Obituary: John Hastings, Scottish country dance musician and composer

John Hastings. Picture: Contributed
John Hastings. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 26 January, 1932, in Dean Village, Edinburgh. Died: 18 May, 2013, in Edinburgh, aged 81.

JOHNNIE Hastings had a fascinating career, particularly during the 1950s and 60s. During that time, apart from two years serving with the Royal Scots in Korea, his day job was building the Forth Road Bridge, while in evenings and at weekends he headed a popular group of Scottish Country Dance musicians.

Johnnie Hastings and his Caledonian Dance Band – with the bandleader on accordion – never achieved the national and international fame of fellow-accordionist Jimmy Shand and his band but nevertheless performed throughout Scotland and appeared on numerous BBC television and radio shows.

Hastings himself composed and recorded many dance tunes that remain popular today, including John Murray of Lochiel and Oonagh Appin, both recorded my many Scottish artists in later years.

His band recorded mainly with Waverley Records of Earl Grey Street, Edinburgh, laying down such popular dance tracks as Heart of Midlothian, Just as I was in the Morning, Robertson’s Rant and Gaelic Waltz.

The band performed regularly at the King’s and other Edinburgh theatres, including with singer Calum Kennedy, with Jack Forsyth and his Scottish Country Dance Band and with Jim McLeod and his band.

Johnnie Hastings’ compositions, and his arrangements or traditional songs continue to appear on BBC radio programmes to this day, most recently performed by the Lynne Christie Scottish Dance Band on the BBC programme Take the Floor.

John Hastings was born in Dean Village on the Water of Leith and attended St Anthony’s School in Leith. His first job was as a joiner, before he worked in the Scottish Lighthouse Service, teaching himself music at the age of 17.

In 1953, he joined the army and served with the 1st Battalion Royal Scots for two years, including in post-armistice Korea, playing both clarinet and accordion in regimental bands.

Also in 1953, he married Isabella White (“Isa”) from Granton on the Firth of Forth and they would go on to have three children.

Back on Civvy Street, he became a steel erector, installing steel girders and beams in buildings and other structures. That brought him a job helping to build the Forth Road Bridge to replace the centuries-old ferry service, and he worked on the bridge from the start, in 1958, until – having witnessed the deaths of several co-workers during construction – it was opened by the Queen and Prince Philip in 1964.

Hastings and his co-workers faced winds of up to 110mph to build what at the time was the longest suspension bridge outside the United States.

Hastings would later go on to work as a steel erector in Grangemouth and at Newhaven harbour.

In retirement, his hobbies were DIY, looking after his classic Morris Minor 1000 Traveller and, of course, his beloved Scottish country dance and music.

John Hastings died in the Erskine retirement home for ex-service personnel on Edinburgh’s Gilmerton Road. He is survived by his wife Isa, children Carol, Ian and Callum, and five grandchildren.