carr, John Grieve, Mary Lee, Eileen McCallum, Jack Milroy, Peter Morrison, Maidie Murray, Dorothy Paul, Allan Stewart and Andy finishing off the show. Andy’s career on television had come full circle; he finished off his comeback year, doing what he was famous for: bringing in the New Year.
Out With The Old (Scottish Television 1992)
After a lifetime of bringing in the New Year, this would be Andy’s final Hogmanay appearance.
Touring continued in 1993 with personal appearances in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but a summer season It’s Scotland For Me at the Capital Moat House Hotel in Edinburgh was cut short and a planned tour of America postponed as yet again, health fears forced him to slow down.
Whilst Andy was considering rescheduling his tour of America for the next year, he signed up to appear in an all-star show Pride of the Clyde that was set to begin on the 18th of October 1993 at The Pavilion theatre in Glasgow, appearing alongside old friends Johnny Beattie, Walter Carr and Anne Fields. He was never to fulfil that engagement.
Andy responded to a request from the Children’s Hospice Association, asking him to appear in a charity concert to raise money to establish the first children’s hospice in Scotland, a gala performance that was to be held at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on Sunday evening the 10th October 1993. Andy agreed to appear and joined the cast as top-of-the-bill. He appeared in good form, regaling the cast, including Johnny Beattie, Eileen McCallum and Mary Riggans, in his dressing room with showbiz tales and jokes. The evening was a great success and Andy played to an audience of 1000. It was to be his last performance.
Back home in Arbroath the following afternoon, Andy took a sudden turn for the worse. Paramedics were called but were unable to save his life. Andy passed away at home comforted by his wife Sheila; just two months short of what would have been his 60th birthday.
Following the announcement of his passing, tributes came swiftly from a shocked and saddened Scottish entertainment world:
- Johnny Beattie “Andy was the natural successor to Harry Lauder, the great all-round entertainer – irreplaceable in fact. When Andy played places like Australia, America and Canada, it was Beatlemania time”
- Jimmy Shand “He was a man who always gave his best. He will be sadly missed”
- Peter Morrison “We worked together many times and he was a consummate performer and a gentleman”
- Jimmy Warren “I have many happy memories of Andy. In the early days, I appeared with him on stage together with Dixie Ingram. He was never a boss to anyone, always a friend. He’s got to be Scotland’s greatest entertainer that ever lived, as far as I’m concerned. He was just unreal, a great, fabulous entertainer”
- Walter Carr “He was a gentleman of show business and I admired him tremendously. I never heard him malign anybody”
- Anne Fields “This is the loss of a great performer, who lived for the theatre and making people laugh. He was a generous performer, always thinking of ways to help other entertainers”
- John Cairney “What people don’t realise is that he was a first rate actor, but Andy Stewart left before he’d shown the total range of an extraordinary genius. Andy Stewart only showed his ‘iceberg’ part, because that was the scintillating shining mimic whom we all knew, but Andy acted the part of a comedian – and acted it consummately”
At his funeral on Friday the 15th October, 500 mourners including so many of his old friends and colleagues filled the St. Andrews Church in Arbroath to capacity, as hundreds more citizens of Arbroath lined the streets paying their last respects. Ian Powrie played one of Andy’s favourite pieces The Flower of the Quern and the hymns included Amazing Grace.
The Reverend Martin Fair who conducted the service said:
“People the length and breadth of the country and in every far-flung corner of the world will be mourning, but though we mourn for the loss of a very special person, that mourning will be tinged by joy as we remember and give thanks for Andy’s life.”
Flags in the town were flown at half-mast and lone piper Michael Thain played A Scottish Soldier as the simple coffin, adorned with a white floral tribute and a tartan ribbon, was led out of the church – opposite Arbroath’s historic abbey – en-route to a private service at the Parkgrove Crematorium in the village of Friockheim. Shortly after his passing a sheltered-housing scheme in Arbroath would be named in his memory ‘Andy Stewart Court‘.
The greatest tribute came from Jimmy Logan, who also gave a special reading at his funeral:
“He lived for music. He lived for Scottish music. He brought a breath of Scotland to the people. He had had two heart operations, and when I had my heart operation earlier this year, he telephoned me and I thought he was speaking from Scotland. But he was in Australia. A week later, he phoned me from New Zealand. We had a good laugh as he reminded me to take the advice I had given him – take things a little easier. If Andy Stewart had one fault, it was that he would never say no. He could have exercised a bit more caution, but it wasn’t the nature of the beast.”
“To see Andy Stewart as I imagine him in a theatre in Canada or America or in Australia/New Zealand, standing in his kilt with about 3000 people sitting there, and he had them in the palm of his hand. He proved himself to be one of our great, great artists. Andy Stewart was not only an artist who wrote his own Golden Page in the history of theatre, he was part of the fabric of so many people’s lives. I shall miss him, very much.”
Like many other stars of the Scottish Theatres and the Music-Halls, what endures are some lovely warm memories of a time long gone, but unlike many of his contemporaries Andy left something else behind; a wonderful back-catalogue of recordings, still to be enjoyed to this day.
Farewell, And Joy Be With You All
“I’ve had my Rolls, Bentleys and Jags and the 14-room mansion in Milngavie. I can maybe say I’ve seen it all, and done it all. I always wanted to make people laugh… but sometimes I wished tae god I’d been blessed with the voice of Ken McKellar!
Without being over-sentimental, it’s a nice feeling knowing in your own lifetime that you’re going to be remembered for something. One or two of the songs I’ve written will live on and that’ll be good enough for me.”
Andy Stewart MBE
Honorary Freeman of Angus
(1933 – 1993)