Obituary: Wally Allan, Edinburgh folk musician, world traveller, sports fan, artist, writer and pinball wizard

Walter James Allan, folk musician. Born: 26 June 1951. Died: 7 January 2019 in Edinburgh, aged 67

Wally Allan

Edited version of eulogy delivered at memorial service

Wally was a very sociable man; wherever he went, at home or abroad, he made friends. He was also a highly principled person who would stand his ground and argue his point, but he was very kind and thoughtful too, always remembering important occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. At the same time, Wally was a deeply private person who tended to compartmentalise the different areas of his life and seldom gave away personal details.

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Wally was born in England on 26 June 1951 but he came to Edinburgh as a baby, and he had lived in the same home in Colinton Mains for most of his life. He was an only child, deeply loved but never spoiled. As a boy, he attended Holy Cross Primary and Secondary Schools, where he disliked the school’s discipline, though he enjoyed learning. Encouraged by his English teacher, Wally sat the “Higher” when his classmates were doing the “O” level and he passed but, then, he was a fast learner and very intelligent; as an adult, he was a member of Mensa.

Both Irene and Maureen were Wally’s neighbours. Irene’s family lived round the corner and he remained close friends with Irene and her brother, Stewart. Sadly, Stewart died in 2004, but Irene and Wally remained dear friends. Maureen was Wally’s next door neighbour for many years and she particularly recalled his interest in birds, laughing at his attempts to lure them into the garden with homemade fatballs that got no takers at all!

At 15, Wally got an after-school job delivering prescriptions for a chemist on Comiston Road and he often passed Bruce doing his paper round. Little did either know, then, that they would have a 50-year friendship. Wally’s best friend at that time was Stewart. They went to discos and the motorcycle speedway at Powderhall. Wally even had his own “Easy Rider” style Triumph. Then, when The Beatles catapulted into youth culture, everybody wanted to learn to play the guitar and Wally became a master! Bruce encountered Wally again in 1969, when some of St Peter’s Youth Club Football Team, including Wally and Stewart, had a friendly game against Bruce and other lads from Morningside. Wally, Bruce and Stewart enjoyed great times at various events with their many friends from the Youth Club.

Wally and Bruce went to the cycle speedway together; Wally’s parents chauffeured them to many Hearts games across Scotland, and they began frequenting the Iona Bar. Later, they moved to the newly opened Glencraig, now the Kilted Pig, where Wally became an ace on the pinball machine, regularly winning the weekly prize of a half bottle. Over the years, Wally built up a circle of friends there.

Despite his busy social life, Wally managed to fit in paid employment, starting as a laboratory assistant for Cerebos Salts in Colinton village. He next applied for an apprenticeship with the General Post Office, as a telephone technician. It was the beginning of a long employment career and his friendship with Bruce, who also worked for the GPO. His time served, Wally became a technician in the Leith Exchange. He was promoted to Technical Officer, eventually moving closer to home and working at the Craiglockhart Exchange for about 14 years.

He next transferred to outside work as a Special Faults Investigation Officer. Wally loved his job but, after 25 years, he took early retirement from what had become British Telecom. Parallel with his “proper job”, Wally was, of course, a well-known folk singer. He performed in many pubs and clubs but it was his regular Friday evening slot at the Waverley Bar which marked the start of a long and profitable career, within Edinburgh and beyond, even as far as Denmark and the USA.

During the early 1980s, Wally teamed up with Dave and Colin to start North Sea Gas – a very successful group, still performing today with a few personnel changes. Wally left in the late 1980s to go solo again and he took on fresh challenges following his retirement from BT.

Those challenges show Wally’s creativity and self discipline. He designed and made stained glass windows, took art classes and produced some great paintings, and even wrote some short stories for a few magazines, notably the Peoples’ Friend. Wally was also prolific in his letter writing to The Scotsman. He addressed everyday topics that he felt strongly about and proudly kept a scrap book with cuttings of all his published letters. Wally was creative when it came to boosting his income as well, ever the entrepreneur searching for ways to make an extra sheckle or two.

In the early 1990s Wally had a regular gig in the Edinburgh Sheraton Hotel where he performed traditional Scottish folk songs to tourists and guests. He received complements from the legendary John Denver, who stayed at the Sheraton in 1991 when he did a concert at the Playhouse.

He occasionally travelled to America, taking a tatty old guitar which he would trade in for a new expensive one to carry home. You would think he was trying to avoid paying import tax … but surely not! At home, eBay was Wally’s favourite place for trading anything from bulk buy T-shirts or paperweights to old Beano and Dandy books he had unearthed in charity shops in Morningside, Corstorphine or Stockbridge. Wally could buy the annuals for 50p or less and sometimes sell them for between £5 and £10 – but he was not always successful and sometimes asked friends to make bids, to drum up interest!

As he got older, Wally’s passion for cricket and rugby overtook his love of football. Though he still supported Manchester United and his first love, Hearts (he leaves this world with his Hearts scarf in beside him), he was forever watching England’s cricket and rugby teams. Wally was born English and he was proud of it. Cricket was his first love but rugby got him travelling regularly to Hong Kong for the Rugby Sevens.

There, he would meet his Australian friend, Mike Collins, and sometimes return to Australia with him for a holiday.

Wally was also keen on promoting the Robert Louis Stevenson Society and Stevenson’s tie with France. Over a few years, he assisted with trips to France, where he made friends with Pierre and Pat.

France ended up being another regular holiday destination, where Wally would emulate Stevenson’s own Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, following that same trail by day and earning cash playing in pubs by night. Even a holiday was an opportunity for Wally to make some dosh.

Wally was a tad close with his money, reflected in the message on his answering machine : “If you are the tax man or I am due you money then I am not in ....”: and if he is watching today, he might be suspicious about so large a gathering of people, even if it is too late to be calling in your loans! Wally might also be quietly chuffed. He really valued his friends and those who became his friends, as you all did, will surely value that friendship and remember Wally with the deepest affection for the rest of your lives.