15 March 2021

My Journey with the SFO by Jamie Mason, Son of Orchestra Founder and Conductor

…variety shows and a cute three-year old…

My first memories of performing date back to when Dad would put on variety shows in Wigtown and Newton Stewart and I would be put on stage with my brothers, Rognvald and Peter to do a turn. Ron and Pete were quite a duet, and my contribution was probably more for the cute factor of a three/four-year old than the quality of my rendition of My Grandfather’s Clock. We were all encouraged to take part in music
and be part of the performance. I remember that Dad was in some demand as a player and arranger of music around that time, and would have been sowing the seeds for the rallies and performances that were to follow.

…the Beano and Dandy incentive!

We were encouraged to learn music and I was sent to my first lessons which were on the piano. My slot was at Miss Jean Condie’s school of piano on Church Street in Troon. Heaven forbid you should arrive late so I always arrived early, helped by the incentive of reading the Beano and Dandy that were always on the table. While I waited and read the Bash Street Kids’ latest news, I was able to listen to another student, Fiona, being taught. Fiona would be bashing out her scales and flawlessly rehearsed piano pieces. Fiona Brodlie is now our accomplished accompanist and friend. Her musical path has been less led by Dundee comics. Between piano practice and Beano reading, I also enjoyed singing in a local church choir. Rognvald had been the first to join the choir – probably as a result of his friendship with the reverend’s son – and he in turn encouraged Peter and latterly me to join. We all sang for some years and I went on to be Head Chorister in what was quite a well-attended junior choir. There was a financial incentive at that time to turn up to rehearsals and also to services, and I suspect there was also a finder’s fee for bringing new members.

…a crisis in the rhythm section…

My path to playing the bass was one of chance and circumstance as I had not previously taken an interest in it. My brother Ron had a bass and played in the Ayr and Prestwick Strathspey and Reel Society and was also one of the founder members of the SFO. He had found a Saturday Night gig with Billie McDowall and the 5 Ambassadors, playing the bass guitar for the regular dinner dance on a Saturday night at the Craiglea Hotel, and found himself unable to do all the Ayr and Prestwick gigs. Andrew Cousar, the regular bass player was unable to attend one night and Dad was short of a bass player for a Saturday at the Olympia in East Kilbride. (I was not aware that there was a crisis in the rhythm section that night, and when he summoned me to the posh room and gave me a half hour instruction on how to play a bass, I thought it was because I had shown great promise in my amateur guitar strumming. It was more because it was cost free childcare.)

…waltzing in the aisles…

I knew the bass clef and the strings, and had a rudimentary understanding from playing guitar, but Dad showed me that if I got lost in the music, – Fifi Thomas and Tom Melrose’s ‘cello music – he would hold one finger up to show the key of G and two for D and three for A, and he showed me a sequence of notes in each to busk. If he held a finger down – it was F, and if it was two fingers down – it was B flat, and three – E flat. He suggested I not play but smile nicely, – that was my first night on stage as a bass player – a very short bass player – I was just 10 years old. I continued to fill in, backed performances with lessons and played with the Ayr and Prestwick for many years. I always danced with Elsie Smith, who worked the amplification, mics and sound, when the waltzes were played.

…hens, pantomime horses and cymbals…

I auditioned and joined the SFO in 1983 as a full member, and have enjoyed the friendship, camaraderie, and music throughout all that time. I would never have imagined that I would be able to look back at the many times we have played in some of the most impressive halls in Britain and beyond. From the Albert Halls, Stirling to the Royal Albert Hall London and playing after Sydney Devine in the Gaiety in Ayr, to playing the Sydney Opera House on a tour of Australia and New Zealand. We have had the opportunity to play with some of the most amazing musicians, sharing the stage with Evelyn Glennie in the Albert Hall to Assynt in the Royal Concert Hall, and we have enjoyed being compered by some of the greatest individuals in Scottish culture and entertainment and known them all as friends – Jimmy Currie, Robbie Shepherd, Jim McColl, Robert Lovie and Gary Innes. I have also had some interesting roles to play over the years: pantomime hen for The Hen’s Mairch Ower the Midden and back end of the pantomime horse for the Alloa Brewers’ Dray! I am now the crasher of cymbals at the back for the big enders, and still want to be one of the Bash Street Kids.