Thursday, December 3, 2015


Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie was born in 1948 in Lennox Castle, Lennoxtown, Scotland, the daughter of a butcher. Marie grew up in Dennistoun, Glasgow, where she attended Thomson Street Primary School and Onslow Drive Junior School. Little Marie loved to sing as a child and started at the tender age of 12 year old with a local group called the Bellrocks. At 14 she joined The Gleneagles and had a regular spot at the Lindella Club, Glasgow. The owner of the club had a sister (Marion Massey) who was one of a few female theatrical agents based in London. In 1962 Marion signed up the new girl and gave her the stage name Lulu and the backing band The Gleneagles became The Luvvers. Lulu and the Lovers became part of the Decca stable of artist. The precarious nature of the music business and the vulnerability of a young girl was enough for Massey to invite Lulu to live with her family in her London home. Lulu attributes much of her success to having had a family-oriented and mature manager in Marion Massey. Decca released Lulu’s first record in 1964. It was a raucous cover version of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” and it became an instant UK hit and reached #7. She was fifteen.

Decca quickly followed up with the more soulful ‘Here Comes The Night' (1964), 'Leave A little Love' (1964) and 'Try To Understand' all of which reached the lower end of the UK charts.

By the end of 1965, Lulu was voted 'Britain's Most Promising Newcomer in Showbusiness, ' but the lack of major chart success forced her to leave The Luvvers behind and join Columbia where she was teamed with producer Mickie Most. In April 1967 she returned to the UK singles chart reaching number 6 with the more poppier "The Boat That I Row", written by Neil Diamond.

The relationship between artist and producer was not always as harmonious as her singing but the results in chart success gave her the most successful years in her career. All seven singles cut with Most made the UK Singles Chart. These included: 'Let's Pretend,' 'Love Loves To Love Love, ' 'Me The Peaceful Heart', 'Boy' and 'I'm A Tiger. '

Lulu appeared with The Monkees at the Empire Pool, Wembley, in 1967 and there were rumours she and Davy Jones were an item. She would prove a credible actress and co-starred with Sidney Poitier in E. R. Braithwaite's 'To Sir with love' directed by James Clavell's Lulu also sang the title song.

Lulu was well on her way to become a polished performer and toured extensively. In 1968 she co-hosted a new TV show (BBC) entitled Three Of A Kind, with Mike Yarwood. Lulu was such a hit she appeared regularly until 1975. Her popular variety shows went under various titles including: Lulu's Back In Town, Happening For Lulu, Lulu and It's Lulu, which featured Adrienne Posta. Her BBC series featured music and comedy sketches and star guests, including Jimi Hendrix, who chose to pay an impromptu tribute to Cream on live TV.

In 1969 Lulu was chosen to represent the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest and won with, "Boom Bang-a-Bang", written by Peter Warne and Alan Moorhouse.

In the same year Lulu married Maurice Gibb (Bee Gees). A romance which started after the couple met backstage at Top of the Pops. Sadly careers and his heavy drinking forced them apart and they divorced in 1973.

In 1970, she embarked on a trans-American tour with Englebert Humperdinck and also took time out from her heavy schedule to co-host television's 'Andy Williams Show' with singer Ray Stevens.

She toured Australia, New Zealand and the Far East and was at the peak of her career. Despite this chart success eluded the singer then in 1974 she performed the title song for the James Bond film 'The Man with the Golden Gun.'

In the same year she released a cover version of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World" and "Watch That Man". Bowie and Mick Ronson produced the recordings.

"The Man Who Sold the World" became her first top 10 hit in five years, peaking at number three in the UK chart and was a top 10 hit in several European countries. It proved to be one of Lulu's biggest record successes. The follow up 'Take Your Mama For A Ride' sold reasonably well but was only a minor hit.

In 1976 Lulu married London Hairdresser, John Frieda and split in 1990. Lulu continued to have chart success in the US with 'I Could Never Miss You (More Than I Do), 'If I Were You' and the Grammy nominated track 'Who's Foolin' Who'.

She continues to entertain and from time to time has successfully diversified into acting. Lulu remains without question the greatest Scottish Female entertainer of the 20th century.

Worth a listen
Shout (1964)
Here come the night (1964 )
Leave A Little Love (1965 )
Try To Understand (1965 )
The Boat That I Row (1967 )
To Sir With Love (1967 )
Let's Pretend(1967 )
Love Loves To Love Love (1967 )
Boy (1968 )
I'm A Tiger (1968 )
Me, The Peaceful Heart (1968 )
Boom Bang A Bang (1969 )
Oh My Oh My (1969 )
The Man Who Sold The World (1974 )
The man with the golden gun (1974 )

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Sir Jimmy Shand (1908 - 2000)

Born in East Wemyss in Fife, in 1908 and was the sixth of nine children. The family soon resettled in Auchtermuchty. His musical father played melodeon and taught Jimmy to play mouth organ. The young Jimmy mastered the fiddle and quickly established himself as a talent playing at social events and competitions. Jimmy left school at 14 and worked in the local mines until he was prevented from doing so after doing benefit gigs for striking miners during the 1926 General Strike.

He carried on playing in small dance bands and built a solid reputation and was eventually given an audition at the BBC in 1929 but failed to impress because he kept time with one foot. While working for the Fife Power Company a chance visit to a Dundee music shop in 1933 gave Jimmy a chance to play an accordion. He played it so well he as offered a job as travelling salesman and debt-collector. Jimmy recorded a couple of records with Regal Zonophone label in 1933 but his career really took off two years later when he switched to making 78s for the Beltona label.

Meantime Jimmy was uncomfortable with the design of his accordion and rejigged it in 1939. The "Shand Morino" became a firm favourite with other musicians up until the 70s.

Unable to enlist in the RAF he continued to entertain throughout the war years and became a popular player of Scottish Country Music. On New Year's morning on 1945 he made his first BBC broadcast with "Jimmy Shand and Band" and soon after became a full time musician.

The Shand Band made many radio broadcasts and recorded many titles suitable for Scottish Country Dancing and their records sold in millions throughout the world.

In constant demand as a live act the group toured the UK endlessly entertaining audiences with his trademark bald head, Buddy Holly specs, British chromatic button accordion, and full kilted regalia. The band played Scottish reels, jigs and strathspeys to North America, Australia and New Zealand audiences as his fame grew internationally. He signed for EMI/ Parlophone label and under the direction of George Martin released one single per month in the mid-fifties. Jimmy Shand and his band had a top 20 hit in 1955 with "The Bluebell Polka."

He was a great favourite with the Queen and Queen Mother and played for them at many royal functions at Balmoral and Windsor Castles. Due to illness in the family Shand went into semi-retirement in 1972 and only played only small venues in out-of-the-way places for a reduced fee. During his career he is credited with writing more than 330 compositions and recorded more tracks than the Beatles and Elvis Presley combined. He released a retrospective album called “The First 50 years” (1983) and an album and video with his son, Dancing with the Shands (1990).

Jimmy Shand was knighted in 1999 for his services to Scottish culture. Jimmy Shand died after a five-week illness in 2000 at aged 92.

Worth a listen
Scottish Waltz (1942)
The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh (1942)
Medley of reels (1942)
Gay Gordons (1942)
Comin’ through the Rye (1950)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bert Jansch (1943 – 2011) (Pentangle)

Herbert Jansch was born in 1943 in Glasgow. He grew up in Edinburgh and learned to play the guitar as a teenager. His first guitar was made from a kit but he later got a "Lonnie Donegan guitar" (Zenith). Influenced by the blossoming folk music boom he hung around the Edinburgh folk clubs. Bert’s early influences were Anne Briggs, Clive Palmer, and Davey Graham.

He started playing one-night stands around the UK during which times he was exposed to a range of influences including Brownie McGhee and Big Bill Broonzy.

Between 1963 and 1965, he hitched around Europe earning a living by busking and casual musical performances in bars and cafes. When he came back to London in the mid 60s he had developed his own guitar style. This included a claw hammer style of right-hand playing combined with distinguished chord voicings. Another characteristic was his ability to hold a chord in the lower strings whilst bending an upper string.

In his songs he also fitted the accompaniment to the natural rhythm of the words of his songs, rather than playing a consistent rhythm throughout. Bert signed for Transatlantic Records, and had his first album released in 1965.

It sold 150,000 copies and included Jansch's "Do You Hear Me Now." Later Donovan included his version of the song on his Universal Soldier EP, which reached No. 1 in the UK EP chart.

In quick succession Bert brought out another two albums: It Don't Bother Me and Jack Orion.

The latter contained his first recording of "Blackwaterside."

Bert mixed with many gifted musicians and played at the main folk club venues in London. There he rubbed shoulders with Paul Simon, Davey Graham and John Renbourn. Renbourn and Jansch frequently played together and developed a style of intricate interplay which became known as the 'Folk baroque'. They recorded the Bert and John album in 1966 and became the resident musicians at The Horseshoe pub, 264-267 Tottenham Court Road.

This was a popular haunt for folkies in the UK and many would jam with the duo on stage. Eventually in 1968 the nucleus became Pentangle. The line up consisted of Jacqui McShee (singer), John Renbourn (guitar), Bert Jansch (guitar), Danny Thompson (string bass) and Terry Cox (drums). The group played jazz folk fusion and signed to Transatlantic Records.

The album, Basket of Light (1969) was a huge commercial success with Light Flight released as a single. The song was made popular after it was used as theme music for a TV drama series Take Three Girls (BBC). A year later, at the peak of their popularity, they recorded a soundtrack for the film Tam Lin, but their fourth album, Cruel Sister, was a commercial disaster and their popularity began dwindle.

Tired from touring and of working together the band fell out with Transatlantic, in a bitter dispute regarding royalties. They moved to Warner Brothers/Reprise for their final album, Solomon's Seal.

Pentangle broke up in 1972 after which Bert took a few years' break from music before returning in the late 1970s to work on a series of projects with other musicians.

He toured Australia, Japan and the US with a band called The Bert Jansch Conundrum and after the group broke up he recorded Heartbreak album with Albert Lee.

He also toured Scandinavia with Martin Jenkins before opening his own guitar shop in Fulham. Pentangle reformed in the early 1980s and Bert Jansch remained with them until 1995. The original band again reformed in 2008 and in 2011 to play concerts.

Bert continued as a solo artist until his death from cancer in 2011. Bert remains one of the more influential UK musicians who inspired many, many others including Donovan, Paul Simon and Neil Young.

Worth a listen
Do You Hear Me Now (1965)
Needle of Death (1965)
Angie (1965)
Blackwaterside (1966)
Birthday blues (1969)
Reynardine (1971)
Magdalina’s dance (2006)
Blues run the game

Sweet Child (1969)
Haitian Flight Song (1968)
Basket of light (1969)

Acoustic Routes

Friday, November 13, 2015

Scottish Australian Rockers

The Young Brothers
Alexander Young was born in Cranhill, in the east end of Glasgow, in 1938. His parents William and Margaret had eight children and four boys became musicians Alexander (Grapefruit), and younger brothers George (Easybeats), Malcolm and Angus (ACDC). The family immigrated to Australia in 1963 and settled in Sydney but Alexander (aka George Alexander) stayed in the UK and continue his career as a professional musician. He played with The Bobby Patrick Six before forming (The) Grapefruit with three former members of Tony Rivers and the Castaways, (John Perry, Geoff Swettenham, and Pete Swettenham). He had been signed as songwriter with Apple Music Publishing Ltd and Grapefruit became a pet project of the Beatles after Lennon named the band. They released two albums and several singles on the Apple label. Despite Beatle patronage the band had little commercial success and split in 1969. George Alexander continued to work as a session musician and later collaborated with brother George Young and Harry Vanda (The Easybeats) as Paintbox and Tramp.

George Young

George Redburn Young was born in 1946 when the family moved to Australia they stayed in Villawood Migrant Hostel, Sydney. There he made friends with Johannes Hendricus Jacob van den Berg (aka Harry Vanda) a fellow immigrant (from the Netherlands). Inspired by the "British Invasion" George and Harry formed the Easybeats in 1964. The line-up was Stevie Wright (lead singer); Gordon Henry "Snowy" Fleet (drummer) and Dick Diamonde Bass) with George (rhythm guitar) and Harry (lead guitar). They soon became a popular Sydney group and were signed to Albert Productions. By the end of 1965 the Easybeats were the most popular pop band in Australia with a string of hit singles co-written by Young and Wright. In 1966 the group signed to United Artists Records and relocated to London. The Easybeats released "Friday on My Mind" which rocketed up the charts in the UK and US. Due to a combination of factors the Easybeats failed to make much headway after their initial success and returned to Australia. The band began to drift apart and by1970 the Easybeats were no more. To pay off debts Vanda & Young stayed in London and concentrated on writing and producing pop and rock songs for other recording artists. One of the bands was 'Marcus Hook Roll Band', which was made up of Malcolm and Angus Young and Harry Vanda. In 1973 they returned to Australia and with Ted Albert became the house producers for Albert Productions. They wrote and produced several major hits for John Paul Young including "Love Is in the Air" and "Yesterday's Hero." As Flash and the Pan, they had Australian hits with "Hey St. Peter" and "Down Among the Dead Men". In the70s "Waiting for a Train", "Midnight Man", "Early Morning Wake Up Call", and "Ayla", all sold well and charted in Europe. Meantime when Angus and Malcolm Young formed AC/DC in 1973 Vanda and Young recognized AC/DC had potential and co-produced their early successful albums.

Malcolm and Angus Young

Malcolm Mitchell Young was born in 1953 and is younger sibling, Angus McKinnon Young two years later. Growing up the Young brothers were all influenced by 50s rock and roll, and blues-based rock guitarists of the 1960s. Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Freddie King, loomed large with John Lee Hooker, Jimi Hendrix, and Keith Richards all seminal to their playing style. Encouraged by Alexander and George, Malcolm learned to play rhythm guitar Angus first played banjo but re-strung them with six strings. The teenage brothers were soon playing with local bands and in 1973 when Malcolm founded AC/DC he invited Angus to join the line-up. The original group was Angus on lead guitar, Malcolm on rhythm guitar, Colin Burgess on drums, Larry Van Kriedt on bass guitar and Dave Evans on vocals. After building a loyal following in Sydney as a glam band they started touring Australia in 1974. Keen to stamp originality on their live performances Angus dressed as a schoolboy on stage wearing an Ashfield Boys High School (Sydney) cap and uniform. His guitar antics on stage became a focal point for the band. Later in the same year Bon Scott replaced Dave Evans as lead singer. The band had several successful albums before relocating to the UK and embarking on a European tour in 1976. The bands popularity grew internationally and their 1979 album Highway to Hell reached the top twenty in the United States. In February 1980 Bon Scott suddenly died and AC/DC briefly considered disbanding. However they recruited Brian Johnson (Geordie) and completed the album Back in Black, as a tribute to Bon Scott. It went on to become the second best-selling album in history. The band continues to record and perform.

Bon Scott (1946 – 1980)

Ronald Belford Scott was born in Forfar, Scotland. His family immigrated from Kirriemuir to Melbourne in 1952. Ronald attended the Sunshine Primary School and the kids called him Bon because he had recently arrived from ‘Bonnie’ Scotland.’ The name stuck. In 1956, the family relocated to Fremantle, Western Australia and Bon joined the associated Fremantle Scots Pipe Band where he learned to play the drums. Bon was a rebel and dropped out of school and soon got into trouble with the police. In 1964 he formed his first band The Spektors who eventually became The Winstons. Bon shared the lead vocals with Vince Lovegrove when he joined The Valentines. Before disbanding the band had a couple of hits with "Every Day I Have to Cry" and "Juliette." In 1970 Scott moved to Adelaide to become the singer with Fraternity and soon after the group changed their name to "Fang". The band continued to work in Australia and had a UK tour but when they returned in 1973 Scott began singing with the Mount Lofty Rangers. Scott liked to drink and after a boozy session at the Old Lion Hotel in North Adelaide, in 1974 had a motorcycle accident and suffered head injuries. Whilst recovering he was introduced to ACDC and joined the band replacing Dave Evans as the lead singer of AC/DC. In 1980 he passed out after a night of heavy drinking in a London club. Left to sleep it off in a friend’s car Bon Scott died from inhaling his own vomit. Five months after Scott's death, AC/DC finished the work they began with Scott and released Back in Black as a tribute to him with two tracks from the album, "Hells Bells" and "Back in Black", dedicated to his memory.

John Paul Young

John Paul Young was in Bridgeton, Glasgow, in 1950. His family immigrated to Australia in 1962 and settled in Sydney. He left school when he was 15 to work as an apprentice sheet metal worker. He and some school mates formed a band called Elm Tree in 1967. The group consisted of Robert (Slim) Barnett (bass), Ollie Chojnacki (guitar), Phillip Edwards and Andy Imlah (co-lead vocals), Dave Kaentek, Ron Mazurkiewicz (keyboards) and Geoff Watts (drums). The made one record, a cover version of “Rainbow” (Marmalade) in 1970 but it failed to make an impact. Simon Napier-Bell, heard them in a pub in Newcastle and persuaded John Paul Young to sign as a solo artist to Albert Productions. His first single "Pasadena," under the name John Young was a hit in Australia and was co-written by George Young and Harry Vanda (The Easybeats) and UK actor, David Hemmings (Blow Up). In 1972 he joined the Sydney cast of Jesus Christ Superstar and played Annas until 1974. Keen to rekindle his solo career he signed for Albert Productions and liked up again with Vanda & Young. "Yesterday's Hero" was released in 1975, and gave him another Australian single and album chart topper. The single sold strongly in the United States, and reached No. 44 in 1976. John Paul Young became a popular fixture on Countdown in Australia and regularly featured as a performer or guest. Presenter Molly Meldrum christened the singer “Squeak,” and he toured as John Paul Young and The All Stars. Other chart success came with "Love Game", "I Hate the Music", "I Wanna Do It with You," and "Standing in the Rain". John Paul Young had already proven himself to be popular outside Australia with several European and South African hits. Standing in the rain was a disco hit which led the way for his biggest international success, “Love is in the Air." By 1989 JPY had stopped recording to concentrate on a career as a DJ with New Fm (Newcastle) but when the film Strictly Ballroom was released in 1992 with a new version of “Love is in the air” it catapulted the singer back into recording and performing. He was a featured performer at the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. He continues to perform and remains active participant in children’s charities

John ‘Swanee.’ Swann

John Archibold Dixon Swan was born in 1952 and his younger sibling James Dixon Swan four years later, both in Glasgow. The family immigrated to Australia in 1961and settled in Elizabeth, Adelaide. Jim and Dorothy Swan divorced soon after and their mother remarried to Reg Barnes. Dorothy encouraged her children to change their surname to Barnes. All of them did except for John who kept his natural father’s name, Swan. He became know as ‘Swanee.’ Initially Jim (Barnes) had little interest in music but John learned to play drums and joined his first band, Happiness when he was 14. After serving time in the army he took up his musical career by playing in a few bands until he joined Fraternity and for a short while Jim sang with the group. The previous singer was Bon Scott (ACDC), but . Jim left to front Cold Chisel and Swanee took over as lead vocalist. He later left to sing with Feather in 1977 and recorded one single, "Girl Trouble." A year later Swanee decided to break with the band and go solo. He had a minor Australian hit with his version of "If I Were a Carpenter." Then in 1982 he released the album This Time is Different which gave him two hit singles, "Temporary Heartache" and "Lady What's Your Name." Whilst John did not achieve the same success as brother he did earn the respect of the Australian rock music industry. Swann continues to perform.

Jimmy Barnes

Jim Barnes left Fraternity to front Orange, The group consisted of organist and songwriter Don Walker, guitarist Ian Moss, drummer Steve Prestwich and bass player Les Kaczmarek. The group quickly changed name to Cold Chisel and build up a loyal fan base before moving to Melbourne in 1976 and then three months later shifted base to Sydney. The group had an on- off attitude but eventually live performances convinced them to stay together. Cold Chisel signed to WEA and by 1980 became the biggest band in Australia. They were the perfect pub rock outfit but try as they might to crack the US market they failed to make an impact. After a disastrous tour in 1981 Cold Chisel returned to Australia ready to break up. A second chart topping Australian album followed and by the next year the band were touring Germany. Constant touring caused many arguments and Jim was drinking heavily. They decided to call it a day on return to Australia and The Last Stand farewell tour became the highest-grossing concert series by an Australian band. The group's final performance was in Sydney in December 1983. Jimmy Barnes launched his solo career and signed to Mushroom Records. Each of his first six solo albums debuted in the Number One position in Australia, a record unsurpassed by any other act. Determined to break into the US market he signed to Geffen Records and his second album, "Working Class Man," sold well. The song featured in Ron Howard’s film Gung Ho. Jimmy toured Canada and US with ZZ Top. More and more he worked with US artists producing highly commercial rock albums. Depite his successes he continued to battle drug and alcohol addiction which led to artistic differences causing him to switch labels. In 1990 he was signed to Atlantic for worldwide release. Jimmy’s love for soul music saw him release Soul Deep, an album of soul covers which became his most successful album. He returned to his hard rock roots with subsequent albums and continued to sell well in Australia and New Zealand. In 1993, Jimmy Barnes did a duet version of (Simply) The Best with Tina Turner. By the mid 90s Jimmy faced financial ruin in Australia and relocated to Europe. He toured with the Rolling Stones and continued to record. His albums sold well in Australia and eventually Jimmy Barnes returned to the country to pursue his career. He underwent heart surgery in 2007, made a full recovery and continues to work and record both as a solo artist as well as with a reformed Cold Chisel. Jimmy Barnes remains the most popular and best-selling Australian music artists of all time.

Colin Hay

Colin James Hay was born in 1953 in Kilwinning, Scotland. The family moved to Australia when Colin was 14. He met Ron Strykert and formed a duo in 1978 then later they expanded to become Men at Work. The group line up was complete with Jerry Speiser (drums), Greg Sneddon (keyboards) who was quickly replaced by and Greg Ham (flautist/saxophonist), and John Rees (bassist). The group released their debut album Business as Usual in 1981 on the Columbian Records. It topped the Australian and New Zealand charts. The album was eventually released in the USA and the UK. Men at Work toured the USA to promote the album, supporting Fleetwood Mac."Who Can It Be Now?"and “Downunder” topped the American charts in 1982. Their second album “Cargo” produced three chart singles in the USA: "Overkill“, "It's a Mistake", and "Dr. Heckyll and Mr. Jive". In 1983 the band toured the world extensively. By 1984 Jerry Speiser and John Rees left the band and Hay, Ham and Strykert) recorded a third album “Two Hearts.” The single from the album "Everything I Need", was a minor hit in the US. Line-up changes followed with Hay and Ham to only remaining original members. Eventually Ham left the group and Men at Work folded in 1986. Following the breakup Hay followed a solo career as singer and actor. In 2002 Hay appeared as the Troubadour in the Scrubs episode, "My Overkill," and made a cameo in the season 8 finale of Scrubs, "My Finale. . His music is a feature of the series. Back in Australia Hay established his own record label, Lazy Eye Records, inspired from his own strabismus (lazy eye) condition. Men at work did reform briefly in 1996 to tour South America, and they continued to play until 2000. Men at Work performed "Down Under" at the closing ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Colin Hay continues to perform and record as a solo artist and has played with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band.

Eric Boogle

Eric Bogle was born in Peebles, Scotland in 1944. His father was a woodcutter and played the bagpipes. He started writing poetry when he was eight-years-old and as a teenager taught himself to play guitar and started a skiffle group called Eric and the Informers. After leaving school at 16 he odd jobbed until he immigrated to Australia in 1969. By day he worked as an accountant and joined the local folk music scene. Many of his most successful songs have political connotations and have been recorded by other international artists. He continues to perform and record and has established myself as an international folk musician.

Worth a listen


High Voltage (1974)

TNT (1975)

It’s a long way to the top (If you want to rock and roll) (1975)

Dirty Deeds (1975)

Jailbreak (1975)

The Jack (1975)

Let there be rock (1977)

Highway to Hell (1979)

Jimmy Barnes

No second prize (1984)

Working class man (1985)

Many rivers to cross (1991)

Simply the best (1992) with Tina Turner

Cold Chisel

Khe Sanh (1978)

My Baby ( 1980)

You Got Nothing I Want (1981)

Flame Trees (1984)


She's So Fine (1965)

Friday on My Mind (1966)

Colin Hay

Waiting for my life to begin (1994)

Are you lookin’ at me (2007)

Men at Work

Who can it be now (1981)

Downunder (1981)

Be Good Johnnie (1982)

Overkill (1983)

John ‘Swannee’ Swan

Temporary Heartache (1982)

Lady What's Your Name (1982)

John Paul Young

Pasadena (1972)

Yesterday’s Hero (1975)

I hate the music (1976)

Where the action is (1977)

Love is in the air (1978)

Eric Bogle
And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda (1971)
No mans land (1976)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Flower of Scotland

One of the more inspiring songs heard at the Rugby World Cup is Flower of Scotland, the unofficial Scottish National Anthem. Written by Roy Williamson in 1967. It was first sung by The Corries. The lyrics relate to the famous Battle of Bannockburn (1314) when the Scottish army under the leadership of Robert the Bruce defeated Edward II of England. The tune was composed on the Northumbrian smallpipes and became very popular as a folk song. In 1974, Billy Steele, encouraged his team-mates to sing it on the victorious British Lions tour of South Africa. At the 1990 Five Nations Championship between Scotland and England, the song was adopted as the pre-game anthem and ever since it became associated with the Scotland national rugby union team. Usually the first and third verses are sung.

O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen.
And stood against him,
Proud Edward's army,
And sent him homeward
Tae think again.
The hills are bare now,
And autumn leaves lie thick and still
O'er land that is lost now,
Which those so dearly held
That stood against him,
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again.
Those days are past now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again!
That stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
Tae think again.
O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen.
And stood against him,
Proud Edward's army,
And sent him homeward
Tae think again.

Read more
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part One: Introduction
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part Two: History of the Games
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part Three: Rules of the Games
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part Four: Rugby Boots
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part Five: Studs or Cleats
A potted history of the rugby world cup, the rules of the game and rugby boots Part Six: Flower of Scotland

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Corries

Bill Smith and Ron Cruikshanks were studying architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art in the mid-fifties when they went to Ireland to collect folk music. On their return they started an impromptu group called the Corrie Voices with Andy Turner (banjo). Folk music was popular in the UK driven mainly by American folk singers like Woody Guthrie and The Weavers. Slowly the traditional Scottish ballads came to the fore ironically because of the Skiffle craze. It was considered inappropriate by the BBC to promote American folk songs on radio so there was a mad rush to discovered British folk music. This resulted in some strange crossovers such as rockabilly versions of “My Bonnie” and “Coming through the Rye.”

However, this also meant a number of influential musicians could straddle Skiffle and UK Folk. Folk Clubs were an alternative venue to milk and coffee bars for students and acts like The Spinners (from Liverpool), Wally Whyton (The Vipers), Mike Harding all started playing skiffle but found their bent lay in folk. In Scotland, Robin Hall and Jimmie McGregor were no different and liked American folk music but started researching Scottish folk music. Their love of Music Hall gave them another shared interest which would eventuate in an act that became very successful appearing regularly on the Tonight program (BBC) and eventually as the resident folk duo on The White Heather Club (BBC).

Matt McGinn, Archie Fisher and Hamish Imlach were city folk singers with massive appeal to urban dwellers. More ethnic than the rest their humour came from the working class streets and their influence was immense among yet to make it acts like Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty and John Martyn.

A tremendously popular radio series at the time featured Ewan McColl singing Scottish ballads.

The music of the Corrie Voices reflected this background but at the same time was influenced by the traditional Jacobean songs. When Andy left he was replaced by a fellow student called Roy Williamson and the addition of Paddie Bell (singer). The group were soon a popular attraction around the pubs and folk clubs in Edinburgh. In 1962 they scored a prestigious gig at an Edinburgh Festival venue. Unfortunately, Ron Cruikshanks fell ill and Ronnie Browne (guitar), another art student was asked to join the line up. Now billed the "Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell" the group continued as semi-professionals, keeping their day jobs, but working up a big following. In 1964 they became the resident folk group on the "Hoot'nanny Show" (BBC).

After the success of the Hoot’nanny Show the group signed with Fontana records and became professional. In 1965, Paddie Bell left to have a baby, thereafter she pursued a solo career. Despite their continuing success Ron Smith and Ronnie Browne fell out after the 1965 New Year BBC Hogmanay show and Smith left the Corrie Trio. In 1966, Roy Williamson and Ronnie Browne were in two minds whether to continue as a duo. Fortunately, they decided to become the Corries. Popular as ever they were featured on the BBC series "The White Heather Club. The Corries segment was filmed on location which added to their rugged and romantic appearance, or as Billy Connolly might say, made them "windswept and interesting."

Roy was not only a consummate musician he was a skilled musical instrument designer and maker and took every opportunity to feature the sounds of his new instruments like the ‘combolins’ in their performances. By the end of the 60s and throughout the 70s The Corries were the face of folk music in Scotland. The duo performed the length and breadth of the country appearing in village halls as well as prestigious venues. They were a band of the people and when Roy wrote "Flower of Scotland," it became Scotland's unofficial anthem.

The group made several albums which sold well in Scotland but success outside never came although they did commend great respect in the folk community. During the 1989 tour Roy’s health began to deteriorate. He was asthmatic and often required to be medicated before performances but he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and died two years later. Ronnie Browne continued recording for a short while before returning to painting and giving up performing. Paddie Bell’s solo career was short but she did record a couple of good albums then enjoyed a brief career revival in the 90s. Paddie died aged 74, in 2005.

Worth a listen
Corrie Folk Trio & Paddie Bell
Jug of punch (1963)
Tiree Love Song (1963)
My love she’s but a lassie yet (1965)
Killiecrankie (1965)

The Corries
Flower of Scotland (1969)
I’m a rover (1966)
Highland Lament (1968)
Flower of Scotland (1969)

Robin Hall and Jimmie McGregor
Football Crazy (1960)

The Spinners
Maggie May (1964)
Dirty old town (1964)

Matt McGinn
Ma wee Auntie Sarah (1975)
Heiderum Hauderum (1975)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Jim Diamond (1953 -2015)

Jim Diamond was born in Glasgow in 1953. His father was a fireman and he attended St Mungo Academy, Glasgow. His first band was called The Method and he joined them when he was 15, later he played with Jade, a Glasgow band who moved to London. In the lineup was Chris Glen (bass and "The Sensational Alex Harvey Band") and Jim Lacey (lead guitar) who later joined The Alan Bown Set. Diamond left Jade to join Gully Foyle and toured Europe until he was discovered by Alexis Korner. For the next two years Jim Diamond was a member of the Alexis Korner Band.

He left in 1976 to form Bandit with Cliff Williams (ACDC) and signed for Arista Records. Their debut album failed to chart and Diamond left to join the Japanese band BACCO as their lead singer in 1979. Later he went to LA and formed Slick Diamond with Earl Slick to tour and perform. Back in the UK Jim linked with Tony Hymas (drums and former Jeff Beck Group) and Simon Phillips (piano/keyboard), to form PhD . The name came from the first initial from each of their surnames. The band signed to WEA Records and their debut album in 1981 contained the single "I Won't Let You Down." It peaked at number three in the UK Singles Chart in early 1982.

The follow up single "I Didn't Know," failed to chart in the UK but sold well in Europe. The group disbanded and Jim pursued a solo charting with ”I Should Have Known Better,” in 1984.

In 1986 he released his last top five hit, “Hi Ho Silver” (Theme tune from TV series Boon).

Jim Diamond continued to work and often features as a guest vocalist on other artist’s songs. Laterally Jim Diamond dedicated a lot of time to the Cash for Kids charity appeal in Scotland The singer died suddenly at his London home in 2015.

Worth a listen

I Should Have Known Better (1984)
Hi Ho Silver (1986)

Ph. D.
I Won't Let You Down (1982)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Inimitable Frankie Miller

Francis Miller was born in Bridgeton, Glasgow in 1949. He was brought up in a tenement with his parents, Kathy and Frank, and elder sisters Letty and Anne. Young Francis was an altar boy who loved to play football. He listened to his mother’s record collection and gained an appreciation for Rock’n’Roll and R&B. Frances identified with the music of Ray Charles, Little Richard and Elvis Presley and learned to play the guitar aged nine. He joined bands before becoming a professional musician with the Stoics and gained quite a reputation around Glasgow. Francis (now calling himself Frankie) had a powerful voice and the group was signed by Chrysalis in early 1970. They went on tour supporting Ten Years After and made a brief appearance at The Isle of Wight Festival as Howl. Now relocated to London the band broke up before making any recordings. Frankie met Robin Trower (Procol Harum) and was asked to join the band Jude in 1971. The lineup included former Stone the Crows, James Dewar (bass and vocals) and Clive Bunker (Jethro Tull) on drums but the group only stayed together for a short time. Frankie and Robin had written several songs together and although Jude made no recordings "I Can't Wait Much Longer" appeared on Robin Trower's first solo album, Twice Removed from Yesterday.

Frankie Miller now signed a solo deal with Chrysalis Records, and recorded his first LP Once In A Blue Moon, produced by Dave Robinson with Brinsley Schwarz as his support. The album met critical acclaim but little else.

Chrysalis was keen to develop Frankie’s commercial potential and recorded his second album High Life (1974) in New Orleans. The album was written and produced by Allen Toussaint (he produced ‘Workin’ in a coal mine’ by Lee Dorsey).

The follow up The Rock (1975) was produced by Elliot Mazer (he produced Neil Young’s Harvest) and was made in San Francisco. Frankie had put a band together called The Frankie Miller Band. The lineup was guitarist, Henry McCullough (The Grease Band & Wings), Chrissie Stewart (bass), Stu Perry (drums), and Mick ‘Blue’ Weaver (keyboards) who played on the sessions. Also the album featured the legendary Memphis Horns and The Edwin Hawkins Singers.

It took until 1977 before Frankie had his first commercial hit with “Be good to your self” from the Full House album (produced by Chris Thomas). Now playing with The “Full House” band which consisted of Ray Minhinnet (lead guitar), Jim Hall (keyboards) , Graham Deacon (drums) and Chrissie Stewart (bass). Frankie and the Band had just completed a national tour and was a sharp outfit which is caught on the album.

His next album was called Double Trouble (1978) and was produced by Jack Douglas (worked with Aerosmith). The singer had a new band including drummer, BJ Wilson (Procol Harum), Chrissie Stewart (bass), Ray Russell (guitar), Chris Mercer and Martin Drover (horns) and Paul Carrack (keyboards and vocals) with Stephen Tyler (Aerosmith) making a guest appearance as backing vocalist.

In the same year "Darlin'" became a hit in the UK and raised some interest in the US. The follow up "When I'm Away From You" failed to impact in the US and was a minor hit in the UK.

His last album for Chrysalis Records was recorded in Nashville where he worked with many of the industry’s best. The Glasgow singer made many lasting friendships as he continued to impress with his vocal performances and writing prowess. He signed to Capitol records in 1982, and released his eigth album called ‘Standing on the Edge’. All the tracks were written by Frankie Miller and recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama, and featured part of the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm section.

Frankie returned to a more rock style by the mid eighties and toured Europe and the States with a new band which included Simon Kirke (Free and Bad Company), Brian Robertson (Thin Lizzie) and Chrissie Stewart (bass). Frankie continued to record but was no longer interested in commercial success he put his efforts into song writing. Frankie had already written and co-written successful songs including “Still in love with you’ with Phil Lynott.

Many of his own songs were also covered by his own heroes including: Johnny Cash, and Ray Charles which must have given him a kick. Other contemporaries to sing versions of his songs were: Rod Stewart,The Bellamy Brothers, Kim Carnes, Waylon Jennings, Bob Seger, Bonnie Tyler, Roy Orbison, Etta James, Joe Walsh, Joe Cocker, Cher, The Everly Brothers, Chris Farlowe and The Eagles among many others. Then out of the blue, Frankie Miller scored a huge number one UK hit with "Caledonia" in 1992.

Flush with his new success Frankie Miller joined Joe Welsh (The Eagles) and Nicky Hopkins and had plans to record and tour. Whilst writing material in New York Frankie suffered a massive brain haemorrhage and collapsed into a coma. He was unconscious for five months and had to go through extensive rehabilitation when he finally regained consciousness. After a long ,hard struggle captured in the BBC TV documentary ‘Stubborn Kinda Fella,’ Frankie Miller got back to writing again, collaborating with Will Jennings, and their composition "The Sun Goes Up, the Sun Comes Down," was performed by Bonnie Tyler, Paul Carrack, and Jools Holland at a concert for the disabled in Edinburgh.

He tried his hand at acting in 1979 and appeared Peter McDougall's TV film ‘Just a Boy's Game’.

Frankie Miller's songs also appeared regularly in the scores of many high profile movies and TV films. He and Rory Gallagher co-wrote the score for the movie Sense of Freedom which dramatise the story of his second cousin, Jimmy Boyle.

Worth a listen
I Can’t Change It (1972)
A Fool in Love (1975)
Aint Got No Money (1975)
Jealous Guy (1977)
Be Good to Yourself (1977)
Darlin' (1978)
Sense of Freedom (1979)
Jealousy (1982)
Caledonia (1992)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle

Benny Gallagher (vocals/guitar) and Graham Lyle (vocals/guitar) first played together in Largs, in Ayrshire, Scotland. They were skilled songwriters and soon asked to write for Dean Ford & the Gaylords (aka Marmalade). The single "Mr. Heartbreak's Here Instead," (1964) was a hit for the group Gallacher and Lyle’s first success as writers.

In 1967 the duo went to London and worked as writers at the Beatles’ Apple label. There they had a couple of minor successes with ‘Sparrow’ (B side of Goodbye) and ‘International’ which were both recorded by Mary Hopkin.

The duo continued to perform until they were asked to join McGuinness Flint in 1969. The group was formed after Tom McGuinness and Hughie Flint had left Manfred Mann and Tony Reeves (ex Coliseum) recommended his friends. The lineup was completed by Dennis Coulson (vocals), Paul Rutherford (trombone), and Tony Reeves (bass). Gallacher and Lyle wrote “When I’m dead and gone (1970) and Malt and Barley Blues (1971) which gave the group two sizable hits before Benny and Graham left in 1971 to pursue their own solo partnership.

McGuinness Flint continued with a series of lineup changes but never reached their previous popularity and eventually packed it in, in 1975. Tom McGuinness joined up Paul Jones (ex Manfred Mann) in a group called The Blues Band. The lineup included Hughie Flint, Dave Kelly. Paul Jones had previously “sat in” with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated in 1962 before joining Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers (aka Manfred Mann). He had been offered to be the lead singer in the group Brain Jones was putting together, but declined. Paul went solo in 1966 and had a few hits before becoming an actor. In 1979 he and Tom McGuinness joined forces again in the Blues Brothers.

In 1974 Gallagher and Lyle joined Ronnie Lane's group Slim Chance but were still keen to have a solo career.

Their self-titled debut duo album was for Capitol, but when they switched to the A&M label for their second effort. A&M reissue of their debut album. These albums showcased Gallacher & Lyle’s flair for folk music but it was not until they released Breakaway which gave the duo two separate hits, I wanna stay with you (1976) and Heart on my sleeve (1976) which reached the charts.

Art Garfunkel covered the title track and took the single into the US charts. Other albums followed and despite successful tours and switching labels in 1979 the duo separated. Graham later found a new partner, Terry Britten and wrote What’s love got to do with it, and Just good friends recorded respectively by Tina Turner and Michael Jackson.

Gallagher and Lyle continued to work as session musicians and were reacquainted in 2007 when both appeared on an album by singer-songwriter Chris Tassone recorded at London's Abbey Road studios. The pair started performing together again at charity gigs in 2010 and undertook a Scottish tour two years later. Gallagher continues to tour the folk circuit.

Worth a listen

Gallagher and Lyle
I want to stay with you (1976)
Heart on my sleeve (1976)
Stay with you (1976)
Storm in my soul (1976)
Rock writer (1976)
Every little teardrop (1977)

McGuinness Flint
When I’m dead and gone (1970)
Malt and Barley Blues (1971)

Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance
How come? (1973)

Art Garfunkel
Breakaway (1975)

Tina Turner
What’s love got to do with it (1993)

Michael Jackson
Just good friends (1987)

The Blues Band
Come on in
The Blues Band Song (1980)
Find yourself another (1980)
Nadine (1980)
That's all right (1980)
Itchy Feet (1981)
Come on (1981)
So bad (1982)
Blue Collar (1982)

Friday, May 8, 2015

Whisky or whiskey? :A brief history

Whisky (or whiskey) derives from the Gaelic word uisce/uisge meaning water. Distilled alcohol was known in Latin as aqua vitae ("water of life") and translated in Scottish Gaelic to: uisge beatha "lively water" or "water of life". Whiskey is made from fermented grain mash. Various grains (which may be malted) are used for different varieties, including barley, corn (maize), rye, and wheat. Whisky is typically aged in wooden casks, generally made of charred white oak. Whisky is a strictly regulated spirit worldwide with many classes and types. "Scotch" is the internationally recognized term for "Scotch whisky" and "whiskey" was invented by Irish distillers to distinguish their wares from the sub-standard Scotch whisky.

Distillation of alcohol had its origins in 13th century Italy, where alcohol was distilled from wine. Its use spread through medieval monasteries largely for medicinal purposes, such as the treatment of colic and smallpox. The Scots and Irish started distilling the spirit alcohol primarily from barley due to the absence of grapes for medicinal purposes. The first confirmed written record of whisky in Ireland comes from 1405, in the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise, which attributes the death of a chieftain to "taking a surfeit of aqua vitae" at Christmas. In Scotland, the first evidence of whisky production comes from an entry in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls for 1494 where malt is sent "…eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aquavitae’. A boll was an old Scottish measure of not more than six bushels. (One bushel is equivalent to 25.4 kilograms). This was enough to make about 500 bottles.

Outside the monasteries the Guild of Surgeon Barbers held the monopoly on production but when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries between 1536 and 1541, whisky production moved into personal homes and farms as newly independent monks needed to find a way to earn money. Then whisky was not allowed to age and tasted very raw and brutal. It was taken undiluted and was very potent. Whisky was very much a poor man's drink.

In 1295 Scottish merchants started to import Bordeaux's finest wines from France and claret became the national drink of Scotland. The Auld Alliance was built on Scotland and France’s shared need to curtail English expansion. Primarily it was a military and diplomatic alliance but for most of the population it brought tangible benefits through pay as mercenaries in France’s armies and the pick of finest French wines. The Auld Alliance made sure the trade between France e and Scotland was robust and when England was at war with France and the import of claret to that country banned the Border Scots made a good living smuggling supplies into northern England. French wine was landed on Wine Quay of Leith and rolled up the streets to the merchants’ cellars behind the water front.

‘To drink withe ws the new fresche wyne
That grew apone the revar Ryne,
Fresche fragrant claretis out of France,
Off Angeo and of Orliance,’

William Dunbar extolled the selections of wine to be found in Edinburgh to King James IV (1473 – 1513).

The Auld Alliance was no longer feasible between Protestant Scotland and Catholic France after the Reformation but the trade in Claret continued. As late as the 1670s, Scots merchants were still going to Bordeaux to get their first choice of wine. Even after the Union of Parliaments with England in 1707, Scots continued to smuggle Claret into Scotland to avoid taxes. Scots of all persuasions, Jacobite or Hanoverian drank Claret in preference to patriotic Port especially when toasting the exiled Stuart kings as ‘the King over the water’. When in 1880s, the French crop of grapes was devastated by the phylloxera pest whisky became the primary liquor in many markets.

The first license to distil whisky was granted in Ireland in 1608, to the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland . The first reference to distilling in a private house in the parish of Gamrie in Banffshire came in 1614. According to the Register of the Privy Council a man was accused of house breaking combined with assault. It is recorded he knocked over some ‘aquavitie’. The Excise Act fixing the duty at 2/8d (13p) per pint (one third of a gallon) of aquavitae or other strong liquor was passed by the Scots Parliament in 1644. For the remainder of the 17th century various alterations were made to the types and amounts of duty collected. The earliest reference to a distillery in the Acts of the Scottish Parliament appears to be in 1690, when mention is made of the famous Ferintosh distillery owned by Duncan Forbes of Culloden.

In Ireland a law was passed (1661) which forced distillers to pay tax on spirits produced for private consumption. The law was difficult to enforce and a further bill was passed in 1760 to make it illegal to operate a still without a license. Illegal stills were set up in rural areas and people started making poitín (put-cheen) distilled in small copper pots from a mash of malted barley. Later corn, treacle, sugar beet, potatoes or whey was also used as a wash to ferment before distillation. The still was heated by peat fires and attended to for several days to allow the runs to go through. The quality of poitín was highly variable, depending on the skill of the distiller and the quality of his equipment.

After the Union of the Parliaments in 1707, English revenue staff (excisemen) crossed the border to bring whisky production under control. The excise laws were so confused no two distilleries were taxed at the same rate. When the new Malt Tax was introduced in 1725 it forced whisky distillation underground. Illicit distilling flourished and the highland distillers worked under the cover of darkness to hide the smoke. Rough whisky was known as moonshine and it was estimated over half of Scotland's whisky output was illegal. Illegal trade in whisky and smuggling over the border became common.

Whisky proved popular and spread throughout the colonies and during the American Revolution; George Washington operated a large distillery at Mount Vernon. Colonial farmers found it easier and more profitable to convert corn to whisky before transporting it to market. After the American Revolutionary War an additional excise tax was levied in 1791. The new excise on America’s popular drink was to help fund war debt incurred during the American Revolutionary War. The "whiskey tax" was the first tax imposed on a domestic product by the newly formed federal government and triggered the Whiskey Rebellion. Protesters used violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting the tax. Even after resistance was quelled the whiskey excise remained difficult to collect and was eventually repealed in 1801. From 1823 whisky in the US was called Bourbon.

The legalization of whisky production in Scotland came when the British government introduced the Excise Act in 1823. A new vigour for whisky making saw a wave of technical innovation including the "continuous still. " Brewers could now produce whisky much faster as well as make the drink of higher quality. By 1850 some whisky makers were experimenting with mixing traditional pot still whisky with that from the new Coffey still (continuous still). The new distillation method or blending was scoffed at by some Irish distillers, who clung to their traditional pot stills. Scott Andrew Usher is credited with successfully perfecting blended whisky. The introduction of new train routes in the 19th century opened access to the farthest corners of Scotland. Rural farms with distillation as a sideline became economically independent companies and their malt whisky could be easily transported into the cities. Blending became more common practice and the industry boomed. Important blended whisky brands such as Dewar's and Haig emerged. Single malt whisky led a shadowy existence and was only appreciated by the Scots themselves and as 'spice' for the blended whiskies, which were meanwhile sold worldwide.

Malt whiskies were the taste-defining ingredient of the blends and the new corporations became dependent on the supply of malt whiskies. Principal whisky producing areas include Speyside and the Isle of Islay. The big success of the blended whiskies made the corporations grow until 1914. World War I (1914-1918) led to a drastic decline of the whisky production. This led to serious problems for the whisky companies. High debt and distillery closures followed until the recovery came with the end of prohibition in 1933. Britain paid its war debts to the USA in whisky. During this time Distiller’s Company Ltd. took over many companies and distilleries.

Whisky exports went all over the world but the bulk was destined for the USA and when Prohibition was introduced in North America (1920 - 1933) distilleries in the US become illegal. Public pressure forced the US government to ban sale, manufacturing, and transportation of alcohol. Only a limited production of religious wines and medicinal whisky was allowed to remain. In the US the illegal booze trade was dominated by developing bootlegger gangs who smuggled illicit supplies from Canada and elsewhere. City and town speakeasies supplied an eager audience with Scotch and Irish whiskey.

Whisky was made in a pot still. For batch distillation heat is applied directly to the pot containing the wash. During distillation the vapour contains more alcohol than the liquid. When the vapours are condensed, the resulting liquid contains a higher concentration of alcohol. In the pot still, the alcohol and water vapour combine with esters and flow from the still through the condensing coil. There they condense into the first distillation liquid, the so-called "low wines". The low wines have strength of about 25–35% alcohol by volume, and flow into a second still. It is then distilled a second time to produce the colourless spirit, collected at about 70% alcohol by volume. The distinctive smoky flavour found in various types of whisky, especially Scotch, is due to the use of peat smoke to treat the malt. Colour is added through maturation in an oak aging barrel, and develops over time. A still for making whisky is usually made of copper, which removes sulfur-based compounds from the alcohol that would make it unpleasant to drink. Modern stills are made of stainless steel with copper piping and plate inlays along still walls. Scotch whiskies are generally distilled twice, although some are distilled a third time and others even up to twenty times. Scotch Whisky Regulations require anything bearing the label "Scotch" to be distilled in Scotland and matured for a minimum of three years in oak casks, among other, more specific criteria. Any age statement on the bottle, in the form of a number, must reflect the age of the youngest Scotch whisky used to produce that product. A whisky with an age statement is known as guaranteed age whisky. Scotch whisky without an age statement may, by law, be as young as three years old.

Like wine whisky changes its chemical makeup and taste as it matures in wood. Whiskies are matured in the cask additional aging in a barrel after a decade or two, does not necessarily improve a whisky. Cask-strength whisky can have as much as twice the alcohol percentage sold over the counter i.e. alcoholic strength of 40% abv.

The basic types of Scotch are malt and grain, which are combined to create blends. Scotch malt whiskies are divided into five main regions: Highland, Lowland, Islay, Speyside and Campbeltown.

A Single malt whisky is whisky from a single distillery made from a mash that uses only one particular malted grain. Unless the whisky is described as single-cask, it contains whisky from many casks, and different years, so the blender can achieve a taste recognisable as typical of the distillery.

Blended malt whisky is a mixture of single malt whiskies from different distilleries. If a whisky is labeled "pure malt" or just "malt" it is almost certainly a blended malt whisky. This was formerly called a "vatted malt" whisky.

Blended whisky is made from a mixture of different types of whisky. A blend may contain whisky from many distilleries so that the blender can produce a flavour consistent with the brand. The brand name may, therefore, omit the name of a distillery. Most Scotch, Irish and Canadian whisky is sold as part of a blend, even when the spirits are the product of one distillery.

After the Second World War more companies merged or were taken over as the demand for spirits increased. More international interest saw bigger take-overs but unlike other drinks the importance of country of origin was steadfast for whisky. While the billion dollar corporations used their cost advantages in distribution, smaller whisky companies made their profit with valuable special bottlings. The continued popularity of malt whisky opened up new possibilities for small companies. Privately-owned distilleries survived and develop. Popularity of whisky continues to grow with each passing year, and in 2009 Scottish brewers managed to export record breaking 1.1 billion bottles of whisky to the customers around the world. The Scotch whisky industry boosted the value of its exports in 2011 to a record £4.2bn. Brazil was the fastest growing market, recording an increase over 2010 of 48%, with Singapore and Taiwan close behind on 44% each. In 2014 Scotch whisky exports fell for the first time in a decade, declining by 7% to £3.9bn.

Barnard A 2008 The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom
Holt M. P 2006 Alcohol: A Social and Cultural History

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

William Topaz McGonagall (1825 -1902)

William Topaz McGonagall was probably born in Ireland but always maintained he was an Edinburgher, born circa 1825. The son of Irish handloom weavers McGonagall grew up in Dundee and served his apprenticeship as a handloom weaver. He also acted and much later in life took up writing poetry. The main thrust of his work was narrative ballads and verse written about great events and tragedies. McGonagall’s poems were without lyrical or metaphorical gestures and lacked imagery and lapses in rhythm and meter. Despite the inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery all combined well to make his work amongst the most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language. The Dundee’ poet’s style was unique, memorable and instantly recognizable. He wrote about 200 poems and gleefully distributed them as handbills always willing to perform his works to dramatic effect at the mere invitation.

His notoriety grew and recitations by the poet became very popular. "The Tay Bridge Disaster" is widely regarded as his best known and one of the worst poems in English literature.

McGonagall required a patron and wrote to Queen Victoria.

The Queen politely dismissed his request and refused to extend him, her patronage. Undeterred McGonagall took this as Royal acceptance of his works and thought her Royal Highness would change her mind with a live performance. He walked from Dundee to Balmoral in 1878, over mountainous terrain and through a violent thunderstorm. He was refused an audience and had to return home. He continued unabated writing more poetry.

McGonagall constantly struggled with finances and earned money by selling his poems in the streets, or reciting them in halls, theatres and public houses. In times of need his friends supported him with donations. McGonagall campaigned for the Temperance Movement and frequently appeared in city pubs and bars to give edifying poems and speeches. Despite meeting with the ire of the publicans, he was popular with the drinkers who generally regarded his poems so bad as to be the work of genius. Ironically the poet thought alcohol was to blame for his audiences' failure to appreciate his work.

McGonagall was prey to many cruel hoaxes including a fake invitation to meet the actor Sir Henry Irvine in London. He was able to sail to London thanks mainly to the benevolence of a friend but when he arrived at the stage door, he was turned away. The poet described his experience in "Descriptive Jottings of London", with its immortal opening verse:

As I stood upon London Bridge and viewed the mighty throng
Of thousands of people in cabs and busses rapidly whirling along,
All furiously driving to and fro,
Up one street and down another as quick as they could go...

In 1887 he sailed to New York but returned unsuccessful. McGonagall captured his visit in Jottings of New York

Oh mighty City of New York! you are wonderful to behold,
Your buildings are magnificent, the truth be it told,
They were the only things that seemed to arrest my eye,
Because many of them are thirteen storeys high.

McGonagall rejections went undeterred and he found himself lucrative work performing his poetry at a local circus. As he recited his poems the crowd was encouraged to pelt him with eggs, flour, herrings, potatoes and stale bread. The act proved very popular but when events became so raucous the city magistrates were forced to put a ban on them. Outraged at their action the poet put pen to paper and composed "Lines in Protest to the Dundee Magistrates".

His friends helped fund the publication of a collection of his work, Poetic Gems in 1890. Four years later 1894 McGonagall and his wife left his beloved Dundee and moved to Perth. It was there he received a letter from purported representatives of King Thibaw Min of Burma which informed him the King had knighted him as Topaz McGonagall, Grand Knight of the Holy Order of the White Elephant Burmah. Obvious to the hoax, henceforth McGonagall referred to himself as "Sir William Topaz McGonagall, Knight of the White Elephant, Burmah.” By 1895 the McGonagall’s were living in Edinburgh by which time the poet had become popular "cult figure." His only paid commission was an advertisement for Sunlight soap

"You can use it with great pleasure and ease/
without wasting any elbow grease."

Tragically as he aged and became more frail and sickly depending almost entirely on handouts from his friends to exist. William Topaz McGonagall died at 5 South College Street in Edinburgh in 1902 in poverty and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh. From c.1950 to 1995 a memorial bench stood on the path immediately to the north side of the church commemorating McGonagall and bearing the typically McGonagall-esque inscription

"Feeling tired and need a seat?
Sit down here, and rest your feet".

Unfortunately the bench fell into disrepair and was not replaced. In 2008 a folio of 35 McGonagall poems, the majority signed by the author, fetched £6,600 in the Lyon and Turnbull auction house, Edinburgh.

In 1999 a grave-slab was installed to his memory and is inscribed:

William McGonagall
Poet and Tragedian
"I am your gracious Majesty
ever faithful to Thee,
William McGonagall, the Poor Poet,
That lives in Dundee."

William McGonagall always assumed his talent matched William Shakespeare although he did acknowledge the other Scottish poet.

Robert Burns
Immortal Robert Burns of Ayr,
There's but few poets can with you compare;
Some of your poems and songs are very fine:
To "Mary in Heaven" is most sublime;
And then again in your "Cottar's Saturday Night",
Your genius there does shine most bright,
As pure as the dewdrops of the night.

McGonagall Nights, like Burns Nights, help keep the poets flame alive with regular recitations and supper. Unlike a Burns Night the course order is reversed and the meal begins with coffee and biscuits before dessert etc.. During the evening devotees declaim vintage McGonagall verses such as:

"Beautiful Moon, with thy silvery light
Thou seemest most charming to my sight /
As I gaze upon thee in the sky so high
A tear of joy does moisten mine eye.

To be properly appreciated, McGonagall's poetry should be read aloud in a working-class Scottish accent, so that Edinburgh rhymes with sorrow. As always the evening is completed with a dramatic rendition of "The Tay Bridge Disaster."

Further Reading
Spike Milligan, Jack Hobbs (1978) William McGonagall – the Truth at Last Penguin On-line information
McGonagall on line