Tell us about your background
My background is one shared by many thousands of Glaswegians born in the 30’s and just after WW2. I was brought up in the Firhill district of Maryhill, born in a tenement on the bonnie banks of the Forth and Clyde canal, and within cheering distance of the home of Partick Thistle, a team I have followed since my mother first wheeled my pram across the “Nolly Brig”. At 11 years old we moved to the leafy lanes of suburban Hillington, and we revelled in the luxury of running hot water and an indoor toilet.
What was it like studying in Glasgow?
I started first year at Woodside Senior Secondary School, aged 11. Woodside had a thriving school orchestra and a thriving music department under a man who was to become one of the most influential men in my life, John Lockie.
I had started violin lessons at the RSAM under Robert W. Leven aged 8 in 1944. At 16 I became leader of the Glasgow School’s Symphony Orchestra, with whom I made my solo debut playing the Bach violin concerto in A minor under Ian Whyte, conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, who encouraged me to make music my career.
On leaving school I was awarded a scholarship to study full-time at the RSAM under the famed violinist and leader of Sir Thomas Beecham’s orchestra, Horace Fellowes.
How did your time at RSAM prepare you for the world of work?
Looking back, I was generally assured that if I put in the necessary work, I would succeed in the music profession, but I could have worked a little harder! I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a student and had a busy social life.
Twice I was chosen as soloist with the Academy orchestra and was co-leader with Douglas (Dougie) Reid, but I never felt really challenged. However, that was to come after I got my performer’s diploma and left the Academy because I had national service to come having been deferred for three years.
My next three years were spent, after 16 weeks of drill training, in the orchestra of HM Band of the Grenadier Guards, eventually becoming leader, following in the footsteps of famed violinists, Ralph Holmes and Hugh Bean.
What has been your most memorable moment from your career?
Memorable moments come thick and fast as your career gets under way.
I’ll never forget turning up late for a rehearsal with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Sir Malcolm Sargent was the conductor and he continued conducting as I tried to edge into my seat without being noticed, but just as got my fiddle under my chin, he suddenly stopped and motioned me to stand up. I was sure that my career was over almost before it began. The silence seemed to last forever, but at last he spoke, “I just wanted to say, that I hoped you didn’t mind us starting without you” and motioned me to sit down.
My greatest musical memorable moment was when I conducted Britten’s “War Requiem” in Bratislava with the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, soloists, and chorus, in May 1995, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the end of the war in Europe.
Is there anything that people might find surprising about you?
In a career as long and varied as mine, having conducted so many different orchestras in so many different countries, there must have been things about me that the musicians found surprising.
A member of one of the many German orchestras I conducted stood up during a break and said that the orchestra could understand me better than many of the other English conductors they’d had. I explained that the reason was quite simply that I wasn’t English but Scottish.
Any final points or words of wisdom?
Never stop learning. Keep your mind and ears open. Always perform to the very best of your ability and don’t let personal likes and dislikes interfere. Keep them to yourself, it is your ability your employer pays you for and remember that getting your diploma or degree is not the end it’s only the beginning.