Roy Williamson

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Roy Murdoch Buchanan Williamson (25 June 1936 – 12 August 1990) was a Scottish songwriter and folk musician, most notably with The Corries. Williamson is best known for writing "Flower of Scotland", which has become the de facto national anthem of Scotland used at international sporting events.

Roy Williamson
Birth nameRoy Murdoch Buchanan Williamson
Born(1936-06-25)25 June 1936
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died12 August 1990(1990-08-12) (aged 54)
Forres, Morayshire, Scotland
GenresScottish folk
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter
InstrumentsGuitar, mandolin, bodhrán, combolin, English concertina, Northumbrian pipes, whistle,
Years active1960s–1989
LabelsScotdisc
Websitecorries.com

Early life[edit]

Williamson's mother was a talented pianist. As a school boy 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 in 1955 that he met Ronnie Browne, with whom he would team up in The Corries. The partnership lasted almost thirty years.

Williamson's father Archibald committed suicide when Williamson was young. Williamson also had a brother, Robert Buchanan, two daughters, Karen and Sheena, and was married twice in his life--first to Violet Thomson and then to Nicky van Hurck, from Holland.

Musical career[edit]

Williamson joined Bill Smith and Ron Cruikshank to form the "Corrie Folk Trio" in 1962.[1][2] The Trio's first performance was in the Waverley Bar in St Mary's Street, Edinburgh. After a few weeks Ron Cruikshank left because of glandular fever. They had already accepted an engagement at the Edinburgh Festival, so Williamson suggested that Ronnie Browne should be brought in to make up numbers.[2]At a later date, they 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 a full house at every performance.

By 1966, Paddie Bell and Bill Smith had left, with Bell saying that she wanted to perform songs that were different from the ones the Trio sang, and Smith having fallen out with Browne (Smith cites that he was a perfectionist). This left Williamson and Browne to continue the group. Williamson was a gifted multi-instrumentalist; Browne was the singer. They cancelled all engagements for a few months to practice intensively. Under a new name, "The Corries", they performed at the Jubilee Arms Hotel in Cortachy, Angus. The enthusiastic response encouraged them to continue as a duo, and they became highly successful in Scotland. Williamson wrote Flower of Scotland at some point in the 1960s; it is currently the most popular candidate for a Scottish national anthem. The song now represents Scotland at international rugby and international football matches, and at the Commonwealth Games.[citation needed][3] It was sung in the 2007 Commonwealth Games by Ronnie Browne, though he swore never to sing it again, saying that it was a struggle not to be overcome with emotion.

Combolin[edit]

Williamson, who had talents that ranged from art to woodworking, co-designed a boat named The Sheena Margaret. In the summer of 1969 he invented the 'combolins', two complementary instruments that combined several instruments into a single one. The first instrument combined a mandolin and a guitar (along with four bass strings operated with slides); the other combined a guitar and the 12-string Spanish bandurria, the latter being an instrument Williamson had played since the early days of the Corrie Folk Trio.

Originally conceived as a way to combine several of the many instruments they carried around on tour – the Corries' long row of chairs behind them on stage bearing instruments is legendary – the combolins in fact became an additional two instruments for the tour van. Most often, Browne played the guitar/mandolin instrument with bass strings, and Williamson the other, which also had 13 sympathetic strings designed to resonate like the Indian sitar.

The wood for the instruments was obtained from antique hardwood furniture as well as premium grade Tyrolean spruce, and featured Williamson's artistic embellishments in silver and mother of pearl. The Corries' album, Strings and Things (1970), was specifically designed to display the new instruments: It featured detailed descriptions of them on the rear sleeve.

Williamson had advertised the instruments a year prior to completing them and had first tested them only a short while before a concert but found that they sounded terrible. Williamson had to quickly rebuild them and learn to play them with Browne before the concert day.

When the combolins were played, Browne and Williamson often switched places from left to right respectively to right to left.

Health problems and death[edit]

As a young man, Roy Williamson played rugby for Edinburgh Wanderers,[4] which incidentally were arch rivals of the team for which Browne played. Williamson, suffered from asthma.[5] He continued performing until 1989. He died of a brain tumour in August 1990.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 20 October 2015.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ a b "The Corries Official Website". www.corries.com. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  3. ^ "The Flower of Scotland". 2003. Retrieved 28 February 2018.
  4. ^ http://www.senscot.net/view_news.php?viewid=11087
  5. ^ Campbell, Alan (16 August 2011). "True Story of Man Behind The Corries". Senscot. The Herald. Retrieved 19 April 2016.