Bill Smith and Ron Cruikshanks were studying architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art in the mid-fifties when they went to Ireland to collect folk music. On their return they started an impromptu group called the Corrie Voices with Andy Turner (banjo). Folk music was popular in the UK driven mainly by American folk singers like Woody Guthrie and The Weavers. Slowly the traditional Scottish ballads came to the fore ironically because of the Skiffle craze. It was considered inappropriate by the BBC to promote American folk songs on radio so there was a mad rush to discovered British folk music. This resulted in some strange crossovers such as rockabilly versions of “My Bonnie” and “Coming through the Rye.”
However, this also meant a number of influential musicians could straddle Skiffle and UK Folk. Folk Clubs were an alternative venue to milk and coffee bars for students and acts like The Spinners (from Liverpool), Wally Whyton (The Vipers), Mike Harding all started playing skiffle but found their bent lay in folk. In Scotland, Robin Hall and Jimmie McGregor were no different and liked American folk music but started researching Scottish folk music. Their love of Music Hall gave them another shared interest which would eventuate in an act that became very successful appearing regularly on the Tonight program (BBC) and eventually as the resident folk duo on The White Heather Club (BBC).
Matt McGinn, Archie Fisher and Hamish Imlach were city folk singers with massive appeal to urban dwellers. More ethnic than the rest their humour came from the working class streets and their influence was immense among yet to make it acts like Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty and John Martyn.
A tremendously popular radio series at the time featured Ewan McColl singing Scottish ballads.
The music of the Corrie Voices reflected this background but at the same time was influenced by the traditional Jacobean songs. When Andy left he was replaced by a fellow student called Roy Williamson and the addition of Paddie Bell (singer). The group were soon a popular attraction around the pubs and folk clubs in Edinburgh. In 1962 they scored a prestigious gig at an Edinburgh Festival venue. Unfortunately, Ron Cruikshanks fell ill and Ronnie Browne (guitar), another art student was asked to join the line up. Now billed the "Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell" the group continued as semi-professionals, keeping their day jobs, but working up a big following. In 1964 they became the resident folk group on the "Hoot'nanny Show" (BBC).
After the success of the Hoot’nanny Show the group signed with Fontana records and became professional. In 1965, Paddie Bell left to have a baby, thereafter she pursued a solo career. Despite their continuing success Ron Smith and Ronnie Browne fell out after the 1965 New Year BBC Hogmanay show and Smith left the Corrie Trio. In 1966, Roy Williamson and Ronnie Browne were in two minds whether to continue as a duo. Fortunately, they decided to become the Corries. Popular as ever they were featured on the BBC series "The White Heather Club. The Corries segment was filmed on location which added to their rugged and romantic appearance, or as Billy Connolly might say, made them "windswept and interesting."
Roy was not only a consummate musician he was a skilled musical instrument designer and maker and took every opportunity to feature the sounds of his new instruments like the ‘combolins’ in their performances. By the end of the 60s and throughout the 70s The Corries were the face of folk music in Scotland. The duo performed the length and breadth of the country appearing in village halls as well as prestigious venues. They were a band of the people and when Roy wrote "Flower of Scotland," it became Scotland's unofficial anthem.
The group made several albums which sold well in Scotland but success outside never came although they did commend great respect in the folk community. During the 1989 tour Roy’s health began to deteriorate. He was asthmatic and often required to be medicated before performances but he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and died two years later. Ronnie Browne continued recording for a short while before returning to painting and giving up performing. Paddie Bell’s solo career was short but she did record a couple of good albums then enjoyed a brief career revival in the 90s. Paddie died aged 74, in 2005.
Worth a listen
Corrie Folk Trio & Paddie Bell
Jug of punch (1963)
Tiree Love Song (1963)
My love she’s but a lassie yet (1965)
Flower of Scotland (1969)
I’m a rover (1966)
Highland Lament (1968)
Flower of Scotland (1969)
Robin Hall and Jimmie McGregor
Football Crazy (1960)
Maggie May (1964)
Dirty old town (1964)
Ma wee Auntie Sarah (1975)
Heiderum Hauderum (1975)