Andy M Ste­wart

The Herald - - OBITUARIES - ROB ADAMS

Singer and song­writer Born: Septem­ber 8, 1952; Died: De­cem­ber 27, 2015 ANDY M Ste­wart, who has died aged 63 af­ter a long pe­riod of ill health, was one of the great­est singers in Scot­tish mu­sic. Known to ad­mir­ers across the world sim­ply as “Andy M”, the Perthshire-born mu­si­cian had a voice as in­stantly recog­nis­able as his moniker and while he used the ini­tial of his mid­dle name (Michael) to dis­tin­guish him­self from the Scot­tish en­ter­tainer Andy Ste­wart, he was no mean en­ter­tainer him­self.

As the trail-blaz­ing Scot­tish folk group Silly Wiz­ard won the hearts of au­di­ences at home and abroad, es­pe­cially in the US, they were un­likely to run short of on­stage pat­ter, with the Cun­ning­ham broth­ers, Johnny and Phil, pulling legs to Olympic stan­dard.

Ste­wart’s in­tro­duc­tions, how­ever, could be the most dev­as­tat­ingly hu­mor­ous of them all. He had a tal­ent for the scalpel-sharp bon mot, some­thing that doubt­less came in use­ful as the Wiz­ard’s in­ter­nal wind-ups car­ried on through their ev­ery wak­ing hour. His comic tim­ing was also very ap­par­ent in his singing of songs such as The Er­rant Ap­pren­tice in later years.

Al­though his im­me­di­ate fam­ily, he once said, were not par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in the folk re­vival, Ste­wart came from a cul­ture that had pre­served the Scot­tish tra­di­tion for gen­er­a­tions and the feel­ing for Scot­tish mu­sic he con­veyed in his singing was al­most pal­pa­ble. At school in Blair­gowrie he fell in with Dougie Maclean, who sang and played gui­tar and fiddle, guitarist Ewen Suther­land, and the Had­den broth­ers, Kenny and Martin. They formed Pud­dock’s Well, with Ste­wart on vo­cals, banjo and man­dolin, and be­came the house band, and or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee, at Blair­gowrie Folk Club be­fore branch­ing out to play at other folk clubs and fes­ti­vals across Scot­land, of­ten re­turn­ing home in time to get up for work.

When Silly Wiz­ard came to play in Blair­gowrie and Pud­dock’s Well were the open­ing act, the two bands got on fa­mously. Ste­wart, Martin Had­den (bass gui­tar) and, more briefly, Maclean, all ended up join­ing founder Gor­don Jones in Silly Wiz­ard, who had built a rep­u­ta­tion in the early 1970s for high tempo, ex­cit­ing tunes, ini­tially cour­tesy of their school­boy fid­dler, Johnny Cun­ning­ham. When a se­ries of per­son­nel changes left them with­out a singer, they got in touch with the one they had heard with Pud­dock’s Well.

Ste­wart brought to the band nat­u­ral front­man skills as well as a mag­nif­i­cent tone and huge warmth of feel­ing for the songs he sang. As an in­ter­preter of tra­di­tional songs and the words of Robert Burns, he had few equals then or since. He also wrote songs in the style of the tra­di­tion, cel­e­brat­ing lo­cales near where he had grown up such as The Parish of Dunkeld and The Val­ley of Strathmore.

With Ste­wart aboard, Silly Wiz­ard pre­sented a com­plete pack­age of mu­sic, fun, ex­cite­ment and his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ence. It was an em­i­nently ex­portable pack­age, as they dis­cov­ered when an Amer­i­can woman ap­proached them af­ter a gig at the Tra­verse The­atre in Ed­in­burgh and asked for their con­tact de­tails. Ste­wart felt sure noth­ing would come of this but a few weeks later they were booked for Philadel­phia Folk Fes­ti­val, a 20-minute spot that opened the door to Amer­ica.

Their Live Again CD, orig­i­nally recorded in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts, in 1983 and re­mas­tered and reis­sued in 2012, gives a great ex­am­ple of what au­di­ences were treated to from the time Ste­wart joined Silly Wiz­ard in 1976 to their last con­cert to­gether in 1988. It is both a riot and a feast, with Ste­wart in su­perb voice. Fol­low­ing that last con­cert, Ste­wart felt the band had ex­hausted all pos­si­bil­i­ties, al­though Celtic Con­nec­tions would go on to stage a couple of re­unions.

When a duo tour Ste­wart and Phil Cun­ning­ham planned in 1985 was threat­ened with can­cel­la­tion af­ter Cun­ning­ham was in­volved in a car accident, Manus Lunny, guitarist and bouzouki player with Mov­ing Hearts and Caper­cail­lie, stepped in. This led to albums in­clud­ing Dublin Lady and At It Again, on which Ste­wart sang of dread­ing Mon­day morn­ings as some­one who had car­ried “the piece bag and the flask” (post-Silly Wiz­ard he worked as a tech­ni­cian in tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion). As Lunny be­came busier with Caper­cail­lie, Ste­wart found an­other soul mate in an­other Ir­ish guitarist, Gerry O’Beirne, and the two con­tin­ued to tour un­til Ste­wart’s health be­gan to de­cline in 2011.

Failed spinal surgery in 2013 left him paral­ysed from the chest down and he sur­vived fur­ther emer­gency surgery in Septem­ber 2014 only to suf­fer a stroke in early De­cem­ber 2015 fol­lowed by pneu­mo­nia. He leaves many mag­i­cal mo­ments in the mem­o­ries of those who wit­nessed him in con­cert and a recorded out­put that serves his mu­si­cal legacy hand­somely. He is sur­vived by his sis­ter, An­gela, his wife, Kathy and son, Don­ald.

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