Saturday, December 31, 2016

Midge Ure (Slik,Rich Kids,Visage, Ultravox, Band Aid)

James Ure was born in Cambuslang, in Lanarkshire in 1953. He attended Rutherglen Academy and left school at 15 to study engineering at college. James learned to play guitar and joined Stumble (c. 1969 – c. 1971) . He later became a guitarist for cover band Salvation in 1972 and performed at Clouds a Glasgow discothèque. There were too many Jimmys in the band and to avoid confusion band leader, Jim McGinlay christened James Ure's, ‘”Mij,” as in Jim backwards. The name stuck and in 1974 when Kevin McGinlay left to pursue a solo career, Midge Ure took lead vocalist as well as playing guitar. The band changed their name to Slik later that year and song writers Bill Martin and Phil Coulter provided the songs. They had a Number One single with "Forever and Ever" in 1976.

The band were keen to embrace Punk and went through lineup changes including renaming themselves PVC2. “Put You in the Picture” was released but the band quickly faded.

Ure then joined Glen Matlock (former Sex Pistol) in Rich Kids and moved to London. The lineup of the new wave band was Glen Matlock (vocals and bass), Rusty Egan (drums), Bill Smyth (vocals/guitars/keyboards), Steve New (vocals/guitars), and Midge Ure. During 1977 to 1978 the band released one album, Ghosts of Princes in Towers (produced by Mick Ronson), and three singles but commercial success eluded them. The band broke up in 1979.

Midge now playing synthesizer formed Visage with lead vocalist Steve Strange and signed briefly to Radar Records for the release of their first single "Tar". It failed to attract airplay and the band singed to Polydor Records in 1980, and released second single, "Fade to Grey.” It became a massive hit. Meantime in 1979, after Gary Moore left Thin Lizzy while the band was touring the US Midge briefly joined the lineup. He continued with the band to Japan and at the end of the tour left to pursue other projects. Ure continued to collaborate with Phil Lynott and co-wrote his biggest solo hit, "Yellow Pearl". The song became the theme to Top of the Pops (TOTPs). Midge left Visage in 1982.

Around this time Midge Ure, Billy Currie (keyboards, violin), Chris Cross (bass) and Warren Cann (electronic drums) resurrected a synthpop band called Ultavox. The title track of their first album Vienna was an instant hit in 1981. The album too became a best seller. The second album Rage in Eden also sold well. Despite the success of Ultravox Midge was also keen to reconvened Visage and recorded the band's second album, The Anvil. The third Ultravox album, Quartet, was produced by George Martin and featured four Top 20 singles. In 1987 Midge left Ultravox to establish his own solo career.

Midge’s first solo single was Tom Rush’s “No regrets” in 1982 and made the UK Top 10.

Two years later he co-wrote and helped produce the Band Aid single "Do They Know It's Christmas?" which has sold 3.7 million copies in the UK . Ure co-organised Band Aid, Live Aid and Live 8 with Bob Geldof. Ure acts as trustee for the charity, and serves as ambassador for Save the Children.

In 1985 he had a No. 1 solo hit with "If I Was" and his solo album The Gift reached No. 2 in the UK.

In 2009, Midge Ure and the other members reformed Ultravox for the Return to Eden tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Vienna album, followed up the next year with a second round of the tour. In late 2010 Ultravox started working on their sixth album Brilliant, fronted by Midge Ure. In November 2013, Ultravox was special guests on a four date arena tour with Simple Minds.

Please think about making a contribution Band Aid Thirty

Friday, December 16, 2016

Clyde Valley Stompers

The Clyde Valley Stompers were formed in 1952 in Glasgow, Scotland. The amateur trad jazz group quickly found a following at the Astra Ballroom in Glasgow and when band leader Jim McHarg (bass) immigrated to Canada two years later he was replaced by trombone player, Ian Menzies (1932 - 2001). Soon after the band became a full-time professional group. During the 50s the moldy figs like Chris Barber, Humphrey Lyttleton, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball became popular and the Clyde Valley Stompers extended their popularity beyond Scotland and released several records on the Beltona label.

Essentially they were a live act and the recordings never quite caught their energy subsequently their records did not sell especially well beyond their loyal following. The band members included, successively, Charlie Gall and Malcolm Higgins (trumpet), Jimmy Doherty, Forrie Cairns and Peter Kerr (clarinet). The rhythm section included pianists John Doherty, John Cairns and Ronnie Duff, banjo players Norrie Brown and Jim Douglas, bass players Louis Reddie, Andrew Bennie and Bill Bain, and drummers Bobby Shannon, Robbie Winter, Sandy Malcolm and Billy Law; and vocalists Mary McGowan, Jeannie Lamb and Fionna "Fiona" Duncan.

Dubbed ''the most travelled jazz band in Europe,'' they appeared in village halls and big venues alike and even topped the bill at Liverpool’s Cavern. As their popularity grew internationally the band moved to London, and signed for Pye Records.

There they were managed by Lonnie Donegan and toured with him as well as other top names including Louis Armstrong, Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark and blues legend Big Bill Broonzy.

Sometimes the band were billed at the Clyde Valley Stompers and others as Ian Menzies and the Clyde Valley Stompers.

In 1962 they had a UK Top 30 success with ‘Peter And The Wolf.’

“Stompermania” predated the Mersey Sound but had all the same intensity. The Clyde Valley Stompers were the first trad jazz band to appear on the Royal Variety Performance, when it was held in Glasgow Empire. Their popularity in the UK was enhanced with guest appearances on television's Morecambe & Wise, Russ Conway, and Thank Your Lucky Stars shows. In 1963 the band appeared in a British musical called It's All Happening (The Dream Maker) and starring Tommy Steele..

As the fad for Trad Jazz passed the group disbanded in 1963. Over the decades the band has occasionally re-formed to perform as The Clyde Valley Stompers Reunion Band which included Jim McHarg.

Worth a listen
Lonnie Donegan Presents Ian Menzies and Clyde Valley Stompers
The Swingin' Seamus (EP) (1959)
Roses of Picardy/Beale Street Blues/
Gettysburg March/Swingin’ Seamus

Ian Menzies and Clyde Valley Stompers
Big Man (1961)
Play the gypsy (1961)
The fish man (1966)

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Lord Rockingham’s XI : Harry Robinson (1932 – 1996)

Henry MacLeod Robertson was born in Elgin, Moray, Scotland in 1932. His professional music career began in 1957 as composer and conductor for TV shows such as Six-Five Special (BBC) [1957] and Oh Boy! (ITV) [1958].

He also worked for record labels EMI and Decca, and was musical director for many artists including Craig Douglas. When Jack Good wanted a backing band to segue together the guest stars on Oh Boy! He asked Harry to put the band together.

Robinson gathered ten session musicians including Red Price and Rex Morris on tenor sax, Benny Greene and Cyril Reubens on baritone sax, Ronnie Black on double bass, Cherry Wainer on organ, Bernie Taylor and Eric Ford on guitars, and Don Storer and Reg Weller on percussion. Kenny Packwood (guitar) and Ian Frazer (piano) joined the group later. Good decided to call the house band Lord Rockingham's XI i.e. on a play on the words "rocking 'em” and they were billed as Good Presents Lord Rockingham's XI. This would later become a bone of contention but meantime the house band proved very successful playing a wall of sound with a stomping beat. They recorded "Fried Onions" b/w "The Squelch “but it failed to chart.

A second single "Hoots Mon" (based on the traditional ‘A Hundred Pipers’) was however an instant hit and became UK #1 in 1958. The first instrumental to do so and the hook line 'Hoots Mon! there's a moose loose aboot this hoose’ proved an international success. The record was one of the first rock and roll songs to feature the Hammond organ.

At the end of Oh Boy! problems arose concerning the rights to the name Lord Rockingham XI. The legal case that followed was settled out of court and the group began recording and touring. They made several records including “Wee Tom," (1959) “Ra-Ra Rockingham," (1959)"Long John ," (1959) and "Newcastle Twist" (1962), but they would never repeat the same chart success.

The group eventually disbanded to pursue their own solo careers.

Harry Robinson went on to become a very successful film composer writing dozens of UK film scores including, ‘It’s Trad, Dad! ‘(US title: Ring-A-Ding Rhythm) released in 1962.

He was also involved with many Hammer Horror film scores. He continued to work in television as an arranger, songwriter, and composer and is also credited with the string arrangement on Nick Drake's track "River Man" (1969).

On the West End stage Robinson arranged and conducted the Lionel Bart musicals Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'be (1960) and Maggie May (1964).

EMI did attempt to resurrect Lord Rockingham's XI in 1968 and released an album of contemporary covers directed by Harry Robinson called The Return of Lord Rockingham, but it failed to chart. Harry Robinson continued to work until his death in 1996.

In rather an unusual twist Harry Robinson married model and photographer Myrtle (Ziki) Arbuthnot who inherited the Wharton Barony in 1990. She became Lady Wharton, 11th Baroness Wharton and sat in the House of Lords.

Worth a listen
What The Butler Saw EP (1958)
Lord Rockingham's Lament/ Fried Onions
Blue Train/ Lord Rockingham Meets The Monster
Wee Tom/ Lady Rockingham, I Presume? <1958)
Ra-Ra Rockingham/Farewell To Rockingham (1959)
Newcastle Twist/ Rockingham Twist (1962)

Nick Drake
River Man (1969).

Monday, December 12, 2016

Scottish origins of the AF1 deubré

If you are a certain age, Thingummyjig (1976–83) was a Scottish Television program showcasing the best in haggis, heather and tartan talent. The program was hosted by the acerbic, Jack McLaughlin (aka “The Laird o’ Coocaddens”). The origins of the term ‘thingamajig’ (n), in its many spellings, remain unclear but may stem from Middle English ‘thing’, derived from Old English þing, from Proto-Germanic *þingą. The word originally meant "assembly", then came to mean a specific issue discussed at such an assembly, and ultimately came to mean most broadly "an object". Thingamajig appears in the English language around 1824, but is predated by thingumbob (1751), and thingummy (1796). Synonyms include: dohickey, doohickey, doodad, doover (Australia), doomaflatchy, gizwiz, kadigan, thingamabob, thingumabob, thingummybob, thingo (Australia), thingummy, whatchamahoozie, whatnot, whatsit, and whatchamacallit. Something whose name has been forgotten or is not known.. The earliest recorded variant of ‘whatchamacallit’ is what-calle-ye-hym, attested from late 15c. A modern equivalent, origin unknown, is the Scottish term ‘doobrie,’ meaning something unspecified whose name is either forgotten or not known; a thingy or whatsit. < br>

The collective name for given to these words is placeholders which typically function grammatically as nouns and can be used for people, objects, locations, or places. Most are documented in at least 19th century literature.

In 1994, Damon Clegg, a Nike footwear designer, when presenting features of his design for a Nike ACG boot, and when he came to describe the ornamental shoelace tag, (which lacked a name). he instinctively used the term ‘doobrie.’ Clegg had heard his college roommate use the placename when he was unable to remember a specific name. His college friend was from Glasgow. The audience took the term ‘doobrie’ for a technical term, and the word caught on. Over time, the pronunciation evolved to doo-bray with various spellings. Eventually with the publication of a catalogue for the Nike Air Force 1 in 2006, Nike introduced the "deubré".

The deubré has two holes through which the shoelace is threaded, like a bead on string. When the shoe is laced, the deubré is centered between the first two eyelets (closest to the toe), with the shoelace passing through and behind the deubré. A deubré is typically made of metal, plastic, or leather, and may be decorated with a logo or text. Sometimes the deubré acts as a lace lock, eliminating the need for tying. A deubré may be used on a dress shoe or an athletic shoe.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The (above) Average White Band (AWB)

Alan Edward Gorrie was born in 1946, in Perth, Scotland. He went to Dundee Art School and played bass guitar. Alan loved the blues and in 1966 co-founded the Blue Workshop in Perth as a place where musicians could interchange line-ups and explore the free form side of jazz, blues and soul. The Blue Workshop was held at The County Hotel, in County Place, Perth in their upstairs function suite. It was also the home of Perth Folk Club.

There was limited opportunity for like-minded musicians to play together outside paid gigs, which were mostly mainstream. The Blue Workshop allowed them to jam and listen to new albums, not commonly available in the UK or played on the radio. Regulars included Alan’s college mates, Malcolm ‘Molly’ Duncan and Roger Ball, (later dubbed the Dundee Horns by Maggie Bell); Jim Mullen (double bass); and a 17 year old Robbie McIntosh (1950 - 1974) on drums. Sixty miles away in Glasgow, Onnie McIntyre and Hamish Stuart played at the late night, blues /soul venue, the Picasso Club, Glasgow.

By 1967, Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre had joined forces in the Scots of St James, and worked mainly as backing for visiting American soul artists. They also toured Germany playing clubs and US military bases but failed to catch attention with their vinyl releases.

In 1970, Roger Ball and Molly Duncan joined a jazz rock band called Mogul Thrash and released and album and single, "Sleeping in the Kitchen.” Neither attracted much attention in the UK but sold respectably well in Europe. Mogul Thrash disband shortly after the record's release.

Robbie McIntosh had joined the white soul band, the Senate, and backed touring acts like Ben E. King, Solomon Burke, Big Maybelle, and Garnet Mimms. He left to join The Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express with Jim Mullen, The initial Brian Auger's Oblivion Express album was released in 1971, listening to it you can begin to hear the genesis of the AWB.

Meantime, Alan Gorrie (bass guitar, piano, vocals), Onnie McIntyre (guitar and vocals) and Stuart Francis (drums) formed Hopscotch and the line-up was completed with Hamish Stuart (vocals) and Graham Maitland (piano/vocalist). Hopscotch released two singles but neither would chart. Hamish Stuart left to form Dream Police in Glasgow.

Dream Police quickly became one of Scotland's bigger crowd pullers along with Chris McClure Section, the Poets, the Stoics, Tear Gas and the Bay City Rollers. Despite their obvious appeal the band had little or no commercial success with their singles and gradually began to break up. Hamish quit to form Berserk Crocodiles with Matt Irvine (keyboard and vocals), drummer, Wullie Munro (Tear Gas) and Frazer Watson (Trash) in late 1970/1971.

After Hopscotch disbanded, Gorrie, McIntyre and Francis formed Forever More, with Mick Strode (aka Mick Travis) on guitar. The progressive rock band was based in London, under the management of managed by International Artists. They toured extensively both UK and Europe. When not on tour, their contracts allowed them to work at pubs, clubs, concert halls, and festivals; and as session musicians in various studios in London. In 1972, McIntyre and McIntosh record live with Chuck Berry at The Lanchester Arts Festival and it was released as The London Sessions featuring Chuck’s fist and only UK No.1 single 'My Ding-A-Ling'.

The group appeared as a band pursued by groupies in Lindsay Shonteff's cult hippie movie. Permissive (1970) and produced two RCA albums: "Yours" (1970) and "Words on Black Plastic" (1971). The former made the lower end of the American Billboard Charts.

The band briefly became Glencoe, but Alan Gorrie started working in the studio with the Dundee Horns, McIntyre and McIntosh had become almost a permanent fixture at Island Studios working individually and/or together on various sessions, including Johnny Nash's 'I Can See Clearly Now' (1972). They Scots lads earned the nickname “the Team,.”

Gorrie and co were so happy with the results they decided to form a band. The new line was : Alan Gorrie (singer and bass), Onnie McIntyre (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Roger Ball (sax, horn arrangements, keyboards), Malcolm “Molly” Duncan (tenor sax) and Mike Rosen (trumpet), and Robbie McIntosh (drums). Michael Rosen was quickly replaced by Hamish (Black Throat) Stuart. Robert Stigwood suggested Robin Turner as their manager and actor (Sir) Stanley Baker financed the project. It was Alan’s idea to bring the band together but unmistakably Robbie drove their sound and they were soon catching attention with a tight, soulful sound. The band literally introduced The Metropolis to white soul music but were lacking a name. The band appeared at The Great Western Express Festival. Bardney. Lincolnshire in 1972, as the Average White Band. The name had started as an ‘in joke’ but just stuck.

Bruce McCaskill (Eric Clapton’s tour manager) acquired a recording of the band rehearsing and played it to Bonnie Bramlett, who was looking for funky band to back her on her debut solo album, Sweet Bonnie Bramlett. She had the band fly out to out to Los Angeles for six weeks in the summer of 1972. Once in LA, the band indulged themselves in the music culture and made some very influential friends. They arrived back in London full of ideas and armloads of potential new material.

In 1973, AWB were invited to be the support for Eric Clapton's comeback concert at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, London. The band earned rave reviews and were immediately signed to MCA records. Bruce McCaskill, agreed to become their manager and their first album, Show Your Hand was released later the same year.

After the album failed to catch much attention, Bruce McCaskill borrowed money and took the group to the LA, where they started to record their follow up album. When MCA turned it down, Jerry Wexler heard the tapes, and signed them to Atlantic Records. He allocated producer, Arif Mardin to oversee them in Miami's Criteria Studios. The album was finished at Atlantic Studios in N.Y., where Gene Paul was assigned as the engineer best equipped to capture their sound. They adopted the abbreviated moniker AWB and The White Album (AWB) was released in October, 1974. The single, “Pick up the Pieces,” an instrumental, went to #1 on the Billboard Pop chart, but this would be a bittersweet moment for the band, for just prior to its release, on the last night of a triumphant week at The Troubadour, Robbie McIntosh died of a drug related incident at a celebratory Hollywood party in September 1974. The single had been released in the UK in July 1974, but failed to charted, when if was re-released a year later, it climbed to number six.

Scotland’s blue eyed soul boys had arrived in America and as both a tribute to their knowledge of funk and a tongue-in-cheek play on the Scottish band's name, The J.B.'s, (James Brown’s backup band), released "Pick Up the Pieces, One by One", under the name AABB (Above Average Black Band). What a tribute.

For their third album, ‘Cut the Cake’, Steve Ferrone (Bloodstone and Brian Auger's Oblivion Express) replaced Robbie McIntosh. It was never going to be an easy job to complete this album as naturally feelings were high and progress was plagued by creative and artistic differences. After several members of the band walked out of the studio Arif Mardin considered pulling the plug on the project, but presevered and the final album was dedicated to Robbie’s memory. ‘Cut the Cake,’ topped the Billboard R&B Chart and reached Number 4 in the US Album charts. The title track reached #10 on the Billboard pop singles chart and “Schoolboy Crush,” and “If I Ever Lose This Heaven,” also charted. Until they appeared on Soul Train many people thought they were an African American soul band.

The record company issued’ ‘Put It Where You Want It’ in 1975 , but this was a repackaged Show Your Hand . "How Can You Go Home" replaced Jugglers in the reissue and the album peaked at #39 on the Billboard Top 200.

“Soul Searching” was released in 1976 and went to Number 9 in the US album charts as well as going platinum. The singles did less well, with "Queen of My Soul," reaching number 21, and the other stand out track "A Love of Your Own," failed to make the Top 100.

In 1976, the group released a live album entitled “Person to Person” to showcase their live abilities. The following year, they were invited to join the Atlantic All-Stars at the highly-regarded Montreaux Jazz festival in Switzerland. Benny & Us, was a collaboration with soul legend Ben E. King, in 1977. They met while the band were on vocation in Miami and decided to combine their talents. The album is both soulful and funky and became Ben E King’s best selling album, rising to number 33 in the US charts. The double A side, "A Star in the Ghetto"/"Keepin' It to Myself" made respectable showings on the R&B singles charts, Unfortunately the joint tour which had been tentatively planned fell through but Ben E King and The AWB did appear at some live performances.

“Warmer Communications” was released in 1978 and reached 28 in the US album charts. The title was wordplay on Warner Communications, the parent company of AWB's Atlantic Records label. It is considered by many fans, to be the last great album the group produced. “Your Love’s a Miracle,” was the single from the album and made a respectable 33 in the Billboard's R&B singles chart.

By the time “Feel No Fret,” was released in 1979 AWB were beginning to loose their poularity in the US, as musical tastes changed. None the less the album reached 32 in the US charts and peaked at No. 15 in the UK charts. Singles, “Walk on by,” and “"When Will You Be Mine, " made it to the lower end of the Top 50 singles and “Atlantic Avenue” (sic. my personal favourite) failed to chart, Stateside.

When Shine (1980) then Cupid’s in fashion (1982), failed to recapture the full energy of their previous work, it looked as if the group had peaked. Shine saw the band in jazz mood but this had less appeal to their funk/soul fans. "Let's Go Round Again, " was released as a disco single and reached #12 in the UK charts (US Pop #53, US R&B #33). The album only gets better with age and contains several memorable tracks. Cupid’s in fashion is a well-crafted album appealing more to disco than soul , but came at a time when trends times in music were changing,

The group dissolved in 1982 and band members went onto pursue solo careers. Steve Ferrone joined Duran Duran, Hamish Stuart joind Paul McCartney and Alan Gorrie released a solo album, Sleepless Nights in 1985.

Alan Gorrie, Roger Ball, and Onnie McIntyre, did reform the AWB in 1989 and the line up was completed with Alex Ligertwood (Santana , Jeff Beck Group and Brian Auger's Oblivion Express) who replaced Hamish Stuart on vocals, and Eliot Lewis (keyboards, drums and programming). Together with invited guests, Chaka Khan and the Ohio Players, they recorded Aftershock. Ligertwood left after the album's recording and drummer Tiger McNeil (1989–1994) joined the reunited band for their live shows. Average White Band continued to tour and record: Soul Tattoo (1997), and Face to Face (1999) without rekindling their earlier successes. Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre are the only remaining original members of the band, but as of 2016, forty years after their formation, they continue to perform.

AWB became arguably the most successful Scottish band of the 20th century. Not only did they master the soul sound of contemporary North American music they developed their own blend of funk and soul which made them one of the few white groups to credibly cross the colour line. In achieving this spectacular goal they have influenced countless others, and have been sampled by many musicians in the late 80’s and early 90s, making them the fifteenth most sampled act in history. ‘The Team,’ from their humble beginnings in Scotland, were well above, the Average White Band.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sir Rod Stewart

Roderick David Stewart was born in Highgate, North London in 1945, the youngest of five children of Robert Stewart and Elsie Gilbart. His father, a master builder was from Edinburgh and moved the family to London. The youngest of the family, Roderick had a happy childhood if unremarkable scholastic career at Hornsey’s William Grimshaw Secondary Modern School. His two loves were football and music and Roderick played centre half for Middlesex Schoolboys. The family loved Al Jolson and young Roderick watched his movies and played his records. As a young teenager he went to see Bill Haley and his Comets, listened to Little Richard before he bought his first record, Eddie Cochran's "C'mon Everybody".

Roderick got his first guitar in 1959 and quickly learned to play "It Takes a Worried Man to Sing a Worried Song" within a year he was in a school skiffle group called the Kool Kats. He left school aged 15 started working as an apprentice silk screen printer, but harboured the idea he would become a professional footballer. Supported his father he had a trial for Brentford F.C. but failed to make the grade. Plan B swung into action and Roderick decided to become a professional musician. Working in a series of menial jobs including delivering papers from his father’s paper shop, casual labourer for Highgate Cemetery, aid at a funeral parlour, fence erector and sign writer, he joined several different bands including The Raiders. When the group went for an audition with Joe Meek, the famous produced took an instant dislike to Roderick and stooped the session before asking him to leave. Stewart became attracted to bohemian attitudes and left-wing politics and for a short time lived as a beatnik on a houseboat at Shoreham-by-Sea. He started to listen to folk music and became influence by American folkies like Woody Guthrie, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Derroll Adams and the young Bob Dylan.

Keen to blend in with the music Roderick learned to play harmonica (harp) and started busking with Wizz Jones. Together they travelled to Brighton, Paris, and finally to Barcelona. Sleeping rough wherever they Roderick was deported from Spain for vagrancy in 1963. Back in London, Roderick moved back home and worked for his brother in his painting and picture frame shop. His musical tastes changed after seeing Otis Redding perform in concert and listening to Sam Cooke Rod (the Mod) became fascinated by rhythm and blues and American soul music.

He joined the Dimensions as a harmonica player and part-time vocalist. Jimmy Powell hired the group as his backing band and Rod Stewart was relegated to harmonica player. The group became residents at the Studio 51 club on Great Newport Street in London but Rod and Jimmy Powell were soon at loggerheads. Rod left the band to join Long John Baldry and the All Stars in 1964 after Baldry heard him playing "Smokestack Lightnin'" on his harmonica. Long John Baldry and the All Stars became the Hoochie Coochie Men and Rod became a singer. His stage presence with spiked hair and mod attire got him a loyal following and soon he was billed with the band as "Rod the Mod" Stewart. The Hoochie Coochie Men became the resident band at the Marquee Club and released a version of Willie Dixon’s “You'll Be Mine” with Rod’s vocals featured in duet with Baldy on the B-side with "Up Above My Head." While still with the group and somewhat unusually Rod Stewart embarked on a simultaneous solo career and signed with Decca in 1964. He released "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," but it failed to enter the charts. Not long after Rod left the band after a fall out with Long John Baldy.

In 1965, Giorgio Gomelsky impresario and manager put together Steampacket as a white soul review live act. Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart had patched up their differences and at Baldry’s insistence Rod was included in the line-up , which was completed with , Brian Auger (organ) , Julie Driscoll (vocals) , Micky Waller (drums), Vic Briggs (guitar) and on bass Ricky Fenson (Richard Brown), Due to contractual difficulties, they did not release any recordings during their lifetime but some demos and bootlegs do exists. Steampacket played at various clubs, theatres and student unions around the country, including supporting the Rolling Stones on their 1965 British tour. Rod Stewart left in 1966, and the group disbanded soon after.

In 1965, Rod Stewart was featured in a 30-minute television documentary called "An Easter with Rod" (London Rediffusion). He also released "The Day Will Come" (1965) but it failed to chart. In 1966, Rod Stewart joined Shotgun Express as co-lead vocalist with Beryl Marsden. The line-up included Mick Fleetwood (drums) and Peter Green (guitar), Dave Ambrose (bass) and Peter Bardens (keyboards) . The band released one single "I Could Feel The Whole World Turn Round", and Rod had another attempt at solo success with "Shake", with the Brian Auger Trinity Both failed commercially. Rod Stewart then left to join the Jeff Beck Group at the start of 1967.

After Jeff Beck left the Yardbirds, he recruited Rod Stewart as vocalist and songwriter for his new band the Jeff Beck Group . The line-up included Ronnie Wood (rhythm guitar), Jet Harris (bass) and Dave Ambrose (bass), with Clem Cattini and Viv Prince trying out on drums. The band went through months of personnel changes, notably no fewer than four drummers before settling on Aynsley Dunbar and switching Ron Wood to bass. Beck signed a personal management contract with record producer and manager Mickie Most who had no interest in the group. During 1967 the band released three singles with only "Hi Ho Silver Lining" reaching the UK top twenty single charts. Frustrated that the band was not playing strict blues, drummer Dunbar left and was replaced by Roy Cook for one show, before Stewart recommended an old bandmate of his from Steampacket, Micky Waller went on to be their longest-lasting drummer. For the first year the grouped toured the UK and then went on to tour Western Europe in 1968. Almost broke the group recorded the album Truth before setting out on a make or break tour of the US which proved to be their breakthrough. Truth, which included three songs written by Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart (credited as reached Jeffrey Rod)went to No. 15 in the US charts and its success ignited new interest from Mickie Most. Beck-Ola was recorded at De Lane Lea Studios and engineered by Martin Birch and reached No. 15 on The Billboard Charts.

Meantime Rod’s solo career continued with another flop entitled, "Little Miss Understood" on Immediate Records. Rod Stewart recorded his first album An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down for Mercury Records and this met with critical acclaim. However, rising tension within the band and on their fifth US tour in July 1969 and appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival. Jeff Beck broke up the band on the eve of the Woodstock Music Festival, at which they had been scheduled to perform, a decision Beck later stated that he regretted.

In 1969, guitarist and lead singer Steve Marriott left The Small Faces. Ron Wood replaced him as guitarist and Rod Stewart joined them as their new singer. The band line-up was complete with original Small Faces, Ronnie Lane (guitar), Ian McLagan (keyboard), and Kenney Jones (drums). Their début album First Step came out in 1970 and was a modest success in the UK. The Faces became a popular live act and soon had a strong festival following. Their second album, Long Player, was released in early 1971 and enjoyed greater chart success. Towards the end of the year, their third album A Nod Is as Good as a Wink...To a Blind Horse contained a hit single with "Stay With Me," and the album reached the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic.

Lou Reizner (A&R man Mercury records) signed Rod to a solo contract in 1968 but contractual complexities delayed Stewart's recording for him until 1969. He sang guest vocals for the Australian group Python Lee Jackson on "In a Broken Dream", recorded in 1969 but not released until 1970. When it was re-released in 1972 to become a worldwide hit. Rod’s second solo album Gasoline Alley was also released in 1970 and came out to critical acclaim. His third album, Every Picture Tells A Story, featured the hit single "Maggie May" in 1971 and together album and single hit number one in both the US and the UK simultaneously and made Rod Stewart a household name. He then launched a US tour with the Faces.

As the tour progressed growing tensions within the band followed over Stewart's solo career enjoying more success than Faces’. Rod Stewart released Never a Dull Moment in 1972 and it reached number two on the US album charts and number one in the UK. "You Wear It Well" was a runaway hit single. The Faces released their final album Ooh La La, which reached number one in the UK and number 21 in the US in 1973. By the time of the recording Stewart was in daily dispute with the rest of the band but did tour Australasia, Japan, Europe and the UK in 1974 to support the album and the single "Pool Hall Richard". The following year the Faces toured the US twice before Stewart announced the Faces' break-up at the end of the year.

Rod’s Smiler album (Mercury) was released in 1974 and topped the UK album charts. The singles "Farewell" and "Mine for Me" had mixed fortune in the US. He switched labels to Warner Bros and moved to Los Angeles in 1975. Tom Dowd produced the next album Atlantic Crossing with a different sound based on the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Atlantic Crossing with its fast and slow sides was a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic and the single "Sailing", was a UK number-one, and remains his biggest-selling single in the UK. His version of "This Old Heart of Mine" was also a Top 100 hit in 1976.

The next album, A Night on the Town album was Rod’s seventh and went to number two on the Billboard album charts as well as going platinum. "Tonight's the Night" was a chart topper internationally; and "The First Cut Is the Deepest", a cover of a Cat Stevens song, went number one in the UK in 1977, and top 30 in the US. "The Killing of Georgie (Part 1 and 2)", about the murder of a gay man, was also a Top 40 hit for Stewart during 1977

Foot Loose & Fancy Free (1977) was the eighth album and featured Rod’s own band: Carmine Appice, Phil Chen, Jim Cregan, Billy Peek, Gary Grainger and John Jarvis. It contained another hit with "You're in my Heart” which reached the US top five. Both "Hot Legs" and “I Was Only Joking" also got a lot of radio airplay ". In 1978, Blondes Have More Fun, gave him another successful album with the smash hit single "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Now more disco orientated Stewart's look evolved to include a glam element, including make-up and spandex clothes. After a court case it was shown the song's refrain was identical to Brazilian Jorge Ben Jor's earlier "Taj Mahal" and a lawsuit ensued. Stewart donated his royalties to UNICEF, and he performed it with his band at the Music for UNICEF Concert at the United Nations General Assembly in 1979.

By comparison the 80s were quiet for Rod Stewart with only a few hits. He did however, transcend musical changes and moved smoothly in to the hi-tech disco genre starting with "Passion," from Foolish Behaviour; and Tonight I'm Yours album (1981) had two hit singles, the title track "Tonight I'm Yours (Don't Hurt Me)" and "Young Turks." In 1983, "Baby Jane" (1983) was the lead single from his Body Wishes album and became number one in the UK and reached No. 14 in the US. Rod Stewart had four US Top 10 singles between 1984 and 1988, "Some Guys Have All the Luck" (1984), "Infatuation" (1984) and "Love Touch" (1986). In the UK, "Every Beat of My Heart" reached number two in 1986. In 1988, Out of Order, produced four top 15 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. These were "Lost in You", "Forever Young", "Crazy About Her", and "My Heart Can't Tell You No." He ended the decade on a positive note, when a remake of the Tom Waits song "Downtown Train" received a lot of radio play in 1989.

Whilst still instantly recognisable, Rod’s voice was changing and the 90s saw less aggressive singing. Vagabond Heart (1991) featured five singles, with the two most successful "Rhythm of My Heart “ and "The Motown Song" . "It Takes Two" with Tina Turner, was released in 1990 in advance of the full album's release, and reached number five on the UK charts, but did not chart in the US. A few years later, he released Unplugged and Seated (1993), which was recorded at MTV Unplugged concert and featured the hit "Have I Told You Lately." In 1995, Stewart released A Spanner in the Works containing a single written by Tom Petty, "Leave Virginia Alone", which charted but the latter half of the 1990s was not as commercially successful though the 1996 album If We Fall in Love Tonight managed to go gold and hit No. 19 on the Billboard album chart. When We Were the New Boys, his final album on the Warner Bros. label was released in 1998, it reached number two on the UK album charts.

It had been previously reported Rod was suffering from a benign vocal cord nodule, then in 2000 it was diagnosed he had thyroid cancer. Resulting surgery threatened his voice, and he had to re-learn how to sing. Meantime he left Warner Bros. and moved to Atlantic Records and in 2001 released Human with the single "I Can't Deny It. "

As a complete change in 2002, Rod embarked on a series four albums featuring great 1930s and 1940s pop standards written by great American song writers entitled The Great American Songbook. These were an outstanding success and spurned many chart entries. In late 2006, Rod Stewart made his return to rock music with the release of Still the Same... Great Rock Classics of Our Time, a featuring rock and southern rock milestones from the last four decades. The album reached the top of the pop charts. To complete his homage to classic pop Rod released the studio album Soulbook (2009) which was composed of covers of soul and Motown songs.

Rod Stewart signed on to a two-year residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas and released a Christmas album in 2012. In the next year he returned to rock and song-writing with Time, his twenty-eighth studio album, which he co-produced. The album entered the UK Albums Chart at No. 1, setting a new British record for the longest gap between chart-topping albums by an artist. The gravel voiced rocker come crooner continues to appear live and touring arenas and concert halls worldwide.

Rod has been a life-long Scottish fan and supports Celtic Football Club.

Further Reading
Stewart R (2012) Rod: The Autobiography Three Rivers Press

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Sir Harry Lauder (1870 - 1950)

Henry Lauder was born in 1870 in Portobello, Edinburgh, the eldest of seven children. His father John Lauder was a Master Potter, and his mother Isabella Urquhart Macleod (née McLennan) were quite well off. The family moved to Newbold, Derbyshire in 1882 but when his father died his mother took them to Arbroath, where she had relatives. Now living in diminished circumstance, young Harry (aged 11), worked part time at the local flax mill to fund the rest of his schooling. Eventually the family moved to live with Harry's maternal uncle, Alexander McLennan, in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire. There, his uncle found him employment in the mines. It was here that Harry began his singing career and would entertain his fellow miners. Soon he entered several local competitions and gradually he obtained a number of paid engagements. After appearing at a "go-as-you please" night held by Mrs. Christina Baylis at her Scotia Music Hall/Metropole Theatre in Glasgow she advised him to join a concert party and gain experience by touring music halls around the country. The tour allowed him to quit the coal mines and become a professional singer. Harry Lauder concentrated his repertoire on comedic and songs of Scotland and Ireland and soon after he formed his own touring company with the violinist Mackenzie-Murdoch.

By 1894, Harry had turned professional and performed local characterisations at small, Scottish and northern English music halls. His career took a big step forward with his first appearance at the Argyle Theatre Birkenhead in 1898. The fashion at that time was for Irish comedians and it was in this role that Lauder first made his name. His first "hit song" was 'Calligan-Call again'. In 1900, he decided to take his chance in London but dropped his heavy dialect in his act to appeal more to the London audiences. It worked and when he filled in for a sick artist at Gatti’s Music Hall in Westminster Bridge Road, he was a resounding success. Five years later he appeared in the Howard & Wyndham's Aladdin pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow, as Roderick McSwankey. Pantomime was the dominant feature of the winter season and success in a pantomime could make a career. Harry wrote and performed I Love a Lassie which met with rapturious applause and swept to national fame. In 1907, he appeared in a short film singing "I Love a Lassie" for British Gaumont.

By 1907, Harry Lauder had made the switch from music hall to variety theatre and undertook a tour of America. The American audiences loved him and the William Morris, the Vaudeville Agent. became his American manager.

Harry Lauder usually performed in full 'Highland' regalia of kilt, sporran, tam o' shanter, and twisted walking stick. His sticks became his trade mark and one was brought from Japan by Edward Prince of Wales and presented to him. He entertained his audience between songs with stories and jokes usually involving the alleged parsimony of the Scots established an enduring but completely false image of his fellow countrymen. One of his character parts which held the audience spell bound was the youngster examining the toys pulled from his pocket in the sketch The saftest o' the family.

In 1910, Harry Lauder premiered the song 'Roamin in the gloamin'. in Red Riding Hood pantomime which again was a phenomenal success. By the time he returned to the US in 1911, he was able to command $1,000 a night. In 1913, he was paid £1125 to appear at the Glasgow Pavilion Theatre. At the peak of his career Lauder could command £12,700 a night plus expenses and was considered to earn one of the highest weekly salaries by a theatrical performer during the pre-war period. Harry Lauder was the first Scottish artist to sell a million records. In total Harry Lauder went to the USA twenty-two times in his career and traveled in his own railroad train called the Harry Lauder Special. He also toured Canada, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and the far east.

The entertainer was in Melbourne, Australia when the First World War broke out in 1914, and while in the United States he did what he could to encourage America to enter the war on Britain’s side. He also led successful fundraising efforts for war charities, organised a tour of music halls in 1915 for recruitment purposes and entertained the troops at home and in the trenches of France . There he came under enemy fire.

He was a robust patriot and raised huge sums of money for war charities during the Great War (1914-1918). He established the charity, the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund (1917), for maimed Scottish soldiers and sailors to help servicemen return to health and civilian life.

One scheme planned to raise money for this fund was a short film starring Charlie Chaplin and Harry Lauder which was begun on a visit Lauder made to Chaplin’s studio on 22 January 1917 but unfortunately the film was never finished.

In 1916, he opened in the review Three Cheers at the Shaftesbury Theatre. The finale was ‘The laddies who fought' and won’ which was complete when a company of Scots Guards marched on to the stage.

During the run of the show, he received the devastating news his son, Captain John Lauder, serving with the 8th Argyll and Sutherland Highland Regiment had been killed at Poiziers, France. In the wake of John's death, Harry wrote the song "The End of the Road." He was knighted in January 1919 by King George V.

After The Great War the British variety theatre circuits were in marked decline but Sir Harry Lauder continued to tour and in 1926 he had a new song to warm the hearts of his audience.

The entertainer was no stranger to the big screen and had appeared in several experimental movies before starring in the silent version of Huntingtower (1927), the silent movie Auld Lang Syne (1929) although sound was later added. Then finally The End of the Road (1936). His final tour to North America was in 1932 and he announced his retirement in 1935. Despite his age, at the outbreak of World War II, he made wireless broadcasts with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Yet again, he entertained troops throughout Britain and appeared immediately after the war to thank the crews of American food relief ships docking at Glasgow. By the late-1940s he was suffering from long periods of ill-health and his last stage appearance was at a concert in the Gorbals to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the local Rover Scout Group in 1947. Sir Harry Lauder died in Lauder Ha (or Hall), in Strathaven in 1950.

Further Reading
Lauder H (1926) Roamin' in the Gloamin' Kessinger Publishing

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Kenneth McKellar (1927 – 2010)

Kenneth McKellar was born in 1927 in Paisley, Renfrewshire, the son of a grocer. Although there were no musicians in the family, Kenneth's father and uncles sang in the High Kirk and his parents would often listen to opera on the gramophone. He grew up listening to the voices of singers such as Peter Dawson, Paul Robeson and Richard Tauber and recalled being taken to a concert at St Andrew's Hall in Glasgow to hear the great Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli. Kenneth was soon entertaining family friends by impersonating his favourite singers.

He attended the John Neilson school, Paisley and as a teenager enjoyed exploring the Scottish Highlands where he developed an intense interest in forestry. He later went to Aberdeen University and studied forestry. While a student he joined the university choir and as a budding tenor received individual coaching from the university's director of music. He went on to sing solo roles in, among other works, Mozart's Requiem, Bach's Mass in B Minor, and Handel Messiah. It was a student he made his first broadcast, from the BBC studios in Glasgow in 1947. He sang the main tenor role in the ballad opera The Gentle Shepherd. After university Kenneth worked for the Scottish Forestry Commission and spent the next two years travelling by horseback up and down the Scottish countryside, as part of a research and survey program on the woodlands of the British Isles and learned gaelic.

Keen to pursue a musical career he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London. Whilst there he was due to have his tonsils removed and fearing he might affect his singing voice was encouraged to make a private recording in a booth at the HMV record shop in Oxford Street. He recorded Roger Quilter's O Mistress Mine and the engineer was so impressed he contacted EMI's Parlophone label, which subsequently issued several 78 singles by McKellar.

McKellar’s early work with Parlophone helped him get a job with the Carl Rosa opera company. During his audition for the chorus he was asked to sing the opening aria from Rossini's Barber of Seville. Immediately, he was offered a principal tenor's contract at £15 a week and the singer was so pleased he got married and bought a car. Kenneth McKellar toured with the company for two years but felt confined singing opera and decided to leave and pursue a recording career. In 1954, he signed with the Decca record company. Over a period of 25 years he recorded some 45 LPs, ranging from oratorio to Burns songs, achieving massive sales all over the world.

Kenneth McKellar became well-known in the UK and had his own BBC series, A Song For Everyone. From 1957, he starred each year in pantomimes by Howard & Wyndham Ltd notably at their Alhambra Theatre Glasgow, later in 1960, he starred as Jamie in new pantomimes devised around him. A Wish For Jamie, was followed by A Love For Jamie and the popular shows ran at the Alhambra before moving to Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Newcastle. The Scottish tenor loved the haggis, heather and tartan side of Scottish culture and became a favourite guest on the BBC’s White Heather Club (1958-68) as well as BBC and ITV’s Hogmanay celebration programs. McKellar toured overseas with other Scottish entertainers such as Helen McArthur, often appearing in small local venues from North America to New Zealand.

In 1960, he released Songs of Robert Burns, which is considered by many Burns’ oficiandos to be the definitive interpretation of the Bard’s works. McKellar occasionally wrote songs too, including the comic piece The Midges and the patriotic The Tartan and The Royal Mile. In 1962, (Sir) Alexander Gibson asked him to join the new Scottish Opera but the singer politely refused.

The highlights of his classical recordings were two early 1960s albums of Handel conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. McKellar took the tenor soloist in a version of Messiah alongside Joan Sutherland and made a solo album of songs and arias. This became one of Decca's best-sellers, and his Decca recording of Handel Songs and Arias prompted Sir Adrian Boult, who had conducted the sessions, to describe McKellar as "the best Handel singer of the 20th century." In 1965, Benjamin Britten asked him to sing the part of McHeath in a production of The Beggar's Opera with the English Opera group at the Aldeburgh Festival and in Paris. The tenor accepted

In 1966, Kenneth McKellar was chosen to represent Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest, singing A Man Without Love. At the last moment he changed into a kilt, which drew gasps from the audience when he appeared on stage. Sadly, the song failed to make an impact and came ninth of the eighteen entries. However, it did make the Top 30 in the UK Singles Charts.

Outside music, Kenneth McKellar had a great sense of humour and wrote a sketch which was performed by the Monty Python team at the The Secret Policeman's Ball. This was the only time that a sketch written by a non-member was performed by them.

He left Decca to join Lismor Records, recording several albums before retiring in the late 1997. Kenneth McKellar died of pancreatic cancer, at the age of 82, in 2010.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Donovan Leitch

Donovan Philips Leitch (aka Donovan) was born in Maryhill, Glasgow in 1946. As a child he contracted polio and his father, a poetry buff, read to his young son. In 1956 the family moved to Hatfield, Hertfordshire where young Donovan grew to like the folk music of Woodie Guthrie and Derroll Adams. He began playing guitar at fourteen and became a regular at the St Albans folk club at The Cock pub. There he met Mick Softly and long-time collaborator and companion Gypsy Dave. Aged 16, Donovan was a competent guitar player and played with a distinctive finger picking style (which he later taught John Lennon). In 1963 he dropped out of Art school and caught the wonder lust, travelling the country as a busker. He started writing songs with his two friends and when they arrived in Brighton, Donovan played during gig intermissions. His reputation grew and Geoff Stephens and Peter Eden employed him as a song writer. When Elkan Allen (producer of 'Ready Steady Go'), heard Donovan’s demos he took the unprecedented action of putting the unknown denim clad folkie on the program. His bold action was rewarded and Donovan became an instant hit with the Mod audiences. Donovan made his TV debut in 1965 and had his guitar emblazoned with the words "This Machine Kills."

Inspiration came from his hero Woody Guthrie whose guitar bore the slogan "This Machine Kills Fascists". Pye Records quickly signed the eighteen year old and his first single “Catch the wind” went to Number three in the UK charts on release.

Many of Donovan songs were inspired by his wife Linda Lawrence. Linda had previously been the girl friend of Brian Jones but eventually Donovan and she got married, and celebrate one of the longest marriages in show business. Donovan follow up was "Colours," then the antiwar "Universal Soldier."

Both did well in the charts but late 1965, Donovan parted company with his original managers and signed with Ashley Kozak, who was working for Brian Epstein's NEMS Enterprises. Ashley Kozak introduced Donovan to American impresario Allen Klein who in turn introduced Donovan to producer Mickie Most. Most had previously made his reputation working with The Animals and Herman's Hermits. Donovan was now acknowledged as a notable UK folk singer. Public comparisons were quickly made with Bob Dylan and the two met in 1965. They enjoyed each other’s company and Dylan invited Donovan to tour with himself and Joan Baez. Pete Seeger, too recognised the emerging talent and invited him to play at the Newport Folk Festival in the US. Donovan had a fan following in the US but ran into contractual difficulties which interrupted his record releases. In 1966 he signed a $100,000 deal with the CBS subsidiary Epic Records. In the same year he was busted for possession of marijuana and became the first high-profile British pop star to be arrested. Now super hippy, Donovan used his notoriety to highlight his political beliefs for nuclear disarmament and against the injustices in a materialistic and violent world. Donovan's best recordings were produced by Mickie Most and featured excellent session musicians including: Jack Bruce (Cream), Danny Thompson (Pentangle), Spike Heatley (upright bass), Tony Carr (drums and congas), John Cameron (piano), Harold McNair (sax and flute), and John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin). Mickie Most and John Cameron (arranger) combined pop with Donovan’s soft folk style to produce a run of psychedelic hits including "Sunshine Superman,", "Mellow Yellow," (arranged by John Paul Jones and featuring Paul McCartney on uncredited backing vocals), and "Hurdy Gurdy Man,"(featuring Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones).

During this time Donovan became a close friend of the Beatles and appeared uncredited on several of their studio recordings including 'A Day in the Life', from the Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album (1967).

He was attracted to the philosophical teachings of the Indian guru, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and journeyed to India with the Beatles to meditate. As the sixties progressed, Donovan continued to record successful material in accord with the developing UK psychedelic but growing tensions between Mickie Most and Donovan came to a head in late 1969. The two parted company and Donovan joined forces with Jeff Beck to produce the rockier, “Goo Goo Barbajagal.”

Disillusioned with the music scene Donovan dropped out for almost six years before he finally re-emerged. His commercial appeal had waned and although he continued to perform and release albums, the popular phase of Donovan music was over. The singer relocated to the US where he continues to have a loyal following and regularly tours. Donovan is a committed conservationalist and enjoys much popularity on the retro circuit.

Worth a listen:
Catch the wind (1965)
Colours (1965)
Universal Soldier (1965)
Mellow Yellow (1965)
Sunshine Superman (1966)
Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968)
Goo goo Barabajagal (1969)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Ronnie Corbett (1930 -2016)

Born Ronald Balfour Corbett in 1930 in Edinburgh, the son of William Balfour Corbett, a master baker, and Annie Elizabeth (née Main) Corbett. Ronnie was the eldest of three children and attended the James Gillespie's High School and Royal High School in the city. He enjoyed amateur dramatics and at the age of 15, he starred in a pantomime at his local church youth club. When he left school he found employment as a clerk at the Ministry of Agriculture. Ronnie joined the Royal Airforce to complete his national service and in 1950 was commissioned into the secretarial branch of the RAF as a pilot officer (national service) at RAF Bridgnorth. At the time, Ronnie at 5 ft 1 in (1.55 m) tall was the shortest commissioned officer in the British Forces. On discharge from the forces he moved to London to start his acting career.

At first, Ronnie Corbett took work where he could and tread the board in various theatres as well as taking bit parts in TV and film. He performed on stage with Danny La Rue and soon attracted the attention of several top TV producers and executives who were impressed with his abilities as a stand-up comedian. By 1955, Ronnie had become a regular member of the Children’s TV teatime program, Crackerjack (BBC). Unlike most of his fellow cast members, Ronnie was quickly given a spotlight to showcase his own stand-up routines.

As a comedic actor, Ronnie Corbett’s appeared in small parts in many films including: You're Only Young Twice (1952) the hapless "Chumleigh" in Fun at St Fanny's (1955), and "Drooby" in Rockets Galore (1958). He also took bit parts in TV and appeared in an early episode of the Saber of London (The Vice) (1955) and the Saint (1962).

Ronnie Corbett served drinks at the Buckstone Club, London between acting jobs then in 1963 he got a starring role in the first London production of the musical The Boys from Syracuse (as Dromio of Syracuse) at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, alongside Bob Monkhouse. In 1965, he was in cabaret at Winston's, Danny La Rue's Mayfair nightclub, during which time he met and married Anne Hart. Then in 1965, he landed the role of Will Scarlett in Will Scarlett in Lionel Bart's Robin Hood musical Twang!!. Sadly, the musical failed after just, 43 performances and Ronnie found himself looking for work in 1966. David Frost was starting a new satirical TV program and had seen Ronnie performing stand-up at Danny La Rue’s club he was attracted to his size and quick wit. Over cucumber sandwiches at The Ritz David invited him to join the team of The Frost Report (1966–67) with the lanky, John Cleese, and amply proportioned, Ronnie Barker to perform a mixture of satirical monologues, sketches and music. The writers and cast were mostly Oxbridge graduates from the Footlights tradition. Corbett and Barker were drawn together as two grammar school boys who had not gone to university. As the show progressed, Corbett and Barker were drawn together and a natural pair for later partnership.

Following the Frost Report, Ronnie Corbett starred in “No – That's Me Over Here!”, a sitcom written by Frost Report writers Barry Cryer, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle (ITV 1967–70). Cryer and Chapman wrote two follow-ups: Now Look Here (BBC 1971–73) and The Prince of Denmark (BBC 1974). Ronnie also took time to appear as "Polo" in the spoof Bond film, Casino Royale (1967) and continued in television with appearances in Frost on Sunday (ITV 1968) as well as hosting The Corbett Follies (ITV 1969). More film work followed with Some Will, Some Won't (1970). Then in 1971 Barker asked him to star in the comedy sketch series The Ronnie Barker Yearbook (1971). As well as being a wonderful comedy actor Ronnie Corbett was also an accomplished after dinner speaker and very funny stand-up comedian. These talents came into play when Barker and Corbett were asked to fill in a few minutes during a technical hitch at an awards ceremony. Amongst the audience was Sir Paul Fox, the then Controller of BBC One who was so impressed by the duo that they were subsequently given their own show by the BBC.

The Two Ronnies (BBC) saw a comedic coupling of matching tastes and styles which ran from 1971 to 1987. It was a marriage made in comedy heaven when Barker and Corbett took part in musical performances and sketches. They quickly became primetime viewing and were only rivalled by Morecambe and Wise. The programme won a Bafta in 1972 for best light entertainment performance and was staple viewing for much of the UK audience on a Saturday night, with more than 17 million viewers. Much of the success was due to the array of great writers behind the sketches, including Ronnie Barker (under the 'Gerald Wiley' pseudonym). These were not only ridiculously funny but also brought with them fantastic wordplay. Barker excelled with his lexiconic brilliance and when Corbett was on his own he specialised in long, rambling jokes delivered from an outsize armchair with his legs dangling in the air. He was usually wearing a Lyle & Scott golfing V-neck sweater.

During the filming of the "Two Ronnies" Ronnie Corbett found time to branch off into a whole host of other projects as did Ronnie Barker. The wee man appeared in the film version of the farce No Sex Please, We're British (1973); as well as more TV with The Ronnie Corbett Special (1979). In 1979, both he and Ronnie Barker took their families to Australia for a year for job opportunities and starred in a series of The Two Ronnies in Australia (Channel 9).

In 1981 Ronnie Corbett’s best role away from The Two Ronnies was in the sitcom Sorry! (1981 – 88) in which he played the 40-something Timothy Lumsden, dominated by his mother and written by Ian Davidson and Peter Vincent. Following Barker's retirement in 1987, Corbett had a number of roles in the theatre, including The Seven Year Itch, Out of Order and The Dressmaker, while he also took guest roles on TV and in film.

The versatile comedian hosted the BBC One game show Small Talk for two years from 1994-96. He also appeared on the première of the short-lived BBC game show Full Swing, hosted by Jimmy Tarbuck (1996). More film parts followed with Fierce Creatures (1997), and Timbuctoo (1998). In 2005, Corbett reunited with Barker to present a special six-part series looking back at their favorite moments from the "Two Ronnies". In the same year Ronnie Corbett appeared with comedian Peter Kay in the spoof music video for the number one single "Is This the Way to Amarillo?", in which the song, originally by Tony Christie, was mimed, to raise money for Comic Relief. Corbett is remembered for accidentally falling on the treadmill that was out of shot in the green screen video; however, he found the fall funny when played back, and it was kept in the final version.

Ronnie Corbett won a swag of new fans when he played a hyper-realised version of himself in Extras, caught taking drugs at the BAFTA Awards (2006). Then later he appeared as himself in Little Britain Abroad, in which Bubbles DeVere tried successfully to seduce him. In 2010, he reunited with Ian Davidson and Peter Vincent in the BBC Radio 4 series radio series When The Dog Dies and in the same year appeared in Burke & Hare as Capt. Tom McLintock. Already an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Corbett was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2012 New Year Honours for services to charity and the entertainment industry.

The much loved comic actor and popular entertainer died in 2016 at the age of 85.