The Corries were the godfathers of the modern folk music scene in Scotland, introducing huge audiences to traditional songs, composing songs in a traditional style, using innovative instrumental arrangements and pioneering practices which later became commonplace throughout the music industry.
Originally featuring Roy Williamson, Bill Smith and Ron Cockburn and named to reflect the Scottish landscape, the Corrie Folk Trio made its debut in legendary folk venue, The Waverley Bar, Edinburgh in 1962. Shortly afterwards, with an Edinburgh Festival residency arranged, Ron Cockburn left and Ronnie Browne, a friend of Roy Williamson’s from their Edinburgh Art College days in the 1950s, stepped in. Joined by a linnet-voiced singer from Belfast, the Corrie Folk Trio with Paddie Bell turned an initially disastrous festival into a spectacular success and went on to record two well-received albums and become the resident group on BBC Television’s Hoot’nanny series.
Paddie Bell and Bill Smith left in 1966, leaving the duo which would become the much-loved Corries. After a period of intensive rehearsals the new, reduced line-up played its first gig at the Royal Jubilee Arms in the Angus village of Cortachy. The audience response was rapturous and soon Roy and Ronnie were the public face of Scottish folk music, appearing on their own television series and building up an annual tour that took them the length and breadth of Scotland.
Corries concerts were boisterous occasions featuring much vocal audience participation and irreverent onstage humour. The Corries songbooks became almost as popular as their albums, which they latterly recorded and distributed independently, and in filming songs in appropriate locations, they became effectively music video pioneers. When Roy built their combolins – one combining guitar with mandolin and bass, the other guitar with bandurria and sitar-style sympathetic strings – they anticipated the fashion for multi-necked guitars by several years.
Strings and Things, the album they recorded to feature their new instruments, remains a classic. The song, however, that defines the Corries is Flower of Scotland. Written by Roy in the mid 1960s and originally featuring Roy on the then still rarely sighted bouzouki and Ronnie on the still lesser spotted bodhran, it was adopted first by Scottish rugby fans in 1974 and then football’s Tartan Army as the unofficial Scottish national anthem.
When the song was officially adopted by the Scottish Rugby Union in 1990 and sung before Five Nations matches at Murrayfield by Ronnie, it could be said to have inspired the Scottish team to its first Grand Slam in years. This was a fitting tribute to Roy, a former rugby player as well as a talented musician and skilled woodworker, who died on August 12 that same year.
Following Roy’s death, Ronnie continued to sing, record and play concerts until eventually retiring to concentrate on painting.
The Corries live on, though. Every time Flower of Scotland is sung it evokes memories of musicians who through their singing of long ago incidents as well as timeless love songs, became not just entertainers but history teachers and priceless champions of Scottish music.