by Hamish Colgan, Jim Johnstone & George McNeill
As readers will be aware Bobby is one of our guests of Honour at the Presentation Luncheon at the end of the month (June 2007). In true showbiz style Bobby was unwittingly inveigled into a ‘This is Your Life’ on 24th February 2002. Cleverly using his brother Hamish’s 54th birthday as a cover, his “so called friends”, Jim Johnstone and George McNeill, persuaded Bobby to get Hamish out of the Railway Inn for a couple of hours with a jaunt to North Berwick while they allegedly set up a surprise birthday party for him. The pair returned, Bobby having carried out his task faultlessly and even checking periodically on his mobile that everything at the Railway was on schedule, only to find that he was the one who had been duped.
“Bobby….you were born at 11 Northfield in Tranent on 2nd April 1937. Elsewhere the Spanish Civil War was being fought and the Hindenburg Airship exploded in flames killing 97 people on board. You were the first born son of three to Annie and Jimmy. To be honest Bobby, you weren’t the most beautiful baby in the world. Indeed Annie was the first mother in Scotland to have shutters fitted to a pram. She would often be seen pushing you down the High Street in Tranent. People would come up to the pram and say, “Oh Annie…….what a beautiful…….pram!”
1942 The Germans marched into Unoccupied France and Vera Lynn was singing We’ll Meet Again to the troops. That year you embarked upon your academic career when you were sent to Tranent Primary School. It was here that you were to spend three of the best years of your life……..in Primary One. It was here that you were to meet your new school pals, like Tommy Scott, Tommy Shaw, Tommy Ferguson and Abie Logan. It was also here that you were to meet someone who would become your lifelong best friend – Jim Johnstone.
Your Primary days at Tranent had a brief interruption when, at the age of seven, you were sent to Bamford School in England for four months when your gran was ill. It was possibly this experience in England that was to blame for that wonderful English accent you have spoken with since!
1944 The war was in its last stages. German General’s made an attempt on Hitler’s life and US troops entered Germany. The same year a star was born into the Colgan family – your brother Wilson.
Throughout your childhood you made friends, not only school friends but people such as Jimmy Baird, Sammy Strang and of course the Potter Sisters, Isobel and Jessie, with whom you were to spend many a memorable game of doctors and nurses.
These were great days – money was scarce, food was scarce and clothes were hard to come by. Indeed you were often fitted out in those days from the ex Army and Navy Stores. Yes Bobby, it wasn’t all that much fun having to go to school dressed as a Japanese General.
Holidays meant camping with your mates, such as Tommy Shaw and company. Luckily you were always the one excused from camp duties – your Japanese duties saw to that!
Primary School was a bit of a struggle, indeed at one point your teacher thought you might be a wee bit dyslexic – which was unheard of back then. She decides to put you through a series of tests – only to discover you were a wee bit stupid.
To be fair you did show a certain aptitude for mental arithmetic. Do you remember winning a prize in Primary 6 when you answered the question ‘What is 6 times 6?’ Your answer may have been 87 – but you were by far the nearest in the class!
School in those days meant sitting your Qualifying Exam in Primary 7 when you were aged 11. 1948 was the year when you were 11 and it was also the year when the third member of the Colgan family was born – your youngest brother Hamish.
It was the year of the Berlin airlift and the year Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in India.
With baby Hamish around it was little wonder you had no peace to study for your Quali! The ‘Quali’ meant that those getting an ‘A’ or ‘B’ pass would go to Preston Lodge whilst the rest would remain at Tranent Secondary or the ‘big’ school as it was called locally.
Sadly this means you were to be left in Tranent whilst your swotty mates Tommy Ferguson and Jim Johnstone would swan off to Prestonpans.
You were to remain at Tranent ‘big’ school for the next four years when eventually you would pass your ‘Quali’ – mind you with a little copying from your fellow classmates Abie Logan and Billy Baird!
Your time at Secondary School was nevertheless a happy one as we can see from the class photo – taken we think around 1st or 2nd year. We guess that the average age of your class at that time might have been around 33!
At the age of 13 you were to take on your first weekend job at Adam Potter’s farm – otherwise known locally as the ‘Boggle Hoose’.
Your duties would involve delivering milk around Tranent in pitchers hung from your bike, ‘a la Ingin Johnny’. Jim recalls you had to walk with the bike when you set out as it was so heavy.
You didn’t show too much interest in sport in those days, except in cycling. You were a very enthusiastic member of the Tranent Cycling Club which used to meet in the wooden hut at the back of Macari’s Ice Cream Parlour – that same hut where Jim Johnstone was to receive his first accordion lessons and behind which young brother Hamish was to lose his virginity!
The stalwarts of the Cycling Club were two brothers, Robert and Malcolm Copeland, who both had the latest ‘high tech’ multi-geared racing bikes. It was indeed therefore a most remarkable feat that you were able to keep apace with them on your bike – that same one that you used to deliver the milk! Neither wonder you were to suffer asthmatic attacks throughout your life!
Those were happy days with the Cycling Club. One particular memory was your tour of Youth Hostels in the Highlands when you not only managed to keep up with the Copelands, on your delivery bike with one brake and no gears, but did so whilst wearing a kilt throughout the whole tour.
1952 King George VI died…..Britain tested the first atomic bomb……….and Gene Kelly starred in ‘Singing in the Rain’.
Eventually you were to leave school in 1952 and go to work with A.M. Russell of Haddington as an apprentice engineer. Around this time too your friendship with Jim Johnstone develops and you become really close pals. The deadly duo were to start frequenting the dancing around the County – at such exotic places as East Salton, Pencaitland and Ormiston.
With the encouragement of your father’s cousin, Alex Dodds, you start to show an interest in playing the drums. You start a session with Jim playing accordion and you beating out a rhythm with a pair of drumsticks on your mother’s stair. Eventually you are to buy an old drum kit from Alex Dodds which leads to serious consideration about the possibility of starting up a band. Shortly after you are joined by another local lad – Willie Donaldson – and a new band was formed at the age of sixteen.
It was 1953 – Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on June 2nd and Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing conquered Everest for the first time.
You were, of course, still working for Russell’s in Haddington at this time and had formed a habit of going round to Knox Academy to check out the local talent (an old Colgan tradition that your young brother still carries on to this day!) It was during these visits to Knox that you come into contact with a young lass who is set to play a leading role in your life – your future wife Alison. Unfortunately after a couple of years at Russell’s you are paid off as a result of them scaling down their Haddington Branch. You then go to work for Stuart Brothers at Blinkbonny on the Longniddry Road still pursuing your aptitude for engineering.
1954……Billy Graham was preaching at Wembley ……Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile………and Bill Haley was ‘Rocking it Round the Clock’.
You were seventeen and the newly formed band are making their debut at the Co-operative Tearooms in Tranent to be followed by a second gig in the Village Hall, Garvald – which was convenient in your pursuit of the girl from Knox Academy!
1956……Britain was in crisis over the Suez Canal………..Dick McTaggart won Olympic Gold in Melbourne………and a young man by the name of Elvis Presley rocketed to fame at the age of 21 with songs like Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog and Love me Tender.
Bobby, you were to leave Stuart Bros in 1956 and at the age of nineteen you go to work at the Links Pit in Prestonpans. Up until this time you have also continued to work at the ‘Boggle Hoose’ in the evening and at weekends as the seasonal workload required.
Your work at the Links started on the ‘tables’ which basically involved breaking up stones with a mash hammer – very similar to work being carried out at ‘Sing Sing’ Penitentiary in America!
Eventually you are moved underground to become an oncost worker, assisting workers at the face. Do you remember the day you were deeply offended by the Stores Manager when you went to get a new pit helmet? He asked, “What size?” You told him 9 and a half and he said, “You’re sure it’s not a pair of pit boots you’re to get son?”
During this period at the Links you continued your drumming activities and had also started to sing a song or two.
If you needed to get up the pit early you would chew a piece of baccy which would make you sick, whereupon the fireman or gaffer would give you a line to go home.
You continued to play with the band until 1958 and even ran it for a time when Jim was called up for his National Service.
You then went on to join up with another box player for a while, your father’s cousin Doddy.
1958…..Elvis was drafted into the US army and sent to Germany and eight young Manchester United players were to lose their lives in the Munich Air Disaster.
On the personal front it was during this period from 1953-58 that your passionate romance with Alison was highly active. By your own admission, half the dry stane dykes in Garvald were flattened and turned to dust as a result of your over zealous attempts at love making. As Jim says, “Nothing has changed!”
It was also around this period that you were to come into contact with a drinking buddy of Alison’s brothers – a man who you are still great friends with today, Jimmy Renton.
1959….Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba and Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash in America.
In March of 1959 you are to do the decent thing when you marry Alison at Garvald Parish Church.
You were still working at the Links and as a result qualify to get a Coal Board house in Park Road, Tranent.
You settle into married life in Park Road and like most newly wed couples are set to make new friends. Two of them have remained true friends ever since – Shug and Patsie Christie.
The early sixties are exciting times for you, playing with the Jim Johnstone Broadcasting Band and sometimes doing the occasional gig with Andrew Rankine, standing in for their regular drummer who couldn’t make it. He has since become a great friend – Billy Thom.
Eventually you are to join up with the Andrew Rankine Band as a regular member.
The early sixties saw the advent of the pill…….the Communists built a wall dividing Berlin……and the world held its breath when President Kennedy threatened to stop missile-carrying Russian ships reaching Cuba.
It was during this period too that you do your first broadcast with the legendary Jimmy Shand, deputising for Owen McCabe.
Unfortunately Andrew Rankine decided, for his own reasons, to re-locate to Whitley Bay which led to Jim starting up his own band again. The band is to make their first broadcast in 1963.
During this period you are to go to work driving for William Baxter and Son of Tranent, the son being affectionately known as Dod. You strike up a great relationship with Dod who thinks the world of you.
Do you remember the first three weeks in the job? The ‘transmission’ of your lorry completely collapsed, followed by the gear box and then the clutch and finally the back axle fell apart, one by one.
You were a wee bit worried by the sequence of events and asked Jim (who was a mechanic with Baxter’s at the time), “Has Dod said anything about the lorry?”
“Aye” Jim replied, “He thinks you should maybe get a lighter pair o’ bits” at which point Alison piped up, “We canna afford another pair…..they yins are only twa weeks auld”. Yes, humour did not come quite as easily to Alison as it did to Bobby.
1965…..Winston Churchill died, the Vietnam War had escalated ……and the Beatles were being awarded MBEs.
It was a special year for you and Alison with the birth of a beautiful daughter, your first born child Shirley.
On seeing Shirley for the first time you were to say, “She’s braw Alison……are you awright?” To which Alison replied, “Aye, but I’ve had to have twelve stitches”. You came back with a typical reply “Jesus Christ Alison – there’s only fower in a tattie bag”.
1966 saw you continue to play with the Jim Johnstone Band but also it was during this spell that you are to make your debut singing on a record with Jimmy Shand Jnr. You do two tracks on the LP, which later turned out to be quite significant.
1966 also sees you and Jim join the Jimmy Shand Band as a full time occupation and you do many radio and T.V. broadcasts as a result.
One particular Highland Tour that year will surely stick in your mind. Alison was due to give birth again and the band assembled in Auchtermuchty in preparation for a tour up north. Everyone wondered why Jimmy Shand was taking his car as well as the band bus. The tour progressed and Jimmy kept asking if there was any news about the birth, to such an extent in fact that you were to remark to Jim, “Ah hope he’s no been up to anything wi’ Alison, Jim”.
On the second last night the band were playing the Empire in Inverness. Just before the second house you phone home and discover that Alison had finally given birth to a baby son who was to be christened Bruce.
You were thrilled and delighted as you reported the birth to Jimmy Shand. Immediately the great man handed over the keys and said, “You better get doon the road son”. Hence the reason for the second car.
1966-7….Francis Chichester went around the world in a yacht……..Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were singing protest songs and, oh yes, a dodgy decision cost Germany victory in the World Cup at Wembley.
You were to leave Jimmy Shand in 1967 to join up with another Jimmy – Jimmy Blue. This was the year that was to see you tour Australia Jimmy and the late, great Andy Stewart.
Whilst playing with Jimmy Blue you are asked by Craighall Records to join up with Jim Johnstone and make an LP called Bothy Nights. This invitation came as a result of your earlier efforts with Jimmy Shand Jnr. Craighall Records were owned by a gentleman called Bryce Laing.
Bryce also commissioned a top man to produce the record. He was a famous clarinet player with ‘the Clyde Valley Stompers’ and he was later to produce the Number One hit Amazing Grace. He has gone on since to become a prodigious fiction writer of considerable note and success. He is a Haddington man born and bred – Pete Kerr.
1967…..Celtic win the European Cup…….the Israelis fought the six day war in the Middle East……and ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ was showing at the cinema. The following year, 1968, sees you make another record, this time singing with Bert Shorthouse. Again it is produced by Pete Kerr and was called The Tartan Ball.
During this spell you continue to play with Jimmy Blue until you eventually leave in the latter part of 1968 to embark on a new career as a singer.
1968…..Martin Luther King was assassinated….and poor wee Tony Hancock committed suicide in a hotel room in Sydney.
Together with Bert Shorthouse and his Band you set out on tour. The tour is set up and financed by the record company (Emerald Gem).
At the end of the tour you continue to play and sing on a casual basis with Bert Shorthouse and one or two other bands – including Bobby MacLeod and Jimmy Lindsay.
Around this time too, with a young family to feed, you go back to work locally, working for one or two local firms including Dod Baxter, Finlay Guy and Rab Forbes of Tranent.
1970… in sport Lester Piggot rode Nijinski to victory in the 2000 Guineas…..Tony Jacklin won the British Open…….and a young lad from Tranent won the Centenary Powderhall Sprint.
1970 sees you return to join Jim Johnstone full time playing for Calum Kennedy in theatres mainly.
A year on….1971….the Apollo 15 team drives a lightweight vehicle on the moon…..and a monster called Idi Amin takes over in Uganda.
1971 sees you embark on another tour of the Highlands with Jim Johnstone. It was sixteen weeks of exhausting one night stands – and playing in the band was tough as well!! It was hard going – seven nights a week – playing, singing, comedy and drinking every night with great success.
It was during this period that you were to meet a man with whom you became great mates – mainly through drink I suppose – Billy Craib.
It was 1971 also that you are to help out brother Hamish who was by this time running the Brig Inn in Tranent. The Brig had at that time a terrific Golf Club – made up of local millionaires – employed by Sunblest Bakery! Hamish had spotted an excellent opportunity to relieve the Sunblest jet set of their hard earned ‘bread’.
The Brig Golf Club was a great era with outings most Sundays departing from the Brig around seven in the morning, just as the pub was shutting, and returning just after midnight in time for the till closing and Hamish’s own stock coming out!
Bobby, it is fair to say that you were not the most natural golfer in the world. Do you remember your first ever outing when you played your first ever round with wee Dod Telfer? You were heard to remark that you thought you’d do a lot better next time once you got a set of clubs!
Your association with the Brig brought you into contact with John Mercer of Mercer Taverns. This was to lead to you taking over the management of the ‘Burlington Bertie’ round the corner from the Kings Theatre in 1972.
After a time you were asked to assist the manager at The Chase in Bonnyrigg to put on some entertainment. You were so successful in this that very soon you were appointed as manager yourself. For the next few months Alison continued to manage Burlington Bertie’s on her own but was soon to join you at The Chase in charge of catering.
You introduce many famous stars to Bonnyrigg, people including Chic Murray and Billy Connolly. With you show business contacts you are able to put on terrific Scottish Shows including young up-and-coming singing stars such as Sharron Colvin.
You are also to meet and form a friendship with a young lad who has gone on to be one of Scotland’s top accordion players – Gordon Pattullo.
After a few years in The Chase you move on to another venture when you and Alison take on the Woodside Hotel in Musselburgh. This is 1977 and your time in the Licensed Trade brings you even more new friends, including one who is one of the best ‘mine-hosts’ around – Max Muir.
1977…….Red Rum won the Grand National for the third time……..582 people were killed in Tenerife when two jumbo jets collided in fog on the runway……and John Travolta was strutting his stuff in Saturday Night Fever.
1977 was also memorable for Scottish Football fans. You were indeed part of the Tartan Army which invaded Wembley that year when we took on and beat the English on their own turf 2 – 1. It was the time, of course, the Army wrecked the place.
Do you remember being on the pitch at the end of the game? Do you remember being searched by the Police before getting back on the Tranent bus home and that on being questioned and on finding your case filled with finest Wembley turf you were to answer, It’s my brother Wilson’s. He’s away on holiday and he’s asked me to look efter his gairden for him while he’s away”.
Yes Bobby the Woodside era has many happy memories for you – making new friends – striking up friendships which are just as strong today with people such as Margaret and Jackie Robertson. It was around 1978 that you were to come into contact with two young lads from Butterstone in Perthshire. Their father, Bill, ran the local fundraising dances to raise cash for the provision of Guide Dogs for the Blind. These young lads had just started playing the box. Their progress was swift and both went on to become Junior and Senior Champions of Scotland. You have been closely connected with them throughout their careers and even more so in recent times with the advent of Haddington Accordion and Fiddle Club at the ‘Railway’ – Robert and Duncan Black.
1978…Bjorn Borg won Wimbledon for the third time in a row and Rangers fans were to have an ecstatic year when Danny McGrain broke his leg and two Popes died.
After four years in the Woodside you and Alison decided to take on your own place, ‘The Back Marker’ in Tranent. You rename it ‘Bobby Colgan’s’ and settle into the life of proprietor rather than manager.
You continue your other career in the music business through various gigs and festivals. It is in the Mull Festival in Tobermory around 1982 that you first meet a lady, an excellent accordionist, with her own individual style – Morag Robertson.
1982….Britain fought a war in the Falklands….Iran fought against Iraq…..Diana gave birth to William…….and wee Tam Neilson was starring in E.T. at the cinema.
It was also in 1982 that you made your first trip to Magaluf for a Burns Supper appearance. You are joined on the trip by Jim, Bobby Brown and a piper, the late Colin Forbes. This was to be the start of a long tradition out in Majorca.
From 1982 through to 1986 you and Alison ran ‘Bobby’s’ in Tranent and at the same time you continue to guest for Jim on the Scottish entertainment scene.
1985 see you return to the Jim Johnstone Band on a full time basis. It is around this time too that you are to meet up with a brilliant young fiddle player. She has gone on since to become one of Scotland’s finest players – Marie Fielding.
1985 also sees the whole band going out to Magaluf for the annual Burns’ Supper, this time accompanied by a new piper – Davy Ketchin.
1986….saw a disaster at Chernobyl in Russia….and an absolute holocaust at Dens Park in Dundee when Hearts failed to land the League title on the last day of the season.
1986 saw you give up your bar in Tranent finding out to your cost that perhaps it was never quite the right location for a really successful public house.
You take a well earned rest from the pressures of business and embark on a trip to Australia with your brother Hamish. Bert Logan and Hutchie, together with a few young athletes, who are out there to run the Stawell Gift.
Returning from Australia in 1986 you take up a job as a local taxi driver with Margaret and George Duncan, a friendship that was to develop in later years.
Following on from your stint on the taxis you go to help out brother, Hamish, at ‘the Railway’ and later in ‘the Long Bar’.
Moving on to 1992 and your life takes a huge change in direction, you go off at a tangent. You experience a real mid-life crisis…. You find God…..and move out to pursue a life of missionary work on visiting holiday makers. Your career as a preacher was, well, different!
After you sermon in the Church of the Little Sisters of the Poor, you were to receive a letter from Cardinal Don Quixote, a leading figure in the Church of Majorca. He had taken in your sermon and wrote you a wonderful letter with one or two helpful pointers on the little mistakes you’d made.
You looked a little nervous on Sunday. Can I start by saying it would perhaps have been better to sip the Communion wine and not gulp it down as though it were going out of fashion!
Now Bobby, as for your sermon – there are 10 Commandments not 12.
There are 12 Disciples not 10.
Jesus was consecrated not constipated.
Jacob, he wagered his donkey – he did not bet his ass.
In Spain we do not refer to Jesus Christ as the late JC.
The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are not referred to as Daddy, Junior and the Spook.
And finally David slew Goliath – it does not matter what your brother Hamish says – he did not kick the s**t out of him.
You continue with your missionary work constantly meeting Scottish holidaymakers and preaching the word of the Lord. I can well recall my own first visit, sitting there with you in the Tartan Arms reminiscing about Tranent, imbibing a few light refreshments.
I can even remember my parting words “Bobby”, I said, “Let’s meet her next year, same place….same time”. Sure enough, one year later I walked into the Tartan Arms and you were sitting on the bar stool. I shook you hand, cuddled you and remember saying, “Bobby, that day when we left last year, I didn’t honestly think I’d see you today”. You looked up at me and said “Whae left?”
You continued to meet with local people who are keen to seek you out then they visit Magaluf on holiday, whether it is in the Tartan Arms or any of the pubs or hotels where you perform our own unique Scottish cabaret. As usual you meet new friends wherever you go, people like Arno from Belgium.
Trips were organized from the ‘Railway’ bringing out a host of friends over the years such as Jimmy Dodds, Wee Tam, Wee Rab, Ike, Tommy Thomson, Yvonne, Linda, Angela, Gordon Dickson, Willie Grant, Slapdash, Mn mm Malcolm, Audrey, Lorraine and Albert – the list could go on and on.
In 1999 you once again suffer from the seven year itch and you return to Scotland. By your own reckoning the best move you ever made. Being home meant being able once again to be with your family and being able to see your grandchildren as they grow up.
The last couple of years have also seen you make even more friends. You strike up a friendship and a professional relationship with another Haddington accordionist, your mate Jimmy Wilson.
Over the past couple of years too, you have worked hard on behalf of local charities, in particular for such people as Gill Morrison who runs the School for the Disabled.
You have become close friends with another local gentleman who also does tremendously well with his fundraising efforts, Master Butcher John Anderson.
The mention of butchers brings us nicely back to farming and your days at the ‘Boggle Hoose’ in Tranent. We’ve already mentioned your friendship built up with the Potter sisters, but what we haven’t mentioned is that they wanted to be here today – Isobel and Jessie Potter.
Bobby, we have covered many aspects of your colourful life and lots of people connected to it. There is one person, who I think maybe we have skipped over too briefly. You haven’t seen him for many a year but he’s here today. A wonderful man, your great friend Bobby Brown.
Bobby, you have enjoyed a wonderful ‘roller coaster’ of a life. You have built up a tremendous reputation in Scottish entertainment. You have enjoyed a special relationship with your best pal, Jim Johnstone, for over 50 years.
Yourself and Jim are the only two remaining surviving members of the famous Jimmy Shand Band.
Bobby, can I say finally, on a personal note you may remember me meeting with yourself a few weeks ago outside the Labout Club in Tranent. You were sitting in your taxi and I told you that I had Jim and Hamish coming to my house for dinner than night. I could almost hear what you were thinking “Aye….thanks for the ***** invite!” Now Bobby, you at last know the reason why you were left out! We were hatching this plan.
You are a unique person, you have a gift, one which you are possibly not aware of. It is the ability to lift people’s spirits, to lighten up a room with your presence. You are a naturally funny person and the great thing is, like all members of the Colgan Clan, you are what you are and people accept you as you are.
It is therefore with immense pleasure I say to you – “Bobby Colgan – This Is Your Life”
Box and Fiddle