Sandy Aitchison (councillor)

Sandy was born and raised in Stow and after a period away at sea, returned to raise his own family in the village. He played the bass drum in the Stow Pipe band for over thirty years.


My earliest memories of music were my mother singing. I was born in 1947. There were two churches in Stow at the time, the UF church and the parish church. My mother was in the choir in the UF church. Her favourite song was A lark in the Clear Air. It was the time of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir and E. Robertson. The radio was on a lot with the BBC home service so that was the entertainment. I was fortunate enough to have three older sisters and as a boy I was spoilt by them. On Saturday night there was Scottish dance music on the radio and I always insisted that they danced with me. It was a program you looked forward to and it came on after the football results.

They would be preparing to go out because there was a regular Saturday night dance in the area at either Stow, Bowland Hall, Fountainhall or Lauder to which my sisters always went. I was too young at the time to go. There was a minibus that used to take the village girls and boys off to the dance. I was left behind usually in tears. The dance bands were all local. I remember my sisters loved Johnny Rae. That was the pop music then. I did occasionally go to Stow town hall if there was a concert party. Also, at that time there was an amateur dramatics group which my mother was in. It was run by Mrs Sykes whose husband worked in Stow Mill.

My house was always a busy one. There were always people coming and going. It was Rose Bank where Christine Davidson used to live, just up from the Springbank Inn. I remember the noises of the fiddle coming from the Springbank on a Saturday night. Geordie Easton used to play a wonderful fiddle. He was the local rabbit catcher. He had a wooden leg and about 3 teeth in his mouth. He wore a split hat and had a most unkempt appearance. He lived down at Bowland. Did he love the fiddle!... and it went in conjunction with his wonderful laugh, a great cackle of a laugh. You'd see Geordie Easton walking down the road with his moles hanging from his back, arsenic in his pocket and his leggings and boots on, and the smell that came from him.....! My mum would say, “Aah, Geordie come on in. Get a bowl of soup.” I used to be so dammed embarrassed if my mates saw Geordie coming into my house. It wasn't a palace he was walking into but compared to what he was used to, it was a palace. Of all the people in my life that I would like to invite in for a bowl of soup now I'd choose Geordie. He made his own wooden leg for heaven's sake. He walked these hills with a wooden leg which he made himself! He used to put arsenic out of his pocket on to the mole traps with his bare hands. How on earth did he survive all those years?!

Our house had a living room, and a good room, which nobody slept in. There was a room upstairs where we slept head to toe mostly. My mother and father slept in the living room on a pull up bed sort of thing. And there was the 'Offy room,' which was the room off our bedroom. It was effectively the attic, with no plaster on the walls and lots of cobwebs. I remember there was a record player with an old needle, his master's voice and the lift up head, but the spring had gone so you couldn't wind it up. There were records, big 78 records and that was where I developed my love of classical music because these records were all Rachmaninov, Vaughan Williams and the like. I had no idea of what pace this music should go at. I turned it with my finger with a needle. They went round and round according to my finger's ability to turn them. Nowadays you listen to classic FM and all these records are numbers 1,2 and 3. There was Greensleeves and The Lark Ascending. They were all there. I think they must have been my Granny's and had ended up at our house.

Later on Uncle Jackie decided he would buy this radiogram rather than me having to play with my finger. By this time there was plaster on the walls. My mother had taken in lodgers, so the good room was now in use. I remember being ill with the measles. Dr. Simpson was the doctor in Stow at that time. Mum had turned the music up on the radiogram so that I could hear it upstairs and the doctor said, “For the love of God Jenny, instead of that bloody thing could you not have bought a washing machine.” My mother did the washing on a Monday, religiously, irrespective of weather and there was no washing machine. Washing day was a horrible day in our house. All the bedding had to be washed. It was boiled and all that sort of stuff. It was a day I used to hate, especially if it was wet, because the washing would be hung all over the house. I still listen to 'Take the Floor' on a Saturday night. I love the traditional accordion and fiddle music of Scotland. I love classical music too.

My Granny and Granddad had delusions of grandeur. They lived up Craigend Rd. They thought they were something special because they were business people. They had a piano and my auntie played the piano. Every house with any kind of status at all had a piano in those days. We were poor. My father was wounded during the first world war. He was never particularly fit and he spent periods of time in hospital. He wasn't keen on work. We were a big family. My mother worked hard to keep us going and she even delivered newspapers during the war.

The school was hugely influential for me as well in terms of music. Because of the busted gramophone, I already had the idea of music in my head by the time I started at school. In primary 1 my first teacher was Mrs. Porches. When she died her daughter, Miss Porches came to teach us. She liked music and Mrs Wilkinson was a staunch person for music also, as was the visiting music teacher who came from Midlothian, because in those days we were part of Midlothian. I just thought he was the most wonderful man on earth. Choir was important in the school. We all joined the choir. There was a lot of choir singing and I remember us singing, 'Did you not hear my lady go down the garden singing...' by Handel. I could still sing that song today, not because I learned it recently but because I learned it in P3. It's absolutely beautiful. That's the music we sang because of Mr. Robertson, our music teacher. We didn't sing songs for children, we were straight into adult type music. He encouraged us to sing. We used to beat the time like a conductor. He played on the piano and we had to guess the timing. So that encouraged me more following what I had picked up by accident from the records that were lying there in the ‘Offy’ room at home.

Mrs Wilkinson used to get the choir together and go to the choir competitions in the Borders. They were hugely important to us. Among us she would pick out soloists. I was one of the soloists, but I was never as good as Mick Riddell. He was the best singer at that time. Mrs Wilkinson was very particular about diction. You had to get rid of any hint of a Scottish accent. Every word was dissected. The vowels had to be rounded. She used to say to us, “You don't want yourselves to be confused with a ‘Gally’ choir,” - because of the way the Galashiels people spoke as opposed to us. I suppose there was a wee bit of snobbery about that. You had to pronounce things clearly because that was what the adjudicator would pick up on. I remember one occasion the competition was in Gala. I'm sure it was in the building that is now gone, the town hall. It was where the Iceland car park now is. I remember panicking because there was a huge number of people. We went in and up onto the stage. We sang and then went out. Other choirs sang. Then we all had to come back in again for the adjudication and the awards. The adjudicator was quite a formidable looking character. He used a pince nez and he sat up at a tall desk in the middle. I remember him going through every choir and never mentioning us...... and then I remember hearing the words, “And then we come to a choir called Stow....” and he was so complimentary about everything we did, how we sang, how we expressed it, and we had won first prize. I think it was 1957, but I can't be sure. We sang every year. I still have a certificate for my solo singing and photos of the school choir.

We also sang for the pensioners in Stow. I sang Bonnie Strathyre one year. I remember the high notes were hard to get. It must have been on a Saturday because it was in the papers on Sunday morning. I remember going to my aunty's with the Sunday Post the next day. I remember her saying, “You were struggling with the high notes.” I must have been 11 or 12.

My eldest sister Margaret was the musician. She played the piano. She was a good singer and she eventually became a primary school teacher. She was the clever one. She went off to Murray house when I was still very small. It was a great achievement for somebody from our family. She is fourteen years older than me. Jean and Phyllis who were closer to me in age, stayed locally and worked. There was a wonderful lady in the village called Bunty Waddell. She used to play the piano at weddings. I remember my sister's wedding at The Howf, in the Royal hotel and Bunty played the piano for the wedding. That was the kind of home-spun thing that happened then. You didn't get in some fancy pop group with flashing lights. Bunty played the piano. Jean, my sister, was the one I was nearest to. She went off to the United States. Rowan tree was the tune that Jean loved. It was a big thing going off to the States. It was like going away forever. Nowadays people fly across to New York for a shopping trip. Jean worked in the Royal and there must have been a farewell party there for her in the howf at the Royal.

Everyone attempted to learn the piano in those days. They all went to Miss Hopes' to learn. She was famous in the village as the lady who tried to train people. I didn't go because I was a regular church goer and fell in love with the church organ; and it's still a machine that brings tears to my eyes. The church in Stow is so important to me. It's my second favourite building in the village to the house I was born in. I just love the place. The dust in that building carries the DNA of everybody who has ever sat in it. The organ is such a part of that. When I was a boy it was Mr Leckie who played the organ. He was blind. He lived up by the Sandersons up the Brae. He was a fabulous organist. The fact that he was blind made him different and distinctive. We used to see Mr. Leckie out walking in the countryside. He reminds me of a picture of Elgar out walking in the Malvern hills. He was the person you sang to on a Sunday. The church had a choir then. There were some wonderfully distinctive voices in that choir. Eilidh Pringle, what a voice she had and her father. Her uncle had a great tenor voice too. It used to ring in the rafters of that church. I can still hear that voice now.

A man came to live in The Cones, where Tom Bonnar lives now. There was a house at the top and two houses at the bottom. You had to go around the back of the building to get to Mr. Simpson's door. They were a strange couple, very old fashioned, shy, retiring and quite odd. My father knew them. He played the organ and he offered to teach me. I went there to learn. Sometimes I would get caught up playing football and forget to go to my lesson. I can still play one tune that he taught me....Handel's Largo. I also remember playing Jock o' Hazeldean. I was getting on well when Mr. Simpson left the village. That was the end of my organ tuition. Mr. Leckie died and then we got Bertie. He was a wonderful character. He was the choirmaster and organist. I never sang in the choir at the church. Mike Bennet and Scot Wilkinson both did. We all went to the church together. I remember we used to do things like have a sweep on the length of the service. Then we'd meet in the cafe on a Sunday afternoon and decide who'd won the money. That's ridiculous when you think of it, gambling in church. For all Mr. Waugh's wonderful traits and characteristics the length of his sermon was not one of them, so we used to try to amuse ourselves by doing that.

My sisters played in the Guildry Pipe Band and it was Mrs Waugh who lived in the old manse there who ran it. She was a fabulously colourful woman and Mr. Waugh a wonderful man. Their door was never ever closed. They had an open house and there was always something going on there. All the girls in the village were in the Girl's Guildry, just like ninety percent of the boys were in the Boy's Brigade. Mr Waugh had the boys Brigade and Mrs Waugh the Girl's Guildry. We used to go on an annual camp every year. I remember going to Aberdeen and to Currie and filling our palliasses with straw to sleep on. Jake Watson was our leader. Jake was ex-military. He'd served in the Korean war. At that time people like that were held in such reverence. At Aberdeen we were up at five in the morning to see the fishing boats come in.

Bob Milne was the village police constable. He was a piper. Even as children we liked and respected him. He took over the pipe band in conjunction with Major Todd who lived at Bowland. He was ex Cameron Highlanders. He had served in the war and again we looked up to him and held him in high esteem. There was a guy who came from the western isles called Jimmy McAskill. He was a great piper and drove the van for the bakers. Then there was Robby Swan. Everyone in the village attempted to join the band, all the boys that is. Yet it had started as a girls' pipe band. So when Bob Milne arrived in the village there were these instruments lying there but there was nobody playing them anymore because the girls' band had finished. The Guildry was still going but the band had stopped. The new band was called the Stow Parish Pipe Band, so I assume Mr. Waugh had a hand in it too.

Archie Anderson went away to do his military service and when he came back, he was a piper. If you see some of the old photos of it, they haven't all got a uniform on. Major Todd had access to ex-army kilts. That is why Stow pipe band plays in the Cameron of Erracht tartan of the Cameron Highlanders. So, the pipe band became quite a solid part of society. When Bob went away, Archie Anderson took over. Archie kept things going through thick and thin. He asked me to join and I joined them to help them out and play the bass drum for a year but stayed for thirty years until I couldn't keep going anymore, because it's quite a physical thing. I got involved in the organisation of the band and it became very important to us as a village community. If we had a sale, we used to make lots of money because the village supported the pipe band. We played in prestigious places like Princes Street and Meadowbank Stadium. When Stuart Robertson took over, we started getting trips abroad. We got involved in some organisation that hired pipe bands, so we started going all over the world and having a fantastic time.

We played at someone's birthday party in Clovenfords and, as a result of that, were asked to play at some dog show or caravanning club in Kelso. They said they had no money to pay us but the bar would be free. That was a big mistake, because we were a big band so, consequently we filled our boots that year, but we were asked back the next one. On the back of that we got other things. We played in Italy, Spain....I remember an armed escort to get to the president in Vittoria in Spain. We were escorted in and escorted out, in the bus and away. There were machine guns all over the place because there were Basque problems. We were at a Celtic festival in Bilbao. A few of us went to Korea too. Archie used to go to Japan and Taiwan, all over the place to British trade fairs. The piping was really a great ambassadorial thing for the Borders generally. Then there was the twinning with L'Ile de Saint Michel. That's all gone now.

When I moved from primary to secondary school, I couldn't cope with it. I disguised my natural shyness by acting the idiot. I used to conduct the school bus choir. I was a bit of a clown. We'd play the 1812 overture and things like that. It was a piece of nonsense but quite fun. The school bus was a raucous affair.

The latin teacher was a wonderful man called Don Gibson. I was in the A class doing latin and greek. I had a great affection for Mr. Gibson. When I saw a poster for the The Scottish National orchestra I was determined to find a way to go. Mr. Gibson was a great lover of music, so I asked him if he could organise a bus to take us to see the Scottish National Orchestra. He organised two. He insisted we went to the school assembly hall to listen to the music they were going to play in the concert on a record, so that we knew the music before we went. The cheap seats were in the organ gallery at The Usher Hall behind the orchestra. I remember him saying, ' If you feel the music taking you then you must move with it.'

Alexander Gibson was conducting. I think the reason behind me wanting to go was because the 1812 overture was the first piece of music that was played. I do remember The Beethoven 5th Piano Concerto being played also and I'm sure it was Peter Katin who was the soloist. It was just absolutely fabulous. That was the first time I'd ever heard an orchestra playing like that and I was completely blown away by the whole thing. It wasn't a one off. We were taken again. Much later on I found out that Don Gibson had written a book which I managed to get hold of. He eventually ended up as headmaster of Berwickshire High school. I also found out that he had been in the Royal Marines during the war.

As teenagers the Stow Cafe was an important meeting place with its juke box. Mr. and Mrs. Gordon took over from the Pringles there. Mick Riddle and Graham Whittle got involved in a pop group called The End. That was a great thing for the village. By this time, I had aspirations to go to sea, so moved on to college. While I was away things moved on in Stow and Mick Riddle, Pete Duffy, Graham Whittle, Speedy Robertson and Dave Hume were taking their music in a different direction.

I went to sea at eighteen or nineteen and we went to South Africa. At that time, I loved Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Edith Piaff. I remember being at a party in France where they played Edith Piaf into the early hours of the morning as loud as you like. There didn't seem to be any restrictions on volume there. Another one I loved was Francoise Hardy. I loved women vocalists. I also found things like steel bands in the West Indies. I loved that …....making music out of of music. Imagine coming across that in Trinidad. It seemed to be quite natural because they weren't putting it on for our benefit. There were no tourists about then. While I was away from home you started to hear things like Bert Kaempfert and Herb Alpert. I loved the mixture of cultures and music that I discovered at that time.

Everything revolved around the church and the school in Stow. We often used to go to the folk groups at the Hydro in Melrose, which is now the Waverley Castle Hotel. Sunday night was folk club. People were into folk music then. Mary Whittle was in to that. The Corries, the McCalmans, all used to come to the Hydro. Hundreds of people used to attend. The Kings in Hawick was another place for folk music. Later there was a folk club in Stow but I was too busy bringing up a young family to get involved with that.