I started to learn to play guitar in the
mid 50's. (1950's that is!). It was at the start of the Rock
and Roll revolution and everyone wanted to be an Elvis or
Buddy Holly. My preference was slightly different. I was a
Folk and Blues fan and the advent of Skiffle was just what
I needed. It really amazed me how many and varied songs you
could play when you only knew three chords..... It still does!
With my three chords well practiced, (D,G
and A7) I got myself into a small group playing the skiffle
tunes of Lonnie Donegan, The Spinners, Chas McDivett and various
other forgettable groups. We played all the expected places...
Deserted lockups, backyards and Church halls. We were not
the most successful group around but during my spell with
"Jimmy and the Boys" I increased my chord output
to six chords. This included the key of G. This put me amongst
the elite guitar players of that time. Even Eric Clapton didn't
know any more then.
When on Holiday in Whitley Bay, near Newcastle,
England, I met up with a group of local lads and we formed
a Skiffle come Folk group. There were three of us, Myself
on guitar, Tony Leithhead on Teachest bass and Tom on banjo.
It was with this group that I played my first paying gig.
For our three hour stint in a Hotel in North Shields we were
paid the grand sum of 12 bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale. It
went down a treat! We had a varied repertoire consisting of
the very latest in Skiffle, a touch of Scottish Folk which
I was beginning to get into and some local Geordie material
provided by Tony. We did very well in places like the Backworth
Miners Club and the Robin Hood Inn. I can even remember getting
paid in money! (But not very often).
After a couple of Summer holidays and a few
long weekends with Tony and the crowd I found that my preferences
were again changing. The folk boom of the sixties was just
starting and the Bob Dylan era was about to begin. I found
the Glasgow Folk Club up a dingy close near George Square
and started frequenting it on a regular basis. Some of the
people who were to become the backbone of the Scottish Folk
scene were, like myself, just starting out. I struck up a
particular friendship with a young fellow by the name of Hamish
Imlach. Hamish would have been about 19 at that time although
he was the same shape as he remained for the rest of his life....Rotund.
He was known amongst his friends as the Humpty Dumpty of Folk
Music. The Club was run by a fellow named Allan Moyes and
we all got on great together. More of the Glasgow Folk Club
It has always been a problem for me that
I am such a popular person. It soon became obvious to me that
my popularity had got out of hand. The Queen was sending me
official letters imploring me to be a part of her personal
bodyguard. In these days we called it National Service. This
put an end to my sojourn with the Glasgow Folk Club for a
couple of years.
I had a lucky break in that I was eventually
posted the the farthest north island in the British Isles,
Unst. This is the Northernmost island of the Shetland Islands.
In RAF Saxa Vord we had our own radio station which broadcast
to the camp and most of the island. As the only musician in
the camp I was made Musical Director of Radio Saxa Vord. This
did not increase my RAF pay of forty-two shillings but did
give me a great excuse to avoid some tedious duties. During
this time I started writing songs. We had a programme which
we ran each night, something like Cliff Michelmore's Tonight
programme which ran on the BBC for years, in this I had to
invent a topical song to start off the programme. This did
get me into some little bits of bother as, truth to tell,
officers don't like being told the truth.... even in song.
(I have still got some of the original scribbles of these
At local dances in Unst the band comprises
of anyone willing to get up and join in the music. The band
would be made up from a floating pool of Accordionists, Guitarists,
Pianists and all the other ists you can think of, plus the
most magnificent array of Fiddlers I have ever come across.
I was lucky to be able to play at many of these dances and
have never forgotten the experience. Singing and playing at
these concerts and on Saxa Vord Radio were a great help to
the development of my performing ability. My liking for all
kinds of folk music developed during this time and I was able
to add a few Shetland songs to my repertoire.
But all good things come to an end and eventually
my National service came to an end and I returned home to