of the week

This is the 666th Single of the Week I’ve written and was hoping someone might have requested a certain Iron Maiden track, but, alas, they haven’t. In a recent conversation I had with Sir Tim Rice, I reminded him that Jason Donovan’s Any Dream Will Do was the 666th UK number one and it was a good omen for him, so let’s see if this week’s suggestion is a good omen too although I suspect not as the artist in question is no longer with us.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve written about a song that had been written in less than half an hour. There are so many and generally highlights a songwriter’s talent. There will be the occasionally song where it shows, but the majority are quality. This week’s suggested is a novelty song which the singer claimed he wrote in 10 minutes, but it earned Andy Stewart a fortune when he least expected it.

Stewart, a true and patriotic Scotsman, was born in Glasgow in 1933 and grew up there as well as Perth and Arbroath. As a child he like to mimic famous people and do impersonations which impressed both his parents, especially his father who was a teacher. He was a fan of the Scottish comedian and entertainer Harry Lauder and like to echo his style including donning the kilt attire. His whole family were musical as both parents played the violin and his sister Moira played piano. As a teenager and dismissing the idea of becoming a veterinary surgeon, he enrolled at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow in 1950 where he remained for four years. He dabbled with comedy in his first year and won first prize spurring him to break into the entertainment world.

Andy was unlucky with his health that cost him a more fruitful career, He was cast in the Disney film Rob Roy in the part of Nabby MacGregor the piper and his performance in rehearsal was well received by the director Harold French, but when it came to the shoot Andy contracted glandular fever and was in hospital for 12 weeks and his part went to John McEnvoy. Over the ensuing years, he suffered with various health issues and he lost out of a number of opportunities.

His first English engagement was at the Manchester Hippodrome in June 1955 with Billy Eckstine topping the bill. From then he appeared up and down the halls in both Scotland and England as a young comedy impressionist with actors James Stewart, James Cagney and Charles Laughton along with singers Perry Como, Johnnie Ray, Al Jolson and Louis Armstrong included in his repertoire.

Andy signed a deal with Top Rank records in 1960 and his first release was a four-track EP containing A Scottish Soldier (Green Hills Of Tyrol), The Muckin’ O’ Geordie’s Byre, Donald, Where’s Your Troosers? and Dancing In Kyle and the lead track began picking up airplay around world where is became a chart-topper in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In the UK, is spent most of 1961 on the chart, 40 weeks total despite peaking at number 19.

Donald, Where’s Your Troosers was based on a Scottish tune called Highland Donald, “It was recorded as a lark with the Robert Wilson band in London,” Andy remembered. “I just went down to the studio as an onlooker but they asked me to do one of my impressions. The verse and chorus had been taught to me by Bobby McLeod and I sat down and wrote the Elvis Presley bit there and then.” The single was released and credited The White Heather Group as backing singers but stalled at number 37. Donald said he wrote it in 10 minutes flat while sitting on a toilet in the studio. Now troosers is just how trousers sounds from folks with a Scottish accent and is fairly obvious, but certain other words are not, so the last line of the second verse, ‘For I had nae on my troosers’ basically reiterates that he didn’t have trousers on with ‘had nae’ meaning I had not’ In the third verse he mentions he goes to London Town and had fun on the underground and closes that verse with, ‘Donald, where are your trousers?’ said in a posh London accent before reverting to the vernacular. Later on he tries to explain that the song might have a greater appeal it was sung elsewhere and quickly puts on an Elvis-type accept with a musician altering to a slight rock ‘n’ roll feel. It received regular plays on the BBC Light Programme especially on the Uncle Mac show which later became Junior Choice.

Once the song left the chart, it was largely forgotten about until 1989 when Radio 1 DJ Simon Mayo played it one morning on the breakfast show and stacks of letters came in (long before email and social media) for repeated plays, Simon kept playing it and commented, “We were in the mood for novelty nonsense, so we kept playing it.” A deal was quickly negotiated and Sonet records purchased the rights from EMI and the song was re-issued on its Stone subsidiary label and peaked at number four on the Christmas chart of 1989.

For extra appeal, the 12″ version came with a Highland Fling mix but what did Andy think of his new-found fame? “It was a great surprise to me. I was sittin’ in the hoose one night and the phone rang. It was another record company, and he said ‘They tell me you’re aiming for number one at Christmas this year’ and I said, ‘You’re Joking?’ and I quickly whipped out my diary to make sure it wisnae the 1st of April! It all just happened very suddenly, and very strangely. It’s one of these things that happen in showbusiness.”

The late Radio Two broadcaster Desmond Carrington once accurately commented on his Sunday show after playing the song and explaining where it was written, “The moral is you can spend a penny and make a fortune.”

By the time of the re-issue, Andy had retired, but on the back if its success, he came out of retirement and began touring again. He died of a heart attack in October 1993 and at his funeral, a piper appropriately played A Scottish Soldier.