For nearly 40 years, John Weatherby has been behind the desk engineering and mixing live sound for some of the folk scene’s biggest acts. One of an early generation of sound engineers to approach the craft as a specialist in traditional music, he has toured the world with a number of legendary folk names, as well as being a weel-kent face at many festivals and events here in Scotland.
His involvement with music started with the guitar, which he began learning aged 12. Over time, this turned into playing with folk bands alongside a day job as a primary school teacher. At this time – in the late 1970s, he discovered that when faced with a lineup of traditional and acoustic instruments, most sound engineers were quickly stumped – perhaps never having previously encountered a harp, set of bagpipes, fiddle, or traditional music of any sort.
In response to this he set up Sound Sense in 1982 – a PA, sound engineering and recording company specialising in traditional music. As well as this, he wanted to bring a different ethos to the work. Of engineers of the era he remarked: “It was expected you’d have a beer or a joint before even starting work”.
His services quickly found demand with Ossian, at the time a major presence on the international folk circuit. With their relentless touring schedule, it became clear that pursuit of the burgeoning Sound Sense business was going to bring some clashes with playing and teaching.
The largest clash came in 1986, when John was asked to accompany Ossian on a six week tour of the United States. His request for leave was declined, but undeterred he took it to his union – EIS, and without waiting to hear the result, left for America. Unbeknownst to him, at home his request was climbing the ladder, eventually landing on the desk of education director Frank Pignatelli. It was only after he’d been in the states for a few days that he got the call to say his request had been approved.
After this, performing and teaching took a back seat for life behind the sound desk. Touring with Ossian in the 80s gave way to working with Four Men and a Dog throughout the 1990s, accompanying them across the world to engineer anything up to 260 gigs a year, including a career highlight – mixing shows with Rick Danko of The Band appearing as special guest, in support of their 1995 release Doctor A’s Secret Remedies.
His long and varied career as a live sound and recording engineer has had its diversions: Work as a support artist for a number TV and film series, including Rebus and Outlander, presenting a folk program with Alive Radio, and programming and promoting events: Curating the folk program at the former Washington Street Arts Centre, house concerts in Moffat and Leadhills, and most recently, an annual music festival – Leadhills Music Blast.
As well as touring with these bands, and others including: Iron Horse, Malinky, the Paul McKenna Band, Ceolbeg, and the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year Tour, John has provided sound and production services to a number of events here in Scotland, including: Girvan Folk Festival, Glenfarg Folk Feast and Stonehaven Folk Festival. He spent six years as the technical director of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, and has directed live sound at the legendary Orkney Folk Festival for over 30 years.
His popularity is for good reason. As Maart Allcock put it:
“I’ve been round the world a bit with the likes of Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull, and I’ve had to deal with Soundman du Jour many times. I can safely say that whenever I see Big John Weatherby at the console I know I have nothing to worry about…”