FOR more than four decades, three of them with BBC Radio Scotland, the richly mellow tones of Iain Anderson have presented an often eclectic range of music, from Celtic to classical, but particularly the work of singer-songwriters, from both sides of the Atlantic.
Iain’s shows over the years have taken to the airwaves under various titles – Tide and Island, Sun and Candlelight and Mr Anderson’s Fine Tunes, but it is as the eponymous Iain Anderson – aka “the good ship Hesperus” – that his show currently sets sail, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, on Radio Scotland. Its playlists, encompassing folk, country, blues and beyond, are as likely to feature such timeless greats as Sandy Denny , Leonard Cohen or Emmylou Harris as such contemporary names from home and abroad as Kim Edgar, Greg Trooper or Rhiannon Giddens.
Broadcasting, however, didn’t quite figure in Iain’s plans when he embarked initially on a career in teaching. Having grown up in the hamlet of Kilmahog just outside Callander, where his father was a gamekeeper, Iain studied at Glasgow University (while spending his summer working as a ghillie on Arran and around Loch Arkaig).
There was music – and Gaelic – in the house: His father had been a piper with the Lovat Scouts during the First World War, his grandmother, who lived with them, was a first-language Gaelic speaker from Sutherland and his mother also spoke some Argyll Gaelic. “We had an old wind-up gramophone,” he remembers, “with heaps of vinyl – 78s in the main and Gaelic records dominant, people like Angus Whyte and Neil MacLeod, but also a large selection of Count John McCormack, along with pipe bands and their various repertoires.”
After graduating in history and English, with a particular interest in drama, he taught at Glasgow’s Kelvinside Academy for four years while also coaching rugby – an interest that would continue into his broadcasting career – and cricket. In 1967 he joined the speech and drama department of Jordanhill College where he taught and also directed and acted in numerous plays. He was also heavily involved with the University Arts Theatre group which produced such notables as Bill Paterson, Tom Conti and Morag Hood.
In 1974 Iain sent off some tapes to Andy Park, head of entertainment at the then fledgling Radio Clyde, offering his services as a theatre reviewer. He had a voice made for radio, and instead of offering the post of theatre reviewer, Park invited him to present a late-night music programme, The Anderson Folio, which he did for the station for 11 years, as well as presenting its weekly arts programme, Interact.
The programme whetted Iain’s interest in folk music, so when he left Clyde in 1985 to join the BBC, it was very much to play Celtic and other traditional music. Tide and Island, Sun and Candlelight, followed, then the hugely popular and still fondly remembered Mr Anderson’s Fine Tunes, which baffled nay-sayers by successfully combining folk and classical music. Iain recalls how he and his then producer, Donald MacInnes, strongly believed there was scope for a synthesis of classical and Celtic music: “There was considerable doubt in the upper echelons, but eventually James Boyle, the controller, agreed. We did cause a bit of a stir, it has to be said, but it was a huge success and won two major awards at the Sony Radio Tributes in London.”
Iain’s music broadcasting career wasn’t at the expense of his love of sport, and he continued for many years to commentate on rugby and shinty for BBC Scotland, on both TV and radio. His oratorical skills have also been utilised in reading poetry for recordings and related shows such as Far, Far from Ypres and Scots in the Spanish Civil War.
What tends to be forgotten is that in the mid-Nineties, it was Iain and producer Donald MacInnes who put together Glasgow’s first Celtic Connections festival, having been approached by the Royal Glasgow Concert Hall’s Campbell McDougall, who sounded them out about the feasibility of such a festival at a time when Glasgow stages were filled by nothing much other than panto.
“And so, making their first ever appearances in Scotland were the likes of Cherish the Ladies and the McGarrigles. We would never have believed it would be such a runaway success.”
These were uncertain times, however, and (not very popular) changes in Radio Scotland’s programming schedules saw Iain transferred to an evening slot, with the emphasis put increasingly on singer-songwriters from the roots music scenes of both sides of the Atlantic. Here he worked in inspired partnership with the late lamented producer, Stewart Cruickshank – “the Professor” – as he was known in the programme’s sometimes surreal late-night dialogues. Sadly, Stewart, the first winner of Hands Up for Trad’s Services to Broadcasting award in 2015, died last November.
These days, Ian’s show is produced by Kenny Mutch and, thanks to the internet, is heard and enjoyed globally, particularly in North America. “In 1974 it used to be quite a feat to get a live link from the Edinburgh festival to Radio Clyde,” says Iain. “Now we can report that we are very big in Arizona.”
Iain was awarded Services to Broadcasting Award in March 2016.