BORN: 26 November, 1930, in Glasgow. Died: 8 October, 2012, in East Kilbride, aged 81.
Bill Bain, who has died aged 81, was double bass player in the Clyde Valley Stompers who ventured forth from Glasgow in the 1950s and early 1960s to become a world-famous traditional jazz band. A year or two before Beatlemania erupted, there was Stompermania not only in Scotland but down south, in Europe and even across the pond as trad jazz competed with both modern jazz and rock’n’roll. Once described as “the Scottish sultans of trad jazz swing”, the Stompers went from church halls in the Orkneys and Hebrides, through riverside jazz clubs in Glasgow and on to London’s historic Royal Albert Hall, often wearing tartan trim years before pop’s Bay City Rollers.
Although the Stompers’ line-up changed over the years from the early 1950s, Bain played bass during their glory years, 1959-62, led by trombonist Ian Menzies and featuring the unforgettable vocals of Fionna Duncan, who had started singing in jazz clubs while still at Rutherglen Academy.
Having moved base from Glasgow to London, the band were signed by Pye Records and managed by another Glasgow boy, the “King of Skiffle” Lonnie Donegan from Bridgeton. The Stompers also toured with Donegan and other top names including Louis Armstrong, Shirley Bassey, Petula Clark and blues legend Big Bill Broonzy.
It was Bain who provided the thumping bass rhythm when they topped the bill at Liverpool’s famous Cavern club, supported by an upcoming group of four local lads calling themselves the Beatles.
“Bill later recalled that a girl called Cilla Black was taking the coats at the entrance when the Stompers headed the bill with Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Swinging Blue Jeans,” Bain’s wife Emily said. He also appeared on the pop show Thank Your Lucky Stars and on the Morecambe and Wise Show, one of the most coveted gigs in the land. With the band by then led by Lossiemouth-born clarinettist Peter Kerr and with George Martin as producer, they had their biggest hit in 1962 with a swing version of Peter and the Wolf, originally composed by Russian Sergei Prokofiev in 1936 as a musical children’s story.
One of Bain’s outstanding memories was the Battle of Beaulieu in 1960 while the Stompers were playing what had become the world- renowned Beaulieu Jazz Festival on Lord Montagu of Beaulieu’s rambling estate on the edge of the New Forest in Hampshire.
More than 20,000 jazz buffs, dressed in their weirdest garb which now makes the Woodstock dreamers look conservative, had camped across the lawn in front of Montagu’s stately home, Beaulieu Palace House, when the Stompers took to the stage, broadcast live on BBC TV.
Bain was thumping his bass strings as Fionna Duncan launched into Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight. Duncan, now retired in Portincaple near Garelochhead, could not have chosen a more appropriate number. “All hell broke loose,” she said. Fighting broke out between modern jazz and trad jazz fans, some of the former got onto the stage while others tore the lighting scaffolding down. An outhouse was set on fire and a drunken voice on a commandeered BBC microphone shouted: “More beer for the workers!” before the real BBC man said: “Oh, dear, this is getting quite out of hand.”
As the BBC pulled the plug on the broadcast, what the nation did not see was the ensuing on-stage brawl, in which Bain, Duncan and the Stompers defended their territory Glasgow-style. According to Duncan: “I remember some wild guy grabbing me by the ankles. That was too much for Bobby Shannon, our drummer, who used his drumsticks to do an impressive solo on the guy’s head.”
“The rioters attempted to gain access to the stage and the members of the CVS (Clyde Valley Stompers) fought them off, successfully I’m proud to report, until police reinforcements arrived,” said Forrie Cairns, clarinettist with the Stompers. “Bill Bain played his part in the siege.”
Despite highly negative media reports about “39 injured in a subcultural riot”, Lord Montagu held the event again the following year but, after further violence, in which a hundred people were injured and three arrested, he ended the festival forever and offered his grounds to motorsport enthusiasts instead.
The band broke up in the mid-1960s but many of its musicians have got together for concerts since. Ian Menzies and his Clyde Valley Stompers – the Reunion Sessions, recorded in Strathaven in 1982/3 and featuring Fionna Duncan, who had taken over from the other great singers Mary McGowan and Jeannie Lamb, is already a collector’s item.
William Bain was born in Parkhead, Glasgow, in 1930 and went to the local Quarry Brae School, attending music lessons at weekends. He planned to go into engineering, which he eventually would, but music was his vocation.
A keen member of the Boys’ Brigade (BB), he taught bugle at the its 132 Company in Parkhead and met the love of his life, Emily Brooks, at a Church of Scotland youth club. They would marry in 1955.
With BB pals, he set up the Steadfast Jazz Band (the “Steadfast” from the BB motto) and played burgeoning Glasgow jazz clubs including the Prince of Wales Halls at 350 Sauchiehall Street, the Riverside Club on Maxwell Street and the adjacent Iona Community Centre on the banks of the Clyde.
In the meantime, he made some money as a film projector at a Glasgow cinema and did his national service with the RAF, mostly in Catterick and Montrose.
In the Steadfast Jazz Band, before moving on to acoustic double bass, Bain was one of the UK innovators of the electric bass guitar, plugging in a normal six-string acoustic Hofner he had bought for seven shillings and sixpence but tuning its lower four strings down to sound more like a bass. It was only after being headhunted by the Stompers that he mastered the big double bass.
Tired of the jet-setting life in the later 19 60s – and of lugging his big double bass and Marshall amp – Bain returned to Scotland to be with his pregnant wife. He settled in East Kilbride, doing engineering work, and popping up at Glasgow jazz clubs or weddings with his band The Kinsmen. He was due to do a series of reunion tours with the Stompers in the mid-1980s, including at Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre, but illness forced him to pull out.
William “Bill” Bain died at his home in East Kilbride on 8 October. He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Emily, their son Jim, daughter Jill, two grandchildren and two great grandchildren.