ONE morning back in 1980, a 29-year-old rock musician with an honours degree in economics, economic history and – most pertinently – librarianship, turned up at BBC Scotland’s former Queen Margaret Drive headquarters in Glasgow’s West End. Scheduled to spend a trial week as a “gramophone librarian”; Stewart Cruickshank ended up working as a radio producer for the BBC for the best part of 35 years, during which he has done much to heighten the profile of folk and related music on the airwaves.
Over the past couple of decades, he has been behind the scenes of such long-running staples as Travelling Folk and Iain Anderson’s show, in the process introducing such well-known figures as Ricky Ross, Roddy Hart and Karine Polwart to the niceties of radio presenting.
Outside the folk scene, however, he also produced BBC Radio 2 series on such celebrities as Ray Davies, the Sex Pistols and The Who, and spent time in California and New York interviewing Jackson Browne and Lou Reed respectively for shows which were networked globally. In 1999 the album Deserters’ Songs, which he produced for UK radio for the US rock band Mercury Rev, won a Gold Disc, while the following year he was awarded an FRSA (Fellowship of the Royal Society of the Arts) for his contribution to UK music radio.
Stewart has never allowed himself to be compartmentalised genre-wise. Having left Trinity Academy in Edinburgh with a useful clutch of A-levels, the young Cruickshank deferred university education for seven years. Instead, under the engaging pseudonym of Gilmore Wines (yes, after a local off-licence) he and his pal Wilf Smarties (who has maintained that moniker ever since as a respected record producer and songwriter) were the core of the rock band Mowgli and the Donuts. They may not have hit the big time, but, he agrees, it was great fun. “We lived in East Anglia and we were never famous,” he laughs, “but we did loads of gigs, large and small. Silly Wizard used to support us at Tiffany’s in Edinburgh.”
His parallel enthusiasms of music and radio both go back to his formative years. His mother won medals competing in the Co-operative singing competitions and, from an early age, like so many of his generation, he would listen to his radio under the bedclothes at night, absorbing the Sixties sounds of Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline, when reception permitted, while what he regards as “a big defining moment” was catching John Peel’s short-running but fondly remembered series The Perfumed Garden, broadcast during the last weeks of the offshore pirate station Radio London, until the Marine Broadcasting Offences Act closed it down in August 1967. The cult programme’s eclectic mix – everything from Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead to Marc Bolan and Bert Jansch – left their mark.
So when he turned up at Queen Margaret drive a decade and a half later, he was well primed, in terms of both music and librarianship. “As ever in life,” he recalls, “there was a certain element of coincidence. It was just after I’d graduated and I was there initially for one week and it led to me working in broadcasting for the best part of 35 years. You work your way to becoming a producer then a senior producer and the way you do it is to learn and learn and I’ve never stopped learning, not just about music but about how radio can be put together.”
For Cruickshank, “learning the ropes” involved producing Radio Scotland’s Top 40 and researching for the Ken Bruce Show while also working as a recorded music librarian. The mid-Eighties saw him producing Beatstalking, a history of Scottish rock music presented by Muriel Gray, then founding and co-producing the long-running indie rock show Beat Patrol with Sandy Semeonoff and Peter Easton.
Broadening out, he was a contributing editor for John Purser’s ground-breaking series Scotland’s Music in 1990 and went on, with Rab Noakes and Donald MacInnes, to create Radio Scotland’s Be-Bop to Hip-Hop jazz programme, Original Masters with John Cavanagh, and pilot the series Celtic Connections, from which Glasgow’s now mammoth winter festival took its name.
Having handled such diverse challenges as broadcasting T in the Park and producing series covering everything from bluegrass to the Incredible String Band (also recording his old hero John Peel’s first radio sessions in Scotland), Stewart became increasingly involved with the long-running Travelling Folk, with Archie Fisher and the late Danny Kyle, and Iain Anderson’s show.
Outside his regular programme work, he was senior producer for Music Live 2000 from Shetland and for the 2005 G8 Summit rally at Murrayfield, with 65,000 people and James Brown topping the bill – “Quite a night!”. He has sat vocationally on the boards of the Scottish Music Centre and the Burnsong scheme.
Stewart left BBC Scotland nine years ago but continued to co-produce the Iain Anderson show, in association with the production company Bees Nees, until he finally decided to retire last October. In recent years, the advent of the internet has given such programmes, and the music he loves, a worldwide audience. “I’ve been very lucky,” he reflects. “I’ve been honoured to showcase tens of thousands of hours of dazzling musical talent on radio, from Scotland and way, way beyond. It began and will continue with them.”
Written by Jim Gilchrist, 2015
Stewart passed away in November 2015.
Stewart was awarded Services to Broadcasting in 2015. View the photos from our Services to Broadcasting dinner for Stewart.