Obituary: Linda Winchester Harrison, singer with The Karlins

Triplets, from left, Evelyn, Elaine and Linda Wilson   aka The Karlins  at the top of Fleshmarket Close in Edinburgh
Triplets, from left, Evelyn, Elaine and Linda Wilson  aka The Karlins  at the top of Fleshmarket Close in Edinburgh
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Linda Winchester Harrison, The Karlins singer, retail manager and trainer. Born: 3 May, 1947, in Edinburgh. Died: 22 November 2016, in Edinburgh, aged 69

When Linda Wilson and her triplet sisters were born six weeks early in post-war Edinburgh no-one could have envisaged them celebrating their 21st birthday at the centre of London’s jet set.

But by the time the 60s were in full swing the girls, who had each weighed just 4lbs, had grown up to become pop stars, coming of age at Quaglino’s, the glamorous London restaurant favoured by royalty and stars of stage and screen.

Serendipity had taken them from Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion to an EMI record deal, singing around the world in cabaret, theatre and television and a billing alongside Marcello Mastroianni in a Paramount movie.

Their father Charlie, a gas fitter, had always wanted a girl after his wife Betty, a tailoress, produced two sons, Charles and Ian, but he didn’t reckon on the arrival of three at once. The girls spent the first nine weeks of their lives in hospital but went on to thrive.

Linda, the eldest of the triplets, was educated along with her sisters Elaine and Evelyn at Edinburgh’s Stenhouse Primary School. The girls were split up for the first time when they went to Boroughmuir High School, where Linda was a keen artist.

They became involved in music and singing more by accident than design after a photo of the triplets as flowergirls at a wedding appeared in a local newspaper.

It was spotted by Salvation Army musician Alex Thain who invited the girls to sing at a carol service in the city’s Usher Hall on Christmas Eve 1960. He asked their school music teacher, a talented voice coach, to teach them a carol. He taught them to sing an unaccompanied, close harmony version of Greensleeves but it was the only song in their repertoire and when they audience asked for an encore they simply had to repeat the performance.

After leaving school Linda worked at the University of Edinburgh library, by which time the girls had joined local folk singers Charlie Burrels and Duggie Murray and formed a group, The Karlins. They initially came up with the name Caerlin (correct) but were not keen on a title starting with C because The Corries and The Clancy Brothers were on the same circuit. As a result they adapted the spelling with a K.

They were soon in demand and recorded a single, on local label Waverley Records, written by the writer, critic and BBC producer W Gordon Smith. The single was sold to EMI, who offered the group a recording contract.

They moved to London in 1965 at the height of the Swinging Sixties when the area was at the heart of an exciting new era of fashion and popular culture. Although the boys left the group a year later the girls stayed together and, as Britain’s international singing triplets, their career soared.

During the late 1960s and 70s they released a string of singles and EPs with the EMI Group, among others, which included It’s Good To Be Around, Walking Away, Everyone Wants To Go To Heaven, Mama Say and Please Mr Please. There was also an album, Our Kind Of Music.

They toured at home and abroad, appeared in the 1968 film Diamonds For Breakfast, with Mastroianni and Rita Tushingham and at the London Palladium with Roy Orbison. They toured with some of the most popular acts of the day: Morecambe and Wise; Harry Secombe; comedians Dave Allen, Dick Emery and Stanley Baxter; the Barron Knights, Jimmy Logan, Robin Hall and Jimmie Macgregor but were particularly proud of an appearance at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh with The Corries.

They began working for cruise companies after being asked to fly to New York to join the QE2 for a season in 1970. This line of work fitted in well with their commitments to summer seasons, Christmas shows and television appearances. In one year they appeared in such varied events as international cabaret in Tehran, Iran and Estoril, Portugal, Scotch Corner for STV, the Reg Varney Show, a Dutch music show, Saturday Night on BBC Radio 2 and on the cruise ship the SS Oriana. The girls continued as a trio until 1977 when Elaine married and retired from performing.

Linda and Evelyn then performed as a duo, mainly working out of America and Australia for P&O and Princess Cruises. Evelyn married in 1979 and a year later she too retired. Linda worked in panto in Sheffield that year but the life of a solo singer was not for her.

She planned to qualify as a personal assistant and enrolled at Tonbridge College, Kent, but then began working for the Allders Group, managing shops on P&O Ferries sailing out of Portsmouth and Dover. After promotion to area manager she moved to Florida, managing shops for the Holland America Line, before changing course again and joining Time Manager International, a training organisation, as a trainer. She worked with major companies including both British and Kenyan Airways, the Midland Bank, Vauxhall motors and Sun Hotels in South Africa where she met her husband Patrick Harrison. They married in 1994, moved to Dufftown in Moray and when he became a purser for P&O she often travelled with him.

When the marriage ended she moved to Oxfordshire, later working for some time in Australia for Time Manager. Latterly she lived in Cambridgeshire with her niece and planned to retire to Scotland. However she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and underwent four years of treatment before finally coming home, to stay with Evelyn and her husband in North Berwick, where she enjoyed a few days with her family before being admitted to a hospice.

She is survived by brothers Charles and Ian, sisters Evelyn and Elaine and extended family.

ALISON SHAW