Bobby Crowe was an accordionist and bandleader who was as renowned for his generosity of spirit in passing the Scottish dance band tradition on to younger generations as he was for the distinctive, high quality sound of his internationally regarded band.
He was born in Balmullo in north Fife on February 1, 1933 and took up the accordion after a particular instrument caught his eye in a music shop in Dundee. His uncle Hector bought it for him and encouraged by Dougie Maxwell, who played bass with Jimmy Shand, and inspired by a local accordionist, Jack Forsyth and Lindsay Ross, who made the accordion sound like a fiddle, Bobby began working on tunes including Cock of the North and the High Level Hornpipe.
In 1950 Bobby and Dougie Maxwell’s son, Dougie Jnr, formed the Olympians, with Dougie Jnr, who had earlier played second accordion with Bobby, playing trumpet. This was to be one of the last examples of a long tradition of having brass in a Scottish dance band and two years later, with David Finlay having joined on piano, the band passed its audition for the BBC at the first attempt, going on to make its first broadcast soon afterwards.
Following his National Service, Bobby formed his own band in 1956 and five years later he began a long association with the BBC as a broadcasting bandleader. He also appeared with other bands during this time, including the New Cavendish Band, and enjoyed a particular affinity with fiddlers Ron Kerr and Angus Fitchet. Bobby went on to play lead accordion on Angus Fitchet’s revered Fitchet’s Fancy album and they also appeared as a duo on the Accordion & Fiddle club circuit for many years.
The hallmark of Bobby’s own bands was that they were always great to dance to, due to Bobby’s attention to getting the tempo just right and his insistence on choosing tunes that went together naturally in a set. He would spend hours searching through books and old manuscripts to find good tunes. As a result of this, together with their musical quality, his band became very popular in Scottish dance circles in England and as far afield as Oman as well in Scotland.
Bobby went on to record upwards of a dozen albums for the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, becoming a regular at their summer schools in St Andrews, and he played for the Queen three times at Balmoral before a stroke caused him to retire prematurely from playing in 1994.
After he retired Bobby remained a strong presence on the Scottish dance band scene. In November 1997 he was recognised by both the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society itself and the Leeds and Doncaster Branch for his outstanding contribution to music and right to the end of his life he would travel round the country, listening to the music, talking to fellow enthusiasts and promoting his high quality approach to band-leading by sharing his immense collection of tunes and arrangements.
Bobby died on September 17, 2014 and is remembered as a real character who, following his retirement, would turn up on occasion still carrying his accordion case. On opening it, instead of his beloved instrument, he would reveal a well-stocked cocktail bar that he would declare open as and when he chose.