Invaluable Curators of Scottish Music
PLUS Biography (Courtesy of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).
It has always struck me as more than a little ironic that, since the Corries'
demise with Roy Williamson's untimely passing in 1990, the average person's
introduction to this venerable folk institution should be through
tartan-bedecked, lion rampant-wearing hordes at football and rugby matches
bawling Flower of Scotland.
The elevation of a Corries song to unofficial Scottish national anthem is no
less than the group deserved for the determined, spirited and invaluable way
in which, over three decades, they contributed to the curatorship of Scottish
However, my recollection of the Corries singing Flower of Scotland has none
of the belligerence or nationalistic bombast with which it has now come to be
associated. Rather, there was a thoughtfulness, an almost wistful awareness
of the cost in lives and bloodshed involved in the barbarity of middle ages
warfare. A dignified, quiet awe for their forebears' achievements in battle.
Not that the Corries didn't embrace Scottish Nationalism. Formed in 1961 as
the Corrie Folk Trio by multi-instrumentalist Williamson and guitarists
Ronnie Browne and Bill Smith, the Corries were right on hand to surf the
optimistic waves generated in the wake of Winnie Ewing's winning of a seat at
Westminster for the Scottish National Party in the Hamilton by-election of
By this time the Corries had gone through two significant personnel changes.
Firstly, to the original threesome had been added sweet-voiced Paddie Bell,
who joined in time for the album Promise of the Day, recorded under the name
of The Corrie Folk Trio with Paddie Bell for Waverley Records, the
Edinburgh-based wing of mighty EMI, in 1965.
Although long enough to establish her with an enduring reputation and huge
goodwill on the Scottish folk scene, Bell's stay was relatively short-lived
as her singing career faded with an addiction to prescribed drugs, a sad
indictment of the medical profession from which she only managed to break
free and resume singing again around the time of Roy Williamson's death.
Today, with support from figures such as Ian McCalman of the evergreen
McCalmans, she is again recording and is an active, popular and still
sweet-voiced participant in concerts and informal sessions.
Shortly after Bell's departure, initially to pursue a solo career, Smith,
too, called it a day, leaving Williamson and Browne in possession of a name
which they swiftly truncated to the Corries.
With SNP membership and interest in Scotland's own music flourishing, their
singing of Jacobite songs and celebration of heroic acts of derring-do became
increasingly popular. By the end of the 1960s they were touring - and filling
- Scotland's largest theatres, their popularity spreading to countries much
further beyond where expatriate Scots gathered. They were also appearing in
their own regular television series, their trademark leather waistcoats and
flouncy white shirts as widely recognised as their lusty singing of songs
such as Will Ye Go Lassie Go and Kishmul's Galley.
There was more, much more, to the Corries than pleasing foot-stamping,
proudly Scottish full houses, however.
They were innovators in song arrangements and instrumentation - how many
people caught their first glimpse of a bodhran thanks to the Corries'
atmospheric rumbling behind I Will Go et al? They were international in their
musical appreciation. Christy Moore, for example, fondly remembers appearing
on his first Corries television programme alongside Spanish guitarist Paco de
Their repertoire at the time of their hugely popular Corries in Concert LP -
possibly THE folk release of 1969 - included Cyril Tawney's nautical blues
Sally Free and Easy, humorous songs such as Granny's in the Cellar and Sydney
Carter's Lord of the Dance, which the Corries made their own and were partly
responsible for its acceptance into the mainstream church repertoire, not to
mention its regular appearance on television's Songs of Praise. And for many
an impressionable listener, they were history teachers, encouraging far more
homework and reading up on the key battles and characters than school lessons
On top of all that, they were extraordinarily creative. Roy Williamson was
not only a fine writer of songs, of which Flower of Scotland is undoubtedly
now the best known, he was also a highly skilled craftsman, adding to their
array of guitars, mandolins, bodhrans, kazoos, whistles, concertinas and
harmonicas his own hand-made combolins.
These impressive instruments, combining guitar with, variously, mandolin,
bandurria, added bass strings and sympathetic strings - an idea borrowed from
the Indian sitar, were brilliantly showcased on the Corries 1971 release
Strings & Things, an album whose depth and imagination remains thoroughly
impressive even in light of the astonishing developments and forward strides
traditional music has made in the ensuring thirty years.
A small but perhaps significant point about the combolins is that when jazz
guitarist John McLaughlin delved into Indian music with Shakti some years
after Strings & Things' release, he had his guitar customised to include
sympathetic strings (strings which sound in sympathy with plucked strings
without being struck themselves). So, the Corries were ahead of their time
They were also ahead of their time in business. Before the 1970s punk rock
explosion created a climate for independent record labels as the norm, the
Corries were releasing their own recordings through their own Pan Audio
studio and label facility. Of these, the four volume Corries Live series
particularly reinforced their enduring appeal with massive sales.
Corries concerts were often riotous. Their rapport with their audience was
magnificent to behold, shrinking those large theatres seating thousands into
something like the living room atmosphere they created for their intimate
As much fun as they were live - a genuine sense of enjoyment that they
combined with an unfailing and admirable professionalism, it is however
through their studio recordings that the Corries' contribution to Scottish
music shines strongest.
The series of LPs which they recorded for EMI's Columbia label in the 1970s,
beginning with Strings & Things and continuing through Sound the Pibroch and
A Little of What You Fancy, and the later Pan Audio recordings such as Peat
Fire Flame capture them at their creative, imaginative and sensitive best,
although such was the level of perfectionism that Williamson and Browne
brought to their work that there are few, if any, weak spots in the Corries
Through thousands of concert appearances and years of constant work, the pair
grew to seem inseparable, and when Williamson succumbed to cancer after a
long battle at the tragically young age of fifty-three in 1990, the Corries
were no more. Ronnie Browne, in between painting successfully - his portraits
of Scottish rugby teams have been particularly well received, has kept the
spirit alive through solo concerts and his efforts to establish his friend's
Flower of Scotland as Scotland's official national anthem. He is, though, now
a former Corrie, not a surviving Corrie - in musical terms at least, Corries
only came in pairs.
c. Liz More, July 2001.
The Corries Biography (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).
The Corries were a Scottish folk group which emerged from the Scottish folk revival of the early 1960s. Although the group went through several changes of line-up in the early days, it was as the partnership of Roy Williamson and Ronnie Browne that it is best known. Perceived by some as sell-outs who sold a romanticised version of Scottish kitsch, others argue that their success paved the way for later folk artists to become well known without having to endure the indignities of being draped in tartan and made into a parody of their own culture.
Roy Williamson was born in 1936 in Edinburgh. His mother played the piano. At school he learned to play the recorder by ear, pretending to read music. The teacher found out and banned him from music lessons. He went to Wester Elchies School, then Aberlour House and Gordonstoun in Moray. He taught seamanship and navigation at Burghead before going to Edinburgh College of Art. It was there that he met Ronnie Browne in 1955. The partnership lasted over thirty years.
Roy teamed up with Bill Smith and Ron Cockburn to form the "Corrie Folk Trio" in 1962. Their first performance was in the Waverley Bar in St Mary's Street, Edinburgh. After a few weeks Ron Cockburn left. They had already accepted an engagement at the Edinburgh Festival so Roy suggested that Ronnie Browne should be brought in to make up numbers. They also added female Irish singer Paddie Bell to become the "Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell". The audience was only eight people for the debut of this line-up but by the end of the festival it was house full at every performance. A corrie is a circular dip in a highland mountain. They chose it to evoke the Scottish landscape.
Within a year they appeared on television. Roy and Ronnie were art teachers, Bill was an architect and Paddie was a secretary. In 1964 they topped the bill at a show with The Dubliners at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. The BBC began a television series set in a folk club. The resident group at the "Hoot'nanny Show" was the Corrie Folk Trio. This meant they became full-time professionals. Within two years Paddie Bell and Bill Smith left. Roy was a talented multi-instrumentalist and Ronnie was the singer. They cancelled all engagements for a few months to practice intensively. Under the new name, "The Corries", they performed in Angus. The response encouraged them to continue.
Another BBC series "The White Heather Club" begin in 1965. It featured Andy Stewart, Jimmy Shand and his Band, Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor and the Corries. While the rest of the show was set in a studio, the Corries were filmed in location: sea songs were sung in a harbour, "The Battle of Killiecrankie" was sung at the Pass of Killiecrankie, and so on. They were effectively pioneers of the music video.
Roy was a skilled woodworker. In the summer of 1969 he combined a mandolin and a guitar into a single instrument which he dubbed the combolin. It was then possible to play guitar or mandolin and simultaneously use the thumb to pluck the bass lines. It had 28 strings, some of which were designed to resonate, in the same way as a sitar. He made another, slightly different one in the same summer. The Corries' next album Strings and Things (1970) was specifically designed to showcase the new instrument. Many consider it to be their best album. An instrument repairer, David Stinton, was sometimes asked to maintain the combolins, but he found them too difficult to play well. After Roy's death, Stinton was bequeathed the two combolins. He has since issued a CD of tunes played on them. It was two or three years before heavy metal guitarists adopted a similar tactic by using multi-neck guitars.
The early 1970s were the Corries' finest hour. They had several albums in the top 50 album charts in Scotland, and released their only single: - "Flower of Scotland" (1974). It was quickly adopted by supporters of rugby football. It is also heard at football matches, especially against the England national team. Their concerts frequently had the audience joining in with the chorus of songs, even without prompting. The Corries became closely identified with Jacobite songs, celebrating the final years of clan loyalty and military courage. In 1977, one of their best albums Peat Fire Flame was released. This saw a move towards love songs and celebrations of the landscape. They never achieved much acclaim outside Scotland, and even today are viewed as too populist to be classed alongside Ireland's Planxty or England's Martin Carthy.
As a young man, Roy Williamson played rugby for Edinburgh Wanderers. However, he suffered from asthma and before a series of concerts he would deliberately cease treatment in order to provoke attacks and gain temporary immunity. From 1987 Roy's health went into decline and he spent his last years living in Forres, close to where he spent his school years. He died in 1990.
Ronnie Browne has continued recording, and Paddie Bell also made albums. There have been very many "Best of" albums and recordings of live concerts.
You can listen to short samples from some of the tracks from this artist using the player below.
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