1) The wireless

THERE is no minimising the significance of the radio as a major force in my entire existence. Rather than change my life, it woke it up and pointed it in a direction which would become unstoppable.

The wireless set was rather a large piece of furniture with an accumulator by its side. That’s a battery of sorts which needed topping up with distilled water from time to time.

It gave a sense of a wider world out there, underpinned by the row of exotic names on the tuning dial. One name that leapt out was the producer of Journey Into Space, Charles Chilton. It’s a great name and provoked the question: ‘‘What’s a producer?’’ The key stations were the BBC Light Programme and the Scottish Home Service. The more engaging music to emerge was in songs by Robert Wilson, including A Gordon For Me. The Light Programme provided such riches as Allentown Jail by Jo Stafford. I always loved the clever novelty songs too, like There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly by Burl Ives.

The radio provided a mass of interesting information in itself, then in the tangents off the interesting things I engaged with.

2) The Guisers

AT Halloween 1950, in our two-roomed flat on Short Lane in Cupar, Fife, a young brother and sister were out guising and came to our door.

In burn-cork, pre-correctness ‘‘Blackface’’ they gave a spirited rendition of Buttons And Bows, from the movie Paleface, performed by Bob Hope and Jane Russell. What I remember most is the fact the guisers gave some gusto to their rendition. There was thigh-slapping and committed singing going on.

Both Mum and Dad sang around the house. Mum was a really good singer and had broadcast on the BBC at least once. Unwanted male advances, of the hand-on-the knee variety, deterred her from following that further.

The enthusiasm of the guisers let me glimpse what could be done with a song in performance. In time violin lessons provided some basic techniques which informed my ongoing relationship with the guitar.

Engagement with performance was enhanced by seminal occasions such as Buddy Holly on ITV’s Palladium show in 1958, The Rolling Stones at Barrowland in 1964, The Johnny Cash Show in London in 1968, Bob Dylan’s Street Legal Tour in 1978, Beck in 1997 and many more.

As a result, I’ve now been performing professionally and making records for 50 years. Music ’n’ song remain at the heart of my creative activities.

3) A Corduroy Suit

AROUND 1952/53 brother Alan and I were taken by bus to Newport-on-Tay then the ferry (aka The Fifie) to Dundee on a clothing expedition.

Alan’s 16 months younger than me and, by this time, we were treated to certain things at the same time. In Marks & Spencer we were attired in matching corduroy suits. They were pale grey with short trousers. The jacket was a patch-pocket jerkin.

The significance is in how it had an internal presence. It just felt so good to look good and moved clothing to a whole new place for me. I was brought up in the working-class culture which demands you aspire to always look your best in public.

4) Significant spinsters

THE word spinster is used here in its original literal sense, free of its derogatory use.

The first is Miss Neilson, who ran a singing class in Cupar and – as I was seldom without a song going on, out loud or in my head – I was directed toward this. At six years old this provided the platform for my first public performance. My song was Westering Home, probably learned from hearing a recording by the aforementioned Robert Wilson (above).

Later, I was always game for a song at Chrismas parties. In 1956 it was Mary’s Boy Child, a hit by the great Harry Belafonte. As I performed the song some of the mothers sitting near the stage had a tear rolling down a cheek. I do remember thinking that wasn’t such a bad thing to be able to do. The other spinster was Miss Gray, my final primary school teacher. Her methods were amicable but underpinned by a firmness which never let us forget that learning is valuable.

This leads me to the perennial subject of role models. I hear all too often of the need for examples who are male for boys and female for women. I don’t buy it. Mine often are, and have been, women.

5) In praise of public housing

In 1955 we moved into a brand-new, three-bedroomed, semi-detached council house in Upper Dalgairn, Cupar, finally a scheme of about 100.

A great sense of equality prevailed. There were lots of families like us with Dad the breadwinner, often a public servant, and Mum at home.

There were loads of kids and before many mums, including mine, went to work there was always somebody looking out for us.

We played out whenever we could. There were hardly any cars, we walked or cycled everywhere. Our supervision was remote and unseen, but effective. I learned politeness. We were taught to do our allocated housework chores at home and when somebody feeds you to show proper appreciation.

6) And then there was Elvis

DURING the 1950s we were becoming more exposed to popular cultures from the US alongside the more local creations. For me that meant more and more songs.

To 1957 and an incident at my local record shop, JA Stewart’s on Lady Wynd. It was really a bike shop which also sold electrical goods. A box in the corner was the record store.

I recall, at nine years old, seeing an astonishingly engaging photograph in there of Elvis Presley. The one in a baggy suit on tiptoes with the leather-clad guitar round his neck.

Simultaneously, the sound of his All Shook Up was coming toward me. I stood there mesmerised by this two-pronged fireball. I wanted to look like that, I wanted to sound like that, I wanted to be like that.

It may well be the most significant thing ever to happen to me. Later in 1957 our maternal grandad Ogilvie, who was staying with us at the time, took Alan and me to the cinema to see Loving You.

As my time at Castlehill Primary came to an end I formed a skiffle group and, bashing a borrowed tin guitar, we performed Teddy Bear for the classes. All this forms the heartland of my baby-boomer existence, a rock ’n’ roll lifespan with all its riches.

7) Off out into the world 

A COMBINATION of elements conspired to render my secondary school experience something of a car crash, academically at least.

From reasonable promise at primary to passing my 11-plus (the Qualy) it all went downhill and I left at 16 and went to work in Glasgow.

I loved being in Glasgow and do now. I didn’t much like the clerical work I’d signed up for but I didn’t mind work in principle. As a schoolboy I’d pretty much always worked. At one time I had milk’ n’ rolls in the early morning, groceries after school and a Sunday paper-round.

It probably didn’t help my attention at Bell Baxter but it did give me knowledge of the value of work.

I do like my hometown and enjoyed growing up there. I had to leave to get out when the wider world’s potential interest and excitement beckoned.

Glasgow eventually, in 1966, became London and more worlds opened up. Gradually my main activity and income stream was music ’n’ song and included such highlights as making records in the US.

Perhaps, though, the most relevant part of this tale is the fact that, in 1964, at 17 years old, I became the same civil service grade as my dad. It was his life’s work yet merely a means to an end to me.

8) Goodbye booze, hello again radio

MY younger years were punctuated by an inquisitive nature and a penchant for, shall we say, experimentation. I tried most things and thankfully avoided getting hung-up anywhere.

The alcohol proved different as its presence bit harder. There’s a song by Charlie Poole called Goodbye Booze which contains the line ‘‘We had a good time but we couldn’t agree’’. That’s my allegiance.

I finally gave up alcohol in 1982 and haven’t knowingly touched a drop since. The arc of any career in music ’n’ song has its low points and, in my case, radio was a saviour.

In 1982 Richard Park invited me to present a couple of radio shows on Clyde. This set in chain a sequence of events which resulted in a successful application for a producer post at the BBC. In January 1987 I started in Manchester in the Network Radio – Popular Music department.

In 1988 I started an attachment at BBC Radio Scotland as senior producer, topical and entertainment. This became the head of entertainment position in 1989. I achieved an eight-year long, stimulating spell at the BBC (right). The experience of being a 40-year-old working-class, non-graduate, relatively senior BBC employee was an unmissable and rewarding thing.

None of that would have occurred if the drinking hadn’t been tackled.

9) Fresh company, welcome or otherwise

SOMETIMES the most important things happen in the least expected ways. In 1988 I went from Manchester to London to attend a meeting at Radio 2 which, unbeknowns to me, had been cancelled. Frances Line encouraged me to attend an Equalities event at Broadcasting House.

I went along and, as I walked into the chamber, I had an eyes-across-the-room encounter with Stephy Pordage (below). We’ve been married now for 22 years. Together we’ve run a media production company and engaged in a range of creative activities.

We’ve also endured unwelcome things including my diagnosis of cancer and hers of Parkinson’s, each in 2015. Our lovingly rewarding life together goes on and on.

10) Who you get to know

I THINK of myself as fortunate to be at ease in the company of a range of people and situations. I’m also at ease in my own company. I did, though, grow up hearing the phrase, ‘‘It’s not what you know, but who you know in this world’’. This was always presented in a finger-pointing way at people considered as privileged.

I came up with a phrase some years later: ‘‘It’s not who you know but who you get to know’’. So, without being a horrible ambition-at-all-costs climber, I have found over the years that a wide scope of transactional relationships helps create a healthy mixture of both friendships and opportunities.

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