“One weekend I performed two shows in Aberdeen on the Saturday, flew from Prestwick to JFK, performed on the Sunday in New York, then flew back again and was onstage on Monday in Aberdeen for rehearsals at 10 O’ Clock”
On the back of his rising popularity, Andy made a speculative first visit abroad to Australia managing to squeeze the trip into his busy schedule in October 1961. Receiving a warm welcome, he arrived riding high with three records in the Australian charts. During this “whirlwind” ten-day tour Andy played to full houses in Brisbane, Tasmania, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra and Perth, taking in television and radio spots along the way. A few months later in March 1962 he spent a week playing concerts in the unlikely country of Sweden, but the year of 1963 would see Andy embarking on his most ambitious series of engagements to-date; his first ever “world tour”.
On Saturday the 23rd of May 1963 Andy flew out of London to begin a three month Far East tour, taking in appearances in Hong Kong and concerts in Australia and New Zealand, arriving home again in August.
This first leg of the world tour was amazingly successful but ended on a note of sadness, as after accompanying Andy to Australia, Andy’s agent Hyman Zahl was taken ill on his return and died suddenly at the age of 57 to the shock of the show business world. However, as the saying goes (a saying Zahl would surely have understood) “the show must go on” and in the following month of September Andy was off again this time on a coast-to-coast tour of North America and Canada. Accompanying Andy on these tours were comedian Jimmy Neil, singer Dennis Clancy, accordionist Arthur Spink, White Heather dancer Dixie Ingram, his friend and comic feed Max Kay (who had now taken on tour management duties), pianist Harry Carmichael, soprano Jill Howard and Ian Powrie and his band.
Ian remembered the tour fondly:
“We did three different nights in the one place… Auckland; Wellington; Christchurch; Invercargill… three nights in each place! And we sometimes came into them on the way back as well, to make sure that we had really milked them dry! But there wasn’t any chance of that because the places were just packed; you see Andy was a terrific draw you know”.
“I did my first tour of the world in 1963. I sang my songs all over from Invercargill at the tip of New Zealand’s South Island to a mining camp in Labrador City, Canada.
Show business is a very honest thing. You’re never asked back to a place unless you’ve made money for the promoters. And to make money for the promoters you’ve got to put bottoms on seats, you see. I’ve been going back there practically every 15 months ever since. So obviously they warmed to me or I wouldn’t have been asked back. So in that respect I’ve been very lucky, I’ve been made welcome and found success with the audiences.”
Andy Stewart Enterprises Ltd
From the outset, Andy’s world tour was a huge success and he realised that the business for Scottish entertainers abroad was an extremely viable one, so the following year he bought over the agency office in Broadway, New York that ran the North Atlantic White Heather Tours from its owner Neil Kirk (for an undisclosed sum running into five figures) and began facilitating organised tours of performing Scots in the USA and Canada.
Neil Kirk (real name William Robertson) was a Dundee born agent who had emigrated from Dundee to the USA and had promoted White Heather concert tours of Canada and the USA since the late 1940s. “I’m 71 now, and the time has come to let a younger man take over. I’ll stay on as adviser, but I won’t take so active a part in all the travelling that is involved.“
As Stanley Baxter remembered: “There was much more to Andy Stewart than A Scottish Soldier. Within a few years he was employing me!”
As a thank-you to the people who had made him welcome following the Canadian/American leg of his world-tour, Andy penned the following words of gratitude:
“Let me say that all the Scottish entertainers who from time to time visit both Canada and America take great pride and pleasure from the reception that is accorded to them by all those Scottish people and people of Scottish descent who give such great support to concert tours that have, in the past, brought over from the old country such great stars as Harry Gordon, Robert Wilson and Jack Anthony and in more recent years, Kenneth McKellar, Jimmy Logan, Stanley Baxter and Will Starr, and many other great entertainers bringing a night of Bonnie Scotland to you all.
I am sure I can speak for all the Scottish artistes who have appeared before you when I say that your laughter and your applause make the long journey from our own homes in Bonnie Scotland well worth while and I for one look forward to my next Tour and all the Tours that will follow with a great deal of anticipation.”
That’s Show Biz
A pattern soon established itself of an almost constant round of touring. At the height of his career, a normal year of Andy’s life would comprise of a spring tour abroad (Australia/New Zealand alternating with Canada & the US); a summer season often in Scotland, but occasionally in England too; an autumn tour abroad (again either Canada/America or Australia/New Zealand); and a winter season, usually in Scotland.
Squeezed in-between were personal appearances, one-nighters and shorter tours all over the UK, recording sessions and TV shows. The foreign tours could last anything from six to twelve weeks, comprising mostly of one-night stands – hard work – with artists living from their suitcases and notching up an astonishing 75,000 miles travelling in a year. Selecting 1971 as a random example of time spent abroad in a single year, Andy would be working away for a total of 31 weeks of that year.
Ian Powrie’s (And Max Kay’s) Farewell To Scotland
In 1966 Andy’s bandleader Ian Powrie surprised everyone by announcing that he was planning to emigrate to Australia in December of that year. During one of the Australian tours he had become interested in a business of ‘Brick Clad Home Conversions’, a prefabricated house construction method, that Andy’s manager Max Kay had expressed an interest in too and agreeing that their family lives may benefit from a new lifestyle away from the constant touring they planned to join forces in the venture, Max deciding to emigrate as well.
Max Kay fared well in Australia. After building up the business, his eye turned back to showbiz and he converted an old cinema, the Civic Theatre into a restaurant, then moved onto a new building opening it as ‘Max Kay’s Civic Theatre Restaurant. There he flourished, putting on shows as he had done with Andy in the early sixties.
With the imminent departure of both Ian and Max, Andy was in need of both a new bandleader and a new manager. Ian Powrie knew it wouldn’t be easy just “upping-sticks” and emigrating as the band still had many engagements that needed to be honoured. Fortunately accordionist Jimmy Blue enquired of Ian if he would mind if he took over as bandleader. Ian delightedly approved, knowing that the band would be safe in his hands, as Jimmy had scooped up many Scottish music awards and was considered one of the leading exponents of the British Chromatic Accordion. Ian left for Australia in December 1966, where he found that aside from his business interests, he was just as much in demand there as a fiddler and competition judge as he had been in Scotland. Back in Scotland Jimmy reconvened the lads in early 1967 and Ian Powrie and his Band seamlessly became Jimmy Blue and his Band.
Meanwhile another good friend of Andy’s, Jimmy Warren – a fellow performer who had toured with Andy and had more than once been billed as ‘The Scottish Norman Wisdom’ – took over the reigns as Andy’s manager and so the tours continued unabated. In 1968 Andy visited South Africa for the first time. So successful was his stint there he was immediately asked back and Andy added it to his list of touring stops.
A typically hectic schedule was reported by the Glasgow press in 1970:
Wednesday 31st March 1970 – Andy Stewart who returned home on Sunday after three weeks of concerts in England, set off today from Prestwick to bring ‘a touch of tartan’ to Scots exiles around the world with a seven week ‘whistle stop’ tour of cities throughout North America and Canada. At the end of his dozens of concerts Andy intends to fly direct to Sydney in Australia for four weeks cabaret.
Aberdeen & the Typhoid Season
The “summer season” usually separated Andy’s spring and autumn foreign tours, and 1964 was an extraordinarily memorable one. Andy was on record for his love for Aberdeen and his love of His Majesty’s Theatre, a stage he regarded as the finest in the world, and the people of Aberdeen in turn had a particular affection for Andy Stewart. This mutual admiration was demonstrated during one of the most turbulent years in Aberdeen’s’ history.
In the summer of 1964 Aberdeen was termed a “city under siege”, as the largest Typhoid outbreak in 20th Century Britain swept though the city. In May, the Aberdeen branch of Scottish supermarket Wm. Low served from a large catering-sized tin, Argentinean corned beef that was infected with Typhoid. Due to the fact that the meat was dispensed using a slicer that was under constant use in the butchery department, the bacterial infection spread quickly, with approximately 500 Aberdonians eventually ending up hospitalised.
As the crisis deepened schools, cinemas and all public entertainments were closed. Residents were urged not to travel, virtually trapped in the city while outsiders were warned to stay away in an effort to contain the spread of the deadly disease.
Aberdeen was a beleaguered city. But even when the crisis was over, the risk of infection completely gone, the Aberdeen tourist industry was in collapse. Visitors stayed away in their thousands, and Aberdonians felt like lepers.
Aberdeen lost an estimated £10 million in revenue as a result of the outbreak, and in an effort to rehabilitate the city Aberdeen Council set aside £15,000 to use in attracting tourists and promoting the city as a “safe” destination. Andy seized the opportunity determined to demonstrate his loyalty to the city and the people of Aberdeen, and despite any warnings, took his show to His Majesty’s during the summer season.
Andy’s manger Max Kay told the press: “There are too many frightened people, and Aberdeen could do with a boost in morale.”
To begin with audiences were sparse, but Andy threw his heart and soul into the performances, which changed every fortnight. Word travelled fast and he ended up by smashing all previous box-office records that had been held since the theatre opened in 1906, performing to record crowds of 150,000 during the season. (This record stood unbroken until ten years later in 1974 when Andy broke it again himself with another summer season, this time the stage version of his TV show Scotch Corner.)
Having the theatre up and running again with music and comedy breathed new life into Aberdonians who booked seats in their thousands. The Stewart magic even managed to pull off the impossible, attracting people from outside Aberdeen back into the city.
In the middle of this busy engagement, Andy made time to fulfil an extra promise, even if it entailed a 7,000 mile round trip to do so…
“In 1964 I was in the middle of the twelve week summer season in Aberdeen and I was asked to go to New York. There was a Scottish Day being held at the World’s Fair there at the Singer Stadium with 15,000 people. So six weeks into the season (once nightly except for Saturday) on that particular Saturday night, I did two shows; drove to Prestwick; got on a plane; flew to New York; did an hours’ singing before 15,000 people; got back to John F. Kennedy airport; got on a plane; arrived at Prestwick at 7 O’clock in the morning and was on stage in Aberdeen at 10 O’clock in the Monday morning to do a rehearsal, because we were changing the programme!”
Back in Aberdeen, one joke stopped every performance during the season in Aberdeen, bringing the house down every single time:
First man, (standing on Union Street): “Aberdeen is the only city in the world that could have had 500 cases of Typhoid”.
Second man: “How’s that?”
First man: “Well, it’s the only place in the world that they could have got 500 slices o’ corned beef oot o’ the one tin!”
The Scottish Minstrel
Although his concerts abroad were aimed squarely at Scots ex-pats and usually traded on the White Heather brand, Andy particularly relished the opportunity for a rare “non-tartan” moment:
“My favourite performances are when I’ve had the opportunity to be a minstrel. I remember being in a stadium in Sydney, Australia. I was in a boxing ring that was slowly revolving, and there were 14,000 people in the seats. I was there for an hour, just talking and singing about Scotland and the people I knew there. No funny makeup, no costumes. Just me and my impressions.”
Another “minstrel” moment Andy fondly remembered was an appearance in 1979 at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow in an International Year of the Child charity show. Amidst largely tartan surroundings, Andy came on, sans-kilt, dressed in an ordinary, plain suit and performed a straight comedy routine without any of the trappings of the heather and stole the show. In character as a drunken old man, the kind found on many a Glasgow street after closing time, the actual content of the act was ultimately not the important thing about his show stopping performance, rather it was the asides and impromptu gags that won over the audience:
“I was a wee bit naughty that night. I was supposed to have done only seven minutes and ended up doing 16. The trouble is when I am the old man; I put in different asides each night and then discard them. Nothing is written down. Then when things are going really well, I haul them all out again.
Comedy is like that. Other nights, I could go on and the joke – the act – could be over in three minutes. This is the essence of the humour of Billy Connolly. The audience recognises it as coming from everyday Glasgow life. Jack Radcliffe used to say he had a million script writers. He got his stories from Glasgow taxi drivers and he would wait in the station for the next gag to come in.”
Here’s Tae You
Andy enjoyed the company of many seasoned professional colleagues on the tours abroad such as Joe Gordon, Sally Logan, Dixie Ingram, Sheila Paton, The Alexander Brothers, Jock Morgan, Sydney Devine and Bill McCue, and also provided opportunities to many others on their way to stardom like Moira Anderson, Ann Williamson, Anna Desti and Alex Morrison.
Andy was lucky in having so many people he regarded as true friends as working colleagues. His relationship with Jimmy Blue was a case in point. They had a natural affinity with each other, built up through the years spent touring around the world, and eventually Jimmy began composing arrangements for Andy in the same way that Iain MacFadyen had done before, the first results appearing on Andy’s record Here’s Tae You in 1971.
Jimmy fondly recalled the tours:
“We did tours of Australia – many tours of Australia; New Zealand; Tasmania; we were in South Africa and the then Southern Rhodesia, and of course Canada and America, Ireland and England. I wouldn’t have seen all these places… Carnegie Hall in New York; that lovely Opera House in Sydney… It was quite wonderful”
In 1977 after a ten year stint backing Andy all over the world, Jimmy Blue announced his intention to retire from show business, planning to take up a more restful pursuit as a gardener in his local area.
Again, like Ian Powrie before him, Jimmy did not want to leave Andy in the lurch, so before retiring, Jimmy introduced Andy to the young accordionist Gordon Pattullo, who in 1974 at the age of 13 was named Junior Scottish Accordion Champion and was a cup winner as a composer at the Blairgowrie Festival for three successive years.
Impressed, Andy engaged Gordon’s services and they hit the ground running with an eight week tour of Canada and America. Gordon would accompany Andy on tour for the best part of the next decade, summing him up as “a hard worker who kept many entertainers and musicians in work for several years.”
Editions 23 and 37 from Grampian Television.
Even though Andy spent many months abroad he was never far from the spotlight, managing to keep his profile high by utilising the medium of television and radio – ensuring his name was kept in the hearts and minds of the fans back home.