Thousands of Scottish 78s come home

He was a young long-haired jazz hound sporting a duffel coat, corduroy trousers and crepe-soled shoes, who turned his back on the Scottish music his family loved and performed at home.

William Dean-Myatt (right) hands over the remaining shellac discs to the Library's Sound Collections Curator, Alistair Bell. Picture: The National Library of Scotland
William Dean-Myatt (right) hands over the remaining shellac discs to the Library's Sound Collections Curator, Alistair Bell. Picture: The National Library of Scotland

Now, decades later 86-year-old William Dean-Myatt, who eventually regained his love of Scottish song and dance music, has donated his massive collection of more than 10,000 records of a range of Scottish music genres to the National Library of Scotland (NLS) in Edinburgh for the nation’s national sound archive.

Transportation of Mr Dean-Myatt’s collection, amassed over 70 years, and valued at around £80,000, involved NLS staff making two journeys to his home in Walsall in the West Midlands and battling torrential rain to bring the final section of the collection of 78s, cassettes and wax cylinders of music, north by van last week.

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The final tranche of the collection before its removal from Mr Dean Myatt's home Picture: The National Library of Scotland

“All this was great until I was about 16 or 17 and then I despised it. I thought ‘they know nothing’. An older cousin got me turned on to jazz and I adopted a different look, grew my hair long and became a great jazz enthusiast.

“I had been collecting records since I was 12, then when I was in my late 40s I had a bit of rethink about Scottish music and got stuck in and began collecting and compiling background details about them, known as discography.

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Mr Dean-Myatt, whose research resulted in his book, ‘The Scottish Vernacular Discography 1888-1960’, attended collectors’ fairs, went round second-hand shops and developed a reputation as a collector such that people began contacting him about items.

Getting historic Scottish music heard

While his lifetime collection included a range of music from jazz to Polish fiddle music, the majority is Scottish and includes releases from Glasgow-based record label Beltona, Gaelic songs, bothy ballads, music by singer Jimmy Logan’s parents, songs sung in dialects from around Scotland, music ‘cylinders’ and even an early recording of bagpipe music from around 1898.

“I have always been bemused as to why Scotland did not have a sound archive that recorded the commercial vernacular music of Scotland, rather than high art music,” he said.

“I want the collection to be heard and used by people in Scotland to listen and learn about historic Scottish music. By donating my collection to the library, I am hoping it will be the foundation for something bigger and better.

“It was quite traumatic seeing everything going.

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“I’ve not kept anything because I wanted the library to have something for posterity.”

Alistair Bell, the NLS’s sound collections curator, said: “Most of our collection of 78s comes from the Dean-Myatt Collection. What we have so far has been catalogued, and we’re digitising the recordings at the moment with a view to making them available online. Soon everyone will be able to access the fruits of Mr Dean-Myatt’s lifetime hobby.

“Things tend to come to us in very small amounts so this is a significant offering.

“People can listen to the music online next year.”