Tag Archives: #Cleland

SYDNEY DEVINE 40 Years Performing at the Pavilion Theatre Glasgow

Earlier this month (November 7th & 8th), Sydney Devine graced the stage at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow for the fortieth consecutive year, creating an entertainment record all of his own. Dressed in an immaculately tailored ruby red suit with white braiding, red shirt, white boots and a red rhinestone belt, Sydney sang to a packed auditorium of devoted fans. As has been my custom for many a year, I was sitting in the front section of the stalls for the first show, unusually a Friday night, rather than the Thursday evening I was expecting. Possibly this is a little nod toward the fact that the star of the show turns 75 on January the 11th next year! Anyway, as always everyone had a thoroughly good evening being entertained by a singer sometimes affectionately known as Steak ‘n’ Kidney.

Looking great ifor his Silver anniversary 26/11/99. Image credit abmj
Looking great for his Silver anniversary 26/11/99. Image credit abmj

Sydney Devine (his own name although it does have an exotic showbiz ring to it) has been treading the boards since he was in short trousers. Long before his voice broke and before he left school, Sydney had been “discovered” so to speak. Born in Mayfield Cottage in Bellside Cleland to a large family, his mother “Old Nellie” taught him to whistle. Around the age of ten or eleven Sydney’s ability to mimic bird calls was written about in a local newspaper, and the story was picked up by a national. From that he was invited to the BBC Radio Scotland studio in Glasgow, to perform alongside Ronnie Ronald on the song If I Were a Blackbird (Sydney was the blackbird). Another invite to sing at the BBC studio came about a year later when Syd was around twelve, who by then was already on the touring talent show circuit Go As You Please. The head of BBC Radio Scotland Kathleen Garscadden “Auntie Kathleen”, having given Sydney his first break then invited him to represent Scotland, in a four home nations TV show called All Your Own. As a result, a 13 year old Cleland boy headed to London (with his Mum as chaperone) to perform “live” on the fledgling medium of TV. This broadcast was seen by the legendary Scottish performer Robert Wilson, who then paid the Devine household a personal visit and offered to be a voice coach to Sydney and to find him a song to record onto vinyl. Shortly after this visit Sydney Devine had cut his first record with Betty Fitchett’s Wedding /Lunan Bay. He appeared on vinyl again (as a blackbird) accompanying Robert Wilson in Cottage by the Lea. Although Sydney cannot remember receiving any money for his recordings, he did well on the touring talent circuit although much of his earnings went on stage costumes and travel. The novelty payment of two packs of chewing gum (sweet rationing still in place) came from working in Stopher’s Dundee shows and then Sydney joined Annie Muir’s Concert Party in Carluke. So most weekends Sydney was performing the length and breadth of Lanarkshire (a large urban sprawl in Central Scotland) that included doing several Old Folks’ Treats shows. All this was going on whilst Sydney was still a schoolboy, so the seeds had been sown for an entertainment career long before the school gates closed. A job in a tailors shop beckoned, when news came that he had won the role of Micah Dow in Wild Grows the Heather, staged in the West End of London. Fifteen year old Sydney Devine was on his way earning £28 a week in 1955! The show lasted about twenty weeks and the juvenile role music had to be re-written, after Sydney’s voice broke mid-song during a performance about six weeks through the run. When the role ended Sydney and his chaperone Mum returned home to Cleland, where the teenager had to let nature take its course and allow his voice to settle.

Still rockin' in tartan 26/10/99. Image credit abmj
Still rockin’ in tartan 26/10/99. Image credit abmj

This was the era of the embryonic sound of rock n’ roll and Syd was not immune to its lure, so he took up the guitar, let his voice settle and created a skiffle band. He then entered a competition to find “Scotland’s Tommy Steele” and came second to the more raucous sounding Alex Harvey. After the competition tour was completed (like the X-Factor road show I guess but more low key), Sydney joined the very Scottish Robert Wilson’s White Heather Group in 1959 and toured with them for the next decade. His appearance as “The Tartan Rocker” singing Elvis songs must have gone down particularly well on the American Army bases in Germany. Apparently one night the REAL Elvis was in the audience listening. Undoubtedly Elvis Presley has had a bit of an influence on Sydney over the years, as anyone attending his concerts can testify. He is heralded onto the stage to the strains of Also Sprach Zarathustra and has worn the “white-spangled rhinestone jumpsuit” on occasion too.

Ode to Elvis March 1990. Image credit abmj
Ode to Elvis March 1990. Image credit abmj

With the untimely death of Robert Wilson in 1964 Sydney suddenly found himself a solo artist in every sense, even though the White Heather Group continued. He didn’t have the security anymore and during his time with Robert Wilson he hadn’t appeared on any TV or radio shows, having seemingly been blacklisted. A decision to tour the working men’s’ clubs was quickly put on hold, when a serious car accident put Sydney out of action. Oddly as a result of this experience, his indomitable wife Shirley found herself making a great success of running a bed & breakfast establishment. This gave the income security the Devine family needed to allow a healed Sydney to ply his trade south of the border. The working men’s clubs are a tough audience but Sydney managed to survive. I think a lot of fans who travel from England and Wales for the Pavilion concerts, remember his work ethic and talent from those days. A tour with Andy Stewart around the end of 1969/the start of 1970 found Sydney in South Africa. Offered the chance to do an album there he laid down over twenty songs. The resulting album eventually found its way to a Glasgow Woolworths store, where a young Miss Devine (no relation) got the album played. From there on in, it was the slow burn to career success.

Belting out a song 10/11/2001. Image credit abmj
Belting out a song 10/11/2001. Image credit abmj

As a wee girl from Cleland in the early seventies, I was delighted and amazed to discover Sydney Devine came from my home village. And I knew his mammy “Old Nellie” the woman with the fur coat I’d see at the bus stop going to bingo. The big revelation came one day whilst standing at the bus stop outside Bessie Allen’s grocery store. I was about 4 years old and had just learned all the words to all the songs from an album called “Cryin Time”. “Old Nellie” was chuffed when I gave her a wee compilation rendition of Old Shep, Cryin Time, Two Little Orphans and Come Home Rolling Stone. Then my mammy dropped the bombshell of who “Old Nellie” really was, and I felt like I’d met the Queen Mum. From that day on I never passed Syd’s mother without saying hello, asking how she & the bingo was and of course how Sydney/Shirley and the family were. When “Old Nellie” passed away I wrote to Sydney (c/o the Pavilion) for the first time to express my sympathy to him. I mentioned I was going to be sitting in the stalls Row C 1 & 2 at his next show and hoped to get a photo. At that concert it seemed he made a particular effort to come to my side of the stage and I got some lovely snaps, as well as a wee thank-you from the stage for the lovely letter. I was thrilled at this unexpected acknowledgement. Over the years (since earning my own income) I have attended Sydney’s shows faithfully, with the exception of a period of about 4-5 years when illness just would not allow it. One year I decided to write to Syd again saying how sad I was to be missing his show because I was poorly, and I wondered if he had done any videos I could buy from a catalogue. A catalogue duly arrived in the post with a wee note (in his writing) scrawled on it wishing me well, and hoping there was something I could get to cheer me up until my next concert. I still have the videos I bought and treasure them. My greatest joy was when Sydney granted me an interview in 2006 for my hospital radio show. Little did either of us know at that time, Sydney would require life saving emergency surgery the following year whilst in Spain. I think the operation happened in the October and he still appeared on stage at the Pavilion in the November. He was completely wiped out by the performance, yet still seen all the fans who stayed behind after the show. I distinctly remember being with two ladies (whom I’d previously met at shows) at the end of the queue. I had given them a CD copy of my interview and he signed the cover for them. We were all so concerned about Sydney we waited to see him into the car taking him home. In conversation as we waited, he had mentioned that his wife Shirley had refused to attend the show “to watch him die on stage”, and that she would be relieved to see him walk through the door. An absolute trooper who didn’t want to let his fans down!!!

And so to today and the Sydney Devine 40th Anniversary Show which had the usual format in the first half, band, comedian & singer. Starting the show was Sydney’s band Legend followed by comedian Eddie Devine (no relation) and singer June McCreadie. Extra fizz was added by singer/violinist Simone Welsh, who gave a scintillating rendition of the Scottish folk tune “Crabbit Shona” something I’d never heard before. Then in the second half came Sydney who can make every eye-brow raise, hip wiggle and pose speak volumes. The must-haves were there Maggie, Tiny Bubbles and The Answer to Everything along with many more as he didn’t stop singing until ten to eleven, having come on stage at ten past nine. As a sweat soaked de-jacketed Sydney Devine draped with the Scottish flag ended the show with Scotland Forever, I was overwhelmed by a powerful sense of belonging and that these were “my people”. There is a distinctive look about Syd’s audience who are the salt of the earth, the sort of folk whose faces tell the story of the realities of a working-class life that hasn’t always been kind. During shows the fans are quite literally one body and one voice accompanying Sydney. I make no apology if that sounds religious or spiritual because I guess for “Devineites” it is that kind of experience.

Two Cleland natives together. November 2013. Image credit abmj
Two Cleland natives together. November 2013. Image credit abmj

Sydney Devine is a curious phenomenon in Scotland who seems to conjure up feelings of either love or loathing in equal measure, there never seems to be a half way opinion on the Scots entertainer with the three octave range (a bit like Celine Dion). I am proud to call myself a lifelong fan of Sydney Devine, for without him I would not possess the sheer breadth of musical knowledge that I have. His music has given me much joy and I’ve looked forward to every one of his 24 concerts I’ve attended. So in closing I’d just like to say “thank you for the music Sydney, you are absolutely Devine, from Angela with love xxx”.

Listen here: https://soundcloud.com/angies_allsorts/sydney-devine-interview-101106

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A Mothers Day Letter

Mammy at 65
Mammy

Dear Mammy,

It’s Mother’s Day and you are not here to receive a gift or card. So I thought I’d write you a letter as I have so much I want to say. I’ve put the last good photo of you as a stamp on this so the angels know who to deliver it too. And I’ve enclosed some others as well since I have your photo album here. Some pictures you won’t have seen before. Remember how Granny Bowes used to write letters with no punctuation except for the odd full stop!! Well for ease of reading I’m putting this into “bite-size” chunks so you can read bits when you have time ok.

All The Adults From My Childhood

Of course I’m sure since you left me and Paul, you’ve been surrounded by the menagerie of pets from over the years, and have hooked up with all the folk I knew as a wee girl. You were always at Granny Bowes’ house taking care of things, or running messages for Jim & Cathy Bryce at no. 12, or keeping Nellie Neill company whilst I played with her grandson. Say a big hello to all of them for me. And of course big hugs to Granny, Uncle Harry and Aunty Maggie. Sorry I know I should include Uncle Allan but I was never overly keen on him, too much like Dad I’m afraid. Sadly Granny, Jim, Cathy and Nellie were all gone from my life by the time I was around eight. Then my wee pal Craig Twaddle from Cleland Primary moved to Preston in October 79. I never got to say a proper goodbye to him, I’d to get to the house and make sure the Prudential man was paid. I cried all the way home that day, and a shutter went down in my young mind. Everyone was gone more or less, and I vowed I would never hurt like this again. That barrier stayed with me until I was well into my twenties. I don’t think you had any idea.

Me and Granny
Me and Granny

Uncle Harry

I only met him for a short time when I was about four. Having gone to Australia on a £10 ticket around late 50’s/early 60’s he was far away. Mind you out of sight was not out of mind as far as you were concerned. When commercial radio began in about 73/74 regular requests were sent to Radio Clyde for Harry’s birthday. It was my responsibility (aged 3+) to listen to the Frank Skerritt and Sydney Devine shows and record the requests onto tape, as a gift for the big day. Is it any wonder I feel most comfortable with a pair of headphones on, messing about with music? It was ideal preparation for my volunteering at Hospital Radio Leighton and in January I completed ten years there, can you imagine! Regular airmail letters were sent to Australia as well, and you got me into writing letters too. The joy of pen pals came easily when I was a teenager as a result.

Harry
Harry

Extended Family

Up until I started high school you took me to see my locally based cousins every Saturday. We would visit your two sisters and Dad’s two brothers on alternate weeks. But as bus fares rose, and you began to realise that most of them all had car access, you stopped making the effort. This meant that when Paul was born (I was 15 ½) he never knew any of them, with the exception of Aunty Maggie. At your funeral I had to scratch my head trying to identify the handful of relatives in attendance, poor Paul hadn’t a clue. Suffice to say both Paul and I could walk past any of the clan in Lanarkshire and make no connection. They would probably stop us though, I have your face and Paul has Dad’s, a bit of a Bowes/McCully giveaway. Not surprising then I view the concept of family as a curious notion, I consider the people I call friends as family instead.
Both Paul and I grew up in a house where the past was ever present, and the present didn’t matter. No matter what was happening NOW you would brush it off and talk about something from years back, with “oor so and so done that or went there”. Rob’s mother is 93 now and reads her diaries to keep hold of the past. But you lived the past your whole life. You were old before your time, and you made me old before mine, as I was your main confidante for all your worries and woes. When I went to Keele I had to fill in the Grand Canyon chips on my shoulders inherited from you and Dad. And I had to try very hard to find the person inside I thought I could be, because I didn’t know who that was.

Paul

Paul is doing well at college now and is engaged to a lovely lass called Kerry. You were there in spirit at the engagement though, because Kerry has your engagement ring. I can just hear you muttering

“whit’s guid enough fur Prince William and Kate, is guid enough fur ma laddie and Kerry”

kerry Kerry took this picture in November last year. Yes, you can take a picture of yourself (called a selfie) with a phone these days!!! A long way away from the days of sending “spools to get developed”. Kerry is studying beauty therapy at college, and has a black-belt in tae-kwon-do that funny sounding martial art. So Paul knows to behave himself ha ha. You always hoped you would see Paul reach the age of 21, and you managed it with ten months to spare. I know you’d be very proud of Paul and Kerry making a go of it, and trying to better themselves with college. But I feel with me it was a different matter.

Paul at 21
Paul at 21

Conflicting Messages

You always told me not to be like you and stick in at school. Yet when I showed myself to be a natural kind of scholar, you seemed threatened somehow. At high school I was virtually thrown out of the house to attend my only prize giving. But you refused to speak to me for a year when I went to university. Through the whole course at Keele University you would not entertain the merest conversation about it. When I told you I’d graduated your exact words were

“so this stupid malarkey is over with is it. Not that it matters getting a degree, but at least you got a guid man oot it”.

A word of congratulations would have been nice, or a well done, but there was no chance of that! I shouldn’t have been surprised though because having uttered the words “oonyverity” aged three you said to Granny

“if it wisnae fur his temper and ma ears, I’d swear the hosepital gave me the wrang wein”

Clearly we were on a different paths altogether. But considering you never got so much as an ounce of encouragement yourself, from family or in your marriage, I can easily understand you not being able to fully encourage me. The support and encouragement I desperately needed came from Archie & Agnes in the church, and my old school teachers Mrs Pender, Mrs Mitchell and particularly Mr Brown. I suspect if you’ve met Mr Brown up in heaven you gave him a rollicking for giving me fancy ideas, poor guy. And I know you won’t like me saying this, but Archie and Mr Brown were the main male role models in my formative years. Although I only knew them from a distance, they were the ones I seen the most of growing up.

Educating Angela
Educating Angela

 Bingo & Horse Racing

 I distinctly remember you playing bingo from Radio Luxemburg, you telling tales of going to bingo by water bus in Malta, and prize bingo in Cleland in the Old Folks Hall. So I’m presuming you have found the heavenly bingo hall by now. Remember how you had a big cash win the night Torvill & Dean won their Olympic Gold medal. It meant I celebrated the occasion with a battered sausage and chips supper you brought back that night. I bet you were surprised when I got to be a bit of an Olympian myself in 2012. No I never suddenly gained an ounce of natural sporting ability, but I was a volunteer for London 2012, so I enclose a snap of me in my uniform for you to look at.

olympic volunteerYou also enjoyed a wee flutter on the horses too, just a few pence but you enjoyed the thrill. If there is a Grand National from the ghosts of yester year where you are, Red Rum my first sporting hero will always be my number one choice. Not that I’ve ever put a bet on, I don’t know how, you made sure of that. You always feared there was a potential rouge gambling gene in my DNA from Dad, so you ensured its traits would never come to light. But it was definitely your influence that brought me to be a horse racing pundit for a friends sport website. Bissom!

Home Alone

Dad, a merchant seaman was away a lot of the time, thank goodness. Because when he was home it was rarely good, him being a heavy drinker and a bad gambler didn’t make life easy. You worked 2/3 part time jobs just to make ends meet. So after Granny died when I was six I became my own baby sitter, with the family pets, radio and TV and my teddies for company. I got to be self reliant and that’s probably why I don’t particularly feel alone in my own company. When Paul was born, you were much older and less able to go out to work. So you were always around for him, and I think that’s why he needs company about to quell feelings of loneliness.

My teddies (and a few dolls) are VERY IMPORTANT to me; each one has a place, person or event associated with them; and there are over seventy now. You unceremoniously put my first teddy in the bin one day when I was at school. The violent reaction you encountered from me at this discovery, guaranteed you never made that mistake again!! Is Teddy receiving some better care in heaven, and does Granny look after wee Tommy doll? Tommy was the twin brother of wee Betty that Granny bought for my second birthday. When I went through the house after you passed away, I found Betty but not Tommy. I have a feeling he succumbed to an attack from Brandy the dog. There were only two places I never explored, the loft and the boiler cupboard in Paul’s room. Anyway, Betty is comfortable with me at Keele and we accept her brother alas is long gone. Here is a picture of Betty, Colin the Koala (Uncle Harry), Goldie (Aunty Maggie) and Agnes the rabbit named after you. I took this little one from your room at Ravenscourt, and she reminds me of you very much. Her pale colouring, feisty and opinionated character and her dainty mouth and pink nose are all you. I know, I know, you didn’t have a pink nose, but Dad described you as having a Miss Prim mouth and pug nose.

kidz
Goldie, Betty, Agnes and Colin

Today

 So how do things stand today I hear you wonder. Well Paul is nearly finished college, and still lives in Tinto Way, so a McCully has been resident in that house since it was built about 46 years ago. I think Ravenscourt Nursing Home is still there, although it went through some difficulty as the company running it had finance problems. It was the place you called home for your last years, and I’m grateful to them for giving you a quality of life you sadly were lacking. Rob and I still live in the flat at Keele and will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary in April. Rob still works in the department, plays trombone and is always dashing about. He is a very good man who adores me and I love him to bits.

me and rob Rob and I in London last week (another selfie)

Your stroke meant that when you died you were not the woman I had grown up with, but a younger version of yourself before the cares of the world ground you down. Granny was never able to express any love toward you, but you made sure that Paul and I knew we were loved very much. As I glance in the mirror the woman I see before me is you, as the chin develops and the hair becomes ever whiter. You are never far away in my thoughts and please remember…

I love you