Sheila and Mike Bennet
As the children of Mr. Bennet the Stow village school headteacher and Mrs. Bennet who also taught at the school, Sheila and Mike have many memories of growing up in a village full of musical occasions.
Mike – I was born in Edinburgh and moved to Stow in 1951 at the age of four when my father was appointed headmaster at Stow village school. He previously taught at Newbattle High school, Midlothian.
Sheila – I was born in the hospital in Galashiels. My mother taught at Stow school as well for quite a number of years.
Mike – She didn't teach when we first came. There was a lady member of staff already in place. She may have started some years later and then took time off when Sheila was born. She taught right up to Dad's death in 1976.
Sheila - The radio was always playing at home with classical music on. I didn't like it or appreciate it when I was small. It was on all the time because we didn't have a television until I was eleven. Dad was the one who was really keen on classical music. We used to have lunch in the schoolhouse everyday even though my Dad and my mother were teaching. I remember we had the classical music on all through lunch and I used to call it 'Stew' music.
Mike – I remember being familiar with all the nursery rhymes. Neither of them used to sing much themselves.
Sheila – We had lots of skipping songs in the playground. One of them was....
Girl guide, girl guide, dressed in blue,
These are the actions you must do:
Stand at attention, stand at ease,
Bend your elbows, bend your knees.
Salute to the captain, bow to the queen,
Turn your back on the dirty submarine.
I can do the heel and toe, I can do the splits.
I can do the hoochy-koochy, just like this.
Girl Guide, Girl Guide, dressed in green,
The leader sent me to the Queen.
The queen didn't want me, sent me to the King
The King said "Turn around and count to seventeen".
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, ...17
Mum played the piano and she played it for the children at school. She never thought of herself as a pianist. She practised at home and played all the little children's songs and hymns, lots of hymns.
Mike - We've cousins who played piano and violin. They still play even now that they are in their eighties, in small orchestras.
Sheila – We always had a visiting music teacher. We had a teacher called Morton Robertson. He was very enthusiastic and really good. Music was something I always felt personally that I could do well. He did a lot with beat and you had to make the arm actions for what you thought the beat was in the piece of music he was playing on the piano. I remember being able to get it really quickly, so I suppose I had confidence instilled in me by him. Also, I was always able to keep a tune when I was singing. He was a great influence.
Mike – He would rehearse pieces each year for taking part in competitions in the Borders whether it be Galashiels or Hawick. We did well. We won trophies. For a small village school our school was very successful. I've brought some photos there with trophies that we won back sixty years ago when I was singing in these choirs.
Sheila – We didn't do competitions when I was at primary school.
Mike - It was the 'in' thing in the fifties. They were quite formal choirs. We were well drilled and obviously we were pretty good. There were quite a number of choirs competing in the competitions. We won Hawick festival in 1957. It was quite an impressive looking shield as you can see in the photograph. I remember people like Jim Chisholm in the village winning for solo singing also. He was very good.
Sheila – I always had to sing solos at the school concerts. That wasn't competitive though. I had the confidence to do it then, but I wouldn't now.
Mike – I was in the church choir from about 1964. There was quite a group of relatively young people, contemporaries of myself. Sandy Aitchison, Scott Wilkinson, Linda Fairgrieve, Joyce Connor, Mary Whittle, Janette Hunter and Tommy Kelly were all in the choir.
Sheila - ….. myself also at a later stage, and a lot of elderly people too.
Mike – Bertie Anderson from Innerleithen lead the choir. He was the church organist at the time. I think we did rehearsals outwith Sundays as well. We thoroughly enjoyed singing hymns, psalms and anthems. John Wilkinson arrived in the village at about that time I think and joined the choir too.
Sheila - When the Buchans left the church choir folded. Alan Buchan had been taking the choir and playing the organ. It was decided to grow the choir by turning it into a community choir in 2011. That was when Jim Letham came in to lead us.
Sheila - I remember the salvation army coming to put on a concert in the town hall. I thought it was amazing because they did pop songs. We were all standing on the radiators around the hall, the place was so busy. I remember thinking that this was just bliss. It wasn't what we were expecting it to be. It was very upbeat and modern. I thought it was wonderful.
Mike – In the late sixties there was a sudden influx of pop music in the village with a very successful band of local guys. There was Ian Riddle, Peter Duffy, Graham Whittle and Keith Robertson. They were called 'The End' I think at one time and 'The Jaguars' at another time. They were very good. So that was an era of music in the village. Later there was a lot of folk music and everybody went around to different folk clubs in pubs and hotels at the weekend. I remember we had one very good folk singer in the village called Leo Forsythe. He would play in hotels all around the area. He lived in Cockholm Crescent. Eventually he emigrated to Australia. He played with Mike Whelans from Lauder and others who were well known folk singers of the day. Everyone was into folk music at that time. We went every weekend to listen to folk. There were sessions at the Lauderdale hotel every Sunday night. A crowd of us went. The place was jam packed. I remember when I was a child there was the one-legged game keeper Geordie Easton who played the fiddle. He lived somewhere at Bowland. He would play in the pubs in Stow maybe after a few drinks. I was at primary school at the time.
Sheila – I was in the girl's brigade. We did lots of marching. That was another thing that I loved because of the music. We marched to Dave Clark Five – Bits and Pieces and lots of other tunes. We were making patterns and you had to make sure you were in the right place to cross over with someone else. It was all good fun and all to music.
Mike – I wasn't in any Boys Brigade. I missed out on that. My dad thought it would be a bad influence on me.
Sheila – Did he? Really?
Mike – He didn't want me in with all these wild lads! I was busy playing football, cricket...It was an outdoor life in those days.
Sheila - The Tattoo at Torsonce was a great occasion which centred around the pipe band. I think the boys and girls brigade were involved doing drills and gymnastics. It was a big affair.
Mike – I was very young at the time so I don't remember too much about it but it was quite a spectacle with the wonderful surroundings of the big house and with the pipe band marching up the drive.
Mike – When I was young youth club was held every Friday night in the village hall. We occasionally had dances with that. They would also take groups to music venues in Edinburgh if there was a major band playing. Bus-loads of children would be taken up to the Usher hall or Playhouse. I remember seeing The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cliff Richard and people like that back in the sixties in Edinburgh. Graham Simpson ran the Town Hall and the youth club and he took us up. He wasn't much older than me. Possibly Ian Hume was involved in that as well. I'm not sure. I certainly remember enjoying going up to Edinburgh when I was young. There were regular dances we used to go to in Lauder after the folk club years. In early years we used to go to The Palais (now the Volunteer Hall) in Galashiels where there were live bands. This was before the time of discos.
When that faded out then at that point everybody started going to what they used to call Melrose Hydro (The Waverley Castle Hotel.) From the early sixties on, that was the Mecca for all young people every weekend. Big name bands played there as well like The Rolling Stones and Manfred Mann. Folk came from all around, from the North of England, from Edinburgh through to Central Scotland, because it was such a popular venue. Then that died down and there was more folk singing. They used to have this dungeon bar beneath the Hydro where folk would go for a folk session and other kinds of music and then that fizzled out too. After that the disco era started in Galashiels and that morphed into night clubs.
Sheila – When I was a teenager we would go into Galashiels, meet up with friends and go to discos. The Baths, (the swimming pool) used to run one. That was maybe once a month. We'd only be maybe fourteen or fifteen at the time. There was nothing that I can recall in the village.
Mike – As a teenager we were into things like The Beach Boys, the Beetles, The Rolling Stone, The Searchers, The Hollies, Manfred Man. I loved all this kind of music. It was just a new genre of music that was coming in to being at that point. I loved it.
Sheila – I was very much influenced by my brother. I was seven years younger and what he liked I liked also. Mike used to go out when he was a teenager. I would be in bed and he would bring his wee transistor radio in to me in my bed and I had to write down the music that I'd heard that I thought was good. He made me do it. I had to keep awake long enough. It was radio Luxembourg and I had to listen out for the ones I thought were good and write down the name of the band and what the song was. We liked the same things.
Mike – I was really enthusiastic about everything as we all were. It was an exciting time musically. I remember going to school excited when the next Beatles release came out. They were all different from each other, but they were all so new musically. It was exciting times for pop music. I remember secondary school choirs. We had concerts but no competitions at that stage.
Sheila – Part of our musical influence came from our father. He was so interested in singing and classical music.
Mike - He joined the Classics Club and you got a new record sent every couple of weeks....mainly Mozart. I've still got his collection. I'm going through it at the moment. He'd vinyl records by the score. He was fanatical about it. He loved quality music. Mozart was his favourite, particularly The Marriage of Figaro. He learnt to like it in the air force in India, listening to it out there. That's where he got hooked to it. His favourite singer was Bin Crosby. I've inherited his love of Mozart. I've heard it in my house since I was born. It was always being played So for 70 years now I've had Mozart running through my head. I could just about hum along to every piece. He would have loved to have been a great singer, but he never actually did any singing.
Sheila - I think he was very influential with the children in school and that's what moved us to be interested in singing.
In secondary school I remember being involved in the choirs and we did do competitions then. I remember loving that. We competed with other Border schools quite regularly and also did school concerts. One occasion I remember was when several Border school choirs got together in the hall in Galashiels Academy to sing together. One of the songs we sang was 'Down by the Riverside.' I remember thinking that it was a wonderful experience because I'd never sang with so many people before. I've recently discovered that a friend of mine who went to a different school in the Borders was at that occasion as well.