Friday, 20 November 2015

Britain is a country and Scotland a nation which say "Farewell" to a scarce old, radio producer called Stuart Cruickshank

Stewart, who worked tirelessly as a radio producer for the BBC for the best part of 35 years and did much to heighten the profile of folk and related music, gave many young bands their first airtime, was held in esteem and with affection by musicians and listeners alike and never lost his boyhood enthusiasm for all things music, has died at the age of 64.

What you possibly didn't know about Stewart, that he :
* was born in 1951 in Edinburgh to a mother who had won medals competing in 'Co-operative Society Singing Competitions' and stimulated his early interest in music to which he listened, when the fitful reception permitted, on Radio Luxembourg under the bedsheets at night and at the age of 11 attended the Trinity Academy, a grammar school in Edinburgh where he met his longtime pal, 'Will Smarties' and found they had a shared interest in Dinky Toys, Meccano and music.

* recalled that : 'In those days you could only afford to buy a single or an album once in a blue moon. But it was the era where, if you bought a record, you used to wander about self-consciously with it under your arm, like a badge of honour. School uniform was sacrosanct, so the only way you could show your individuality was carrying the record' and in his case walked about with the first record he bought, the Beatles 'Twist and Shout' EP.

* recalled that, on the occasion of the Beatles first visit to Edinburgh at the ABC Cinema in 1963, when he was 12, where he had been taken to see a number of bands on package tours by his parents indulging his love of rock and roll but where it was the Beatles who captured his heart and sent it racing.

* remembered it being : 'viscerally exciting because you knew you were part of a special moment and at the same time you felt you shouldn't be part of it. It was like sneaking into an X-rated movie, or going to the pub when you're under age. When they came on the stage, I never heard so much noise in my life. I don't think I was bothered though. You had the records if you wanted to hear the Beatles.'
* recalled that, at the age of 13 in 1964, he had heard George Gallacher (left) sing 'the eerily beautiful 'Now We’re Thru’ which marked 'the beginning of a life-long adventure in reverberation' and in the early 60s favoured 'The Yard Birds', 'The Kinks' and 'The Byrds', sported Curzon shirts and kipper ties.

* was 16 when he picked up John Peel's 'Perfumed Garden' on pirate, Radio London in its last days before it was closed down by the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act in 1967 and found the programme’s eclectic mix of everything from 'Pink Floyd' and 'Grateful Dead' to 'Marc Bolan' and 'Bert Jansch' left their mark on him, in what he later described as  “a big defining moment" in his musical development.

* from 1969 started to visit 'Bruce's Record Shop' launched by the brothers Bruce and Brian Findlay in Rose Street. Edinburgh, which specialised in US imports and underground rock and was famous for its red carrier bags with the legend “I Found It At Bruce’s” :

* having passed his 'A' Level exams in 1969, took himself off with his guitar and Wilf, with whom he'd been playing since 1966, to Woodbridge in East Anglia and playing rhythm as 'Gilmore Wines' jokingly named after a local licence, formed 'Mowgli and the Donuts' having picked up Keith Rae on bass guitar at a university jam session and as 'Gilmore' was reported in the Ipswich Evening News in 1973 as saying : "Music needs a shot in the arm because it's become stagnant. People are too involved with electrical components instead of guitar strings" and contemporary music was "generally retrogressive" and contained "very little magic or atmosphere."

* posed for the paper at the age of 22 in a hat as 'rhythm' with Thorov to the left as 'road manager and mixer' and to the right Nick Jones, 'drums', his pal Wilfred Smarties as 'lead' and Keith Rae on 'bass' and recalled : “We lived in East Anglia and we were never famous, but we did loads of gigs, large and small."

* moved back to Edinburgh in 1977 undertake his undergraduate University studies in Economics and Economic History while Wilf got to work on his Phd in Chemistry, while continuing his association with the band and undertook experimental music where "Wizard used to support us at Tiffany’s" and the 'Theatre Workshop' with Wilf stating at the time : "A large part of our set comprises short, sharp numbers and bursts into controlled improvisation. We like to base our playing on the audience."

* performed his last gig with the band in 1980 and having graduated from University and picked up an additional qualification in 'Librarianship', turned up, at the age of 29, at BBC Scotland’s Queen Margaret Drive Headquarters in Glasgow’s West End, to undertake a trial as a 'gramphone librarian' and later reflected that : “As ever in life there was a certain element of coincidence. I was there initially for one week and it led to me working in broadcasting for the best part of 35 years. You work your way to becoming a producer then a senior producer and the way you do it is to learn and learn and I’ve never stopped learning, not just about music but about how radio can be put together.”

* learnt the ropes as a 'recorded music librarian' alongside producing 'Radio Scotland’s Top 40' and researching for the 'Ken Bruce Show' and by the mid 1980s produced radio documentaries : 'Beatstalking', a history of Scottish rock music presented by Muriel Gray and 'Street Fighting Years', profiling 'Simple Minds' and went on to found and co-produce the long-running indie rock show 'Beat Patrol' and presented it with Sandy Semeonoff and Peter Easton and like them, in his own time, with a third of every show devoted to Scottish bands and gained acclaim by giving early airplay to 'Belle and Sebastian', 'The BMX Bandits', 'The Bachelor Pad' and 'Baby Lemonade' and in the process built up a loyal listenership.

* in addition, produced sessions with 'The Delgados' and 'Bis' and went on, with Rab Noakes and Donald MacInnes, to create Radio Scotland’s 'Be-Bop to Hip-Hop Jazz Pogramme,'  'Original Masters' with John Cavanagh and pilot the series, 'Celtic Connections' from which Glasgow’s Winter Festival took its name and handled the challenge of  broadcasting 'T in the Park', the major Scottish music festival, held annually since 1994, named after its sponsor, the brewing company Tennents, originally providing for the thousands of campers at Strathclyde Park, Lanarkshire, then, from 1997, the disused Balado Airfield, Kinross-shire.

* became involved in his old hero, John Peel's first radio sessions in Scotland and with the long-running 'Travelling Folk' and especially 'Iain Anderson's Show' and along the way introduced Ricky Ross, Roddy Hart and Karine Polwart to the niceties of radio presenting.

* had also worked on a  BBC Radio 2 series covering 'Ray Davies', 'The Sex
Pistols' and 'The Who' and spent time in California and New York compiling shows which were subsequently networked globally, interviewing Jackson Browne and Lou Reed with whom he spent two days, recalled by producer John Cavanagh as : "the people who commissioned that on Radio 2 said "Oh, we've got our big boys and they can't get anything out of Lou Reed and this little guy from Scotland will never do it" and Stewart went there, started talking to him about Do-Wop and radio stations and they hit it off like a house of fire."

* at the age 48 in 1999, produced a programme about the album 'Deserters’ Songs' by the US rock band 'Mercury Rev,' which won a 'Gold Disc' and was senior producer for 'Music Live 2000' from Shetland and in 2001 was conferred a 'Fellowship of the Royal Society of the Arts' for his 'Contribution to UK Music Radio' and in the same year had George Gallagher and Fraser Watson sing on the occasion of his 50th birthday and reflected, on the occasion of  George's passing in 2012 : 'The application of eloquence and economy in language: George Gallacher. Not for nothing did Andrew Loog Oldham sign The Poets.'

* during 'Celtic Connections 2011', was in discussion with Iain Anderson and Rab Noakes on the subject of the influence of Scottish and Irish traditional music on Bob Dylan and began the programme with a well-researched an erudite analysis of possible Scottish influences on Dylan in his youth : "I've been lucky in my career because I'm a radio producer and I've become friends with and I've worked with many of the people who know Dylan. I don't know Dylan himself, I've never met him, but the people that I do know pretty well like Roger McQuinn, Judy Collins, Eric Andersen, Tom Paxton and many, many others and they would all attest to the fact that Dylan was voracious in his appetite for music. He wanted to drink it in and that included Scottish music."

* left BBC Scotland in 2006, but continued to co-produce the 'Iain Anderson Show', in association with the production company Bees Nees and finally retired at the age of 64 last October and reflected : “I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been honoured to showcase tens of thousands of hours of dazzling musical talent on radio, from Scotland and way, way beyond. It began and will continue with them.”

* in 2011 attended the launch of Arne Bellstorf's novel, 'Baby's in Black' at the Library of the Goethe-Institut, Glasgow, based on the author's conversations with photographer and artist Astrid Kircherr and participated in the discussion focussed on the Hamburg subculture of the early 1960's with those attending the free event invited 'to join us after the reception for a “swally” as we carry on the evening at a nearby venue with Stewart Cruickshank, where he’ll be playing Beatles tunes and more from the DJ booth.' 

* also in 2011, gave his opinion to 'Public Radio International', of the importance and influence of Bert Jansch, on the occasion of his death at the age of 67.

* in 2013  at the age of 72, returned to where he started with the 'Mowgli Project' and the reformation of 'Mowgli and the Donuts' spent a week in a cottage in deepest Derbyshire , converted by Wilf Smarties into a recording studio and along with him, Keith Froude and Iain Veitch, made music :
Mowgli Christmas

The Wheels on the Bus

Help File Rag

Indian Summer

* in July 2015 in the 'Herald Scotland', delivered his critique of Government plans for the Future of the BBC in an article entitled 'BBC Green Paper threatens privatisation by stealth'  and stated : 'I agree there isn't a lot to my taste on BBC One. I can happily live, and do, without The Voice, Strictly et al. And, yes, I'll throw the radio or TV or whatever out the window in response to perceived "bias" in its news content. But that's not the point. Mr Whittingdale's agenda is intentionally designed to, yet again, leave the BBC stuck between a rock and a hard place.'

* continued : 'Funding trashed. End of public service broadcasting. The next move would be to give us the option to pay to not receive adverts on the BBC. Perish the thought' but thought it was a good idea to 'shed the layers of pseudo management which clog up the BBC system and re-channel public money into the talents who produce the content' and had kept up 'with ongoing developments for BBC Radio in this public/private sector hybrid' and concluded : 'It is still one of the world's largest brands - and about to expand. It costs relative buttons, but radio always will be the BBC's greatest international ambassador. Mr Whittingdale, please take note.'

* had his passing commemorated on BBC Radio Scotland in 'Remembering Stewart Cruickshank' with John Beattie joined by journalist and broadcaster Siobhan Sinnott, the music producer John Cavanagh and musician Roddy Hart who was in some ways discovered by him and said : "He loved to talk music. He had time for everybody and he was in many ways a renegade at the heart of the BBC, because I think he saw himself as a rock and roller. He came from music, he played music, he knew what it was like to be out there gigging every night, putting yourself out there as an artist at whatever level and that element of being a renegade was why he connected with so many musicians and why they responded to him so brilliantly."

* Roddy continued : "He had an absolute undeniable magic and he was a metaphorical as well as a literal 'arm around the shoulder' to artists, but also to cultivating talent. He did it with me, with the radio. I had no clue when I started putting together a radio show, about presenting. Stewart was amazing at just being able to choose his moment to say : "Don't worry about what other people think. What you are is important" and he did that with music and musicians across the board. Not just in Scotland but to many people that he met."

and concluded :  
"He wasn't afraid to approach musicians and talk to them on their level, because he realised at the end of the day all musicians are music fans. That's why they do it in the first place and that's the place Stewart Cruickshank came from and that's why he was so important to Scottish music."

What better epitaph might an old music show radio   producer have ?

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