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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Boyz 2 Grandadz

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The UK’s Longest lasting Boy Band

I was intrigued to find that an Argyll village close to my heart was home to what is probably the longest lasting boy band in the world. 

“The Boys” as they have been known for decades, first performed professionally in 1954, the year that Bill Haley and the Comets had their bestseller, ‘Rock around the Clock” and this year are entering their 70th year of performing.

The opportunity arose to catch up with “The Boys” one Saturday afternoon and hear what the secret to musical longevity in a Highland village actually is.

Band members Campbell Anderson, 87, Freddie Nicholson, 85, and Frank Beaton, 84, came together again in early January of 2023 for the latest gig in their home village of taynuilt in North Argyll to perform at the annual senior citizens’ event – something they have now been doing for over 20 years.

As the three settled in for an afternoon chat at the home of a relative of your correspondent, they relayed an incredible story of musicianship and cameraderie that started just after World War II.

Campbell on box.

The trio first performed together on stage when Frank reached the age of 16 in 1954. “I was at a dance in a nearby village where Campbell and Freddie were performing with the Calum Ross band. The band leader was unhappy with the antics of the piano player so he was sacked at the interval and I was hired on the spot” he explained.

Up to that time, with Frank being in school, they had only got together informally “It was really great at that time though” said the band’s drummer Freddie, “a friend of our family was in the navy and would bring all sorts of records home with him for us to listen to from around the world, including the likes of Benny Goodman and Satchmo himself. This gave us a great grounding in different music genres”

The hiring of Frank by Calum Ross was the start of seven decades of continual performing. Campbell Anderson, the most senior member of the band and the group’s accordion player, said “We played professionally in the Calum Ross Band for a number of years, but a bit like Elvis Presley, National Service got in the way. After that, I joined another local group while Freddie and Frank went on to tour across the country”.

Campbell took up the story. “After eventially having my own band in the 1950’s, I joined a local group run by Paddy Shaw, also of Taynuilt, in the 1960’s. I then played though to the late eighties with Paddy and others until the late nights took their toll so from then on it was just hotel gigs, where we also sold tapes of our tunes to guests and tourists”. 

Meanwhile, Frank and Freddie had branched out further afield, touring throughout Scotland in the early 1960s. “Frank and I were playing all over the country but one of our favourite gigs was the Northern Meeting Rooms in Inverness.” said Feddie “ Each weekend there were two bands playing – the ‘modern’ guys upstairs and us playing downstairs for the traditional crowd. The venue supplied digs at the Tower Hotel but it was just one big room for both bands so there wasn’t much rest between perfomances”

“One of the bands that played the Northern Meeting Rooms was the Beatles” added Frank,“they performed there in 1960 as the support to Beat star Johnny Gentle and we used to have a laugh when they became famous that when we played Inverness, we got bigger crowds than them!”

The trio played as far north as Aultbea on the north west coast of Scotland Frank explained. “The gigs were run in the village hall by a man called MacLean, the local shopkeeper. He used to empty his shop of drink, load up the back of his car and sell out at the dance. There wasn’t much else on so folk came from miles around. Quite unusually though, the after party was generally on a submarine at the nearby NATO base – the price of entry was a half bottle”

Frank Beaton.

“There were also some interesting evenings more locally” added Campbell. “When the new North Atlantic cable idea was conceived during the cold war to help keep Europe and the USA connected, it was laid through Taynuilt village. The work was done by gangs of workmen from elsewhere and of course, they enjoyed the dancing on a Saturday night. On one occasion, the inevitable happened when one of them chatted up the wrong girl so all the ladies took refuge on the stage as we played on. It wasn’t a bad night overall….”

There were also performances further afield. “We played on and off for many years through the 60s and 70s with a Scottish Showcase in nearby Oban” said Frank. “This was produced by a local entrepreneur David Webster. He was keen to promote the area so at one time we found ourselves playing in Blackpool and even in Croydon, south of London”.

“It was fun on the road” said Freddie, “but the overnight accommodation could be a bit ropey. I remember once getting a hotel room with a newly added fitted carpet – a real rarity back in the day. It looked more appealing than the bed so I said to the others the deep pile would be my bed for the night”

Frank also added “at weekends we’d meet other bands at the regular cafe stops around the country. One time we met ‘The Hawthorns’ on the road and one of them had a bow and arrow. We asked him to see if he could hit a nearby teelgraph pole but he refused as he said it was his last arrow – we never actually found out who it was intended for. We also came out of Mallaig late one night to be confronted by a random white horse in the middle of the road – no rider and on idea what that was about either”

Over time, they all played with different local bands but they still came together in Taynuilt when needed. “We were always popular as a trio locally”, said Freddie ,“probabaly becasue wew we cheap to hire” he laughed.

The local scene also brought the opportunity to play for the rich and famous. “Paddy Shaw had an in to the ‘county set’ and through time we all played for the likes of Princess Margaret, Princess Anne, and Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith” said Campbell.

It was 25 years ago that the trio finally reformed when they all retired form their respective careers, Campbell had bult up his own plumbing business, while Frank had a career with the Hydro Board (now SSE) and Freddie worked in the motor trade, before opening his own filling station and garden centre in the village.

“We reformed as a trio to play at the first senior citizens’ event around the turn of the century” said Frank, “and we’ve been playing for them ever since”

Murray Sim, a local resident and previous chair of Taynuilt Community Council who was involved in setting up the annual Seniors Citizens’ party said “I’m only a few years younger than “The Boys” and I remember them being a big hit in my youth. They’ve been real stalwarts over the last quarter century though, always making themselves available when needed. The only irony is that that they started out at our event playing for older folk, now they’re all some of the oldest there each year.”

Freddie on the drums.

As our afternoon came to a close, “The Boys” posed for photgraphs. We’d got Frank by a piano, flanked by Freddie and Campbell on their own instruments. Needless to say, the music then just started and came naturally to all them, as it clearly had done since the 1950s. 

I asked Campbell afterwards about the range of tunes that they performed – I immediately ran out of paper listing everything from Gaelic verse to Country music and, of course, even a few Beatles numbers. He did say, though, that on reflection, they’d actually stopped adding to their repetoire in the 1970s. 

And then it was home time. Campbell, whom it transpired had been the designated driver for the last 70 years, loaded the guys and their intrsuments into his car for the lift home. As they left, Freddie looked wistfully at his packed up drum kit and mused “I wonder how often I’ve packed this lot up after a gig – must be well over a thousand times now.”

But then late that evening, Frank called to add to the story, concerned that he’d missed a bit about how he and others had been instrumental in setting up a swing group in the 1980s – further showing the breadth of talent these ‘boys’ really have. We talked for as bit about all the different stories they’d told that day and also about the journey they’d all been on. I asked if he’d enjoyed it all and he paused for a moment before answering “It’s been a road worth travelling.”

It certainly has.

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