John Carmichael is one of the great characters of the Scottish music scene and one of the music’s most dedicated advocates through his work as a musician, performer, bandleader, television producer, accordion teacher and competition adjudicator.
Born in Glasgow on October 31, 1938 to a father from Tiree and a mother from Buckie, in Banffshire, John grew up hearing Scottish country dance music, and particularly Jimmy Shand, on the radio. But it was the musical evenings that his mother’s family used to have in Buckie, when his uncles would produce their fiddles and the atmosphere became electric, that really gave him a taste for music.
He took piano lessons from the age of nine and although he didn’t apply himself fully, he learned to read music, which helped enormously when he took up the accordion in his mid-teens, learning at first on his great friend, Ian MacLean’s box. John and Ian made their first performance at Cardonald Highlanders in Mosspark, Glasgow and while studying engineering and then teacher training, John continued to hone his accordion skills, going on to win the All-Scotland Accordion Championships at Perth in 1964.
Gigs with Andrew Rankine and Bobby MacLeod followed before, having joined the merchant navy, John moved with his family to Australia. He returned to Scotland on leave four years later, met accordionist Jim Johnstone, who offered him the second accordionist’s chair in the White Heather Club band, and began his musical career in earnest, forsaking life in Australia to the eternal disappointment of his sons, who would have preferred to become big bronzed Aussies instead of pale Glaswegians.
From the White Heather Club band John moved on to work with Calum Kennedy on Grampian Television’s popular Round at Calum’s programme and with Alasdair Gillies on four series of Ceilidh for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. He toured Australia with Jimmy Shand and Andy Stewart, worked as musical director for Kenneth MacKellar and the Jim MacLeod Big Band, and through leading the house band for STV’s iconic Thingummyjig series, he became involved in working on the other side of the television cameras.
While continuing to play one-nighters and engagements that have taken him to Germany, Iceland, Jordan, Bermuda, Los Angeles, Bombay, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, among many other destinations, and adding to a catalogue that now numbers some sixty albums, John worked as assistant producer on programmes including Fun House and Wheel of Fortune. He was also the creator, musical director, booker, onstage host and producer of Grampian Television’s Northern Nights, which featured leading singers, musicians and bands from the Scottish country dance and traditional music scenes into the new century.
In recognition of his outstanding contribution to Scottish music, John was guest of honour at the National Association of Accordion and Fiddle Clubs Annual General Meeting in 2004. His ceilidh band continues to be one of the busiest and most popular bands on the scene, his reputation as a dance caller remains second to none, and his services in tuning and repairs and general advice make him an invaluable servant to the accordion industry.
For more information visit John’s website.