Calum Kennedy

Singer and businessman

Born: 2 June, 1928, in Oronsay, Lewis.

Died: 15 April, 2006, in Cults, Aberdeen, aged 77.

CALUM Kennedy seemed set for a career in accountancy until he won the Mod gold medal in the Music Hall, Aberdeen, in 1955. It was a triumph which reshaped his life twice: he embarked on a highly successful showbusiness career, and his personal and business life became centred on Aberdeen rather than his native Lewis.

Winning gold presented the handsome young singer with instant invitations to perform around Scotland. The turning point in his career came when he began to sing and write songs in English as well as his native Gaelic. Shows of his own followed, along with lucrative record deals.

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With his wife, Anne Gillies, herself a Mod gold medallist three years before Kennedy, they packed Aberdeen's Tivoli Theatre twice nightly for a whole year, with a line-up of performers giving real meaning to the word "variety". With a shrewd eye to business, he was one of a consortium of seven who bought both the Tivoli, and the Palace in Dundee, bringing north entertainers such as Frankie Vaughan, Anne Shelton and the Billy Cotton Band. He also headed Radar Records, a recording and music publishing company to put out his albums.

Touring with Kennedy was the stuff of legend, not just for the demanding schedule, but for the parties that followed the concerts. It was that feeling for what makes a good party that led to the success of his 1960s and 1970s television programmes. Broadcast live, Calum's Ceilidh and Round at Calum's were completely non-formulaic, being the essence of what happens at a ceilidh. The initial Calum's Ceilidh was the first live programme transmitted by Grampian TV, and the series - running to hundreds of programmes - gained a Central Belt audience when it moved to STV.

From their Renfrewshire home in Elderslie, Kennedy and Anne ran a family show with the "Singing Kennedys", including their five daughters in the line-up. Only the eldest daughter, Fiona, remains in the business today.

The kind of tours originated by Kennedy and his crew ought to have died out long ago, but audience demand was there, and he joyously played to them into the 1980s, with a work output that sometimes astonished his peers in showbiz. One west-coast winter tour north from Oban presented a pantomime in the first house, with the same cast working in variety in the second. Sometimes the same audience appeared at both.

He brought glamour to unlikely places. A Shirley Bassey-esque performer appeared nightly in Wick, slinky frame covered in a thousand sequins, with her caravan almost as highly decorated.

Aged 51, Kennedy announced his retiral, but his fans demanded more, and seven years later, he was back on stage as the dominant voice of Gaelic music to Highlander and Lowlander alike. His Lewis heritage inspired his writing of Lovely Stornoway, a song which became most identified with Gaelic music the world over, and which contains a line referring to his birthplace at Oronsay.

Kennedy himself always said that his proudest moment was in Moscow in 1957, winning the world ballad championship against 500 entrants from 30 countries. Among them was a young Irish singer Richard Harris who, like Kennedy, had both a great future ahead of him, and was not averse to the occasional drink. Together they travelled by train to Moscow on what proved by all accounts to be an eventful journey.

No stranger to the law courts, he successfully sued Eden Court Theatre in Inverness over sales of his records, but failed in a bitter wrangle with the BBC to stop the broadcasting of Calum Kennedy's Commando Course, a documentary parodying his work.

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He was devastated by the sudden death of his beloved wife, Anne, in 1974. Some 13 years later he married his second wife, Christine Wilson, a singer and principal player with Irvine Amateur Operatic Society, but the marriage was not a success and the couple divorced. They had a daughter.

Hit by a series of strokes, Kennedy lived his last years in a nursing home in Aberdeen, and is survived by his six daughters and several grandchildren.

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