Born in Glasgow on January 8, 1938, to Gaelic-speaking parents from Skye, Alasdair couldn’t help but become a singer in a family where gathering round the fireside to sing was a way of life. His father was an avid song collector and wrote many songs that are now held in the School of Scottish Studies, and he would regularly regale the family and visitors with all forty verses, with detailed explanations along the way, of his latest creation.
With a veritable sea of ceilidhs taking place around Glasgow in those days, Alasdair began singing in public at the age of seven, when he had to stand on a table to be seen, and was soon taking part in music festivals and competing successfully in the Mod. He won the silver medal, aged ten, in Glasgow in 1948 and went on to win the coveted gold medal in Inverness in 1957.
By this time Alasdair had begun studying at Glasgow Dental School, on his way to becoming a house surgeon, and was attending the RSAMD as a part-time singing student. With offers coming in to play concerts throughout Scotland and as far afield as London and Brittany, he presently had to choose between a lectureship at the dental school and accommodating both dentistry and music. Changing tack to become a partner in a practice in Drumchapel, he was able to undertake regular television appearances on both the BBC and STV and engagements including a ten-week season at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh.
Alasdair made his first album in 1963, for Thistle Records in Edinburgh, and went to record for the Beltona and Decca labels and at Abbey Road studios. Never afraid to blend the new with the old, he recorded Gaelic versions of Beatles songs, including Yesterday and Michelle, and even Eurovision winner Puppet on a String alongside puirt a beul.
With the advent of colour television, Alasdair fronted the first light entertainment series on the new medium, A Handful of Songs, and as well as the BBC’s popular Se Ur Beatha programme, he hosted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Ceilidh, resulting in coast to coast tours of North America, all the while continuing in dentistry.
The offer of a two-year contract with the military hospital in Riyadh took Alasdair to Saudi Arabia, where he spent ten eventful years. He still sang, giving concerts in Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, and after he returned to Scotland, he made a triumphant return to recording, going back to his roots on his Island Heritage album in 2007.
Now retired from dentistry, Alasdair remains in great voice and is particularly appreciative of the young Gaelic talents who are taking the language forward. As a trustee of the Gaelic Language Promotion Trust, he is dedicated to encouraging creativity among the young Gaels who represent the future of a tradition of which he is proud to be part.
Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame is run by
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