Obituary: Colin Scott-Sutherland, bank manager and writer

Colin Scott-Sutherland
Colin Scott-Sutherland
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Born: 24 September, 1930, in Dundee. Died: 28 December, 2012, in Cellardyke, Fife, aged 73.

Colin Scott-Sutherland was a bank manager who produced a number of remarkable books and articles on music and other artistic subjects, starting with his pioneering Arnold Bax in 1973. When he retired he was the Royal Bank of Scotland’s area manager for the East Neuk of Fife. He wrote in his spare time, but, once he had retired, in 1991, his output blossomed as he was able to devote much of his time to writing.

Colin was born in Dundee and brought up in Cellardyke in the picturesque East Neuk of Fife, where his father Edwin Scott-Sutherland was principal art teacher at the Waid Academy in Anstruther, a school Colin would later attend, attaining the highest honour of dux. He was the grandson of the Manse on both sides of his family.

It was on visits to relatives in Dundee that Colin’s lifelong passion for books was ignited. He recounted in his memoirs of being awestruck by an Aladdin’s cave of books in a small room, where he subsequently spent many happy hours lost in his own imagination. In later years, there was nothing he enjoyed more than browsing through the antiquary and second-hand book shops in Edinburgh and elsewhere.

While Colin’s initial ambition was to study chemistry at university, this was not to be and a career in banking beckoned. This was a peripatetic occupation in the early days of what was to become the Royal Bank of Scotland, but it eventually gave him the opportunity to return to his beloved East Neuk.

He became bank manager for a number of the small fishing villages along the coast, (Anstruther, Pittenween, St Monans and Elie). The job brought him much satisfaction and the opportunity to spend time with many memorable characters from the fishing and farming communities of the East Neuk.

Colin’s national service was served in the army (1948-50), apparently a happy time from which he had a fund of amusing stories. It was during this time he first encountered a Sir Arnold Bax symphony – the Fourth.

I was introduced to Colin in the mid-1960s by the pianist Harriet Cohen. I am not qualified to comment on his banking career, but his musical and literary output was distinguished and pioneering indeed, coloured by his highly personal use of language and knowledgeable and sympathetic treatment of the music he wrote about.

I first became aware of Colin’s name reading his articles on Bax in Music Review, Scotland’s Magazine and the Musical Times in the 1960s. He worked closely with Harriet Cohen in writing his book on Bax, which gave him access to her rich collection of source materials and scores.

It was unfortunate for Colin that his publisher, JM Dent, insisted on cutting his book before publication, but it was, nevertheless, a worthy first survey of its topic, and without Colin’s pioneering work the later Bax revival and my own book on Bax would have been the poorer.

Its only serious flaw – one he later admitted to – was that he allowed Harriet to influence him in various aspects of his treatment, most seriously in not even mentioning Bax’s other lady, Mary Gleaves. (When I, rather naïvely perhaps, asked Harriet about Mary, years before Colin’s book had appeared, she brushed my question aside, saying: “Sir Arnold’s nurse, my dear.”)

Colin’s written style on Bax was remarkably sympathetic – this from the introduction to Arnold Bax surely immediately establishes his authority. Colin wrote: “If a ‘dancing star’ was ever given birth out of chaos it is in music like that of the Second Symphony, whose strange phantasmagoric beauty and catastrophic upheavals represent the other side of the composer of Summer Music and Morning Song.

“Bax’s duality is clearly defined in the symphonic works whose tremendous surges of power, passionate incandescence and dark orchestral splendour are strongly contrasted with remote loveliness, austere beauty and wistful melancholy – culminating, its conflict reconciled, in the epilogic pages whose vigorous and joyous serenity is shot through with the all too human realisation that such beauty is not, after all, 

Eloquent indeed, and written long before most of the later flowering of Bax recordings.

During the 1970s I ran a hobby imprint called Triad Press – books and pamphlets on British music – and knowing from our mutual friend the pianist Patrick Piggott that Colin was working on a study of John Ireland, I asked Colin if a booklet on John Ireland in the Triad Press series would be useful for him to produce, and in 1980 Triad Press published it.

However, Triad Press was running out of steam by 1980, and it did not achieve quite the circulation I had hoped,. When I was editing The John Ireland Companion for Boydell in 2010 I suggested to Colin he might like to revise his text for the Companion where it provides the introductory overview for a wider audience.

The breadth of Colin’s knowledge of the British music of the inter-war period was further underlined by his magisterial 36-page article British Piano Music of the Georgian Era 1910-1936 which he contributed to the British Music Society Journal in 1982, where he reproduced some or all of short pieces by ten composers.

Over the years there followed another nine articles in that journal, which constitute a sympathetic and knowledgeable overview of the period. Because Colin had access to many of that generation before they left us, they have a remarkable authenticity.

Subjects were Norman Peterkin, John Jeffreys, Francis George Scott, Cedric Thorpe Davie, Patrick Piggott, Mervyn Roberts, Balfour Gardiner, Ronald Stevenson and Tobias Matthay.

Colin’s interests were not confined to music and he wrote as sympathetically about the Glasgow painter and China decorator Elizabeth Mary Watt (The Pattern Press, 1995), the Scottish fin-de-siècle book illustrator and poet William Watson Peploe (in Akloe: A volume of the Fantastic, 1998), the author Jocelyn Brooke (a fascinating account in Book and Magazine Collector, 1998) and the author and friend of John Ireland, Arthur Machen.

He also had an enthusiasm for the children’s author GE Farrow (1862-1919) whose Wallypug books entranced Victorian and Edwardian children. Colin published a detailed article on Farrow’s many books in The Book Collector, and he also wrote the short entry on Farrow for The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature.

He revisited his enthusiasm for Arnold Bax with a complete collection of his poetry (published by Bax as Dermot O’Byrne) and early letters, given memorable sumptuous reality by his publisher, the Fand Music Press, in Ideala: poems and early love letters by Arnold Bax (2001). Here Colin is playing to all his strengths – wonderful source material, a knowledgeable and sympathetic literary treatment and an indulgent publisher.

Colin’s interest in the composer Frederick Delius, too, found expression in his sensitive article about Grez-sur-Loing, in which he explored the Spirit of Place as felt by Delius. This appeared in The Delius Society Journal 136 (Autumn 2004) and it made one hope for an in-depth exploration of Delius by him.

But there are only two other short pieces – a review and a letter. Firstly, exploring a similar sensibility, his review of a book about the painter William Stott of Oldham, who painted at Grez. There followed his interesting letter to the editor discussing the definition and sources of Celticism. They leave us wishing we could have asked Colin to write at greater length.

Colin was long acquainted with Ronald Stevenson, and first wrote – so eloquently – about his music in Music Review in 1965. There followed the chapter in my book already mentioned, then an artistic beautifully illustrated analysis and commentary about Ronald’s song cycle A Child’s Garden of Verse (1994), and an article on Ronald’s MacDiarmid Songs in Tempo (March 1994). After so long an association and a very lengthy gestation it was very pleasing when Toccata Press published his massive volume Ronald Stevenson: the man and his music – a symposium in 2005.

Left unfinished are his long-gestated study of composer Cedric Thorpe Davie, a volume of Clifford Bax’s poetry and a collection of pianist and composer Patrick Piggott’s – a mutual friend − letters. I hope I haven’t given the impression that Colin was too solemn – he had a great sense of humour, if expressed with a pleasing reticence. I shall miss him.

My thanks to Colin’s wife, Margaret, and his children, Susan and Christopher, for their assistance with this obituary. To them and his sister Helen and grandchildren Kirsty, Colin and Jamie, our heartfelt sympathy.