RONNIE BROWNE - That Guy Fae The Corries
Some 25 years ago, I was chatting to a guy who reviewed biographies for more than one national newspaper. Much of the conversation we had is lost to my memory, but one thing I recall vividly: his reluctance to take any biography seriously if it did not feature a comprehensive index.
That comment might raise the odd eyebrow, but is not in itself particularly off-the-wall. But what he said next – alcohol doubtless causing him to throw off his inhibitions – did make me pinch myself.
He claimed that when reviewing biographies, the first thing he did was go to the index. And he would look up those names that registered as “interesting” with him, and often read only the resulting pages! And conversely, he would draw up a list of people whom he felt should be in the book, and if they weren’t, draw conclusions as to why they were absent.
A curious conversation. And one that resulted in there being no danger of my adopting such a modus operandi. However, it has left its mark on me, if only in one respect.
When we have an excellent index, as we have here, I cannot resist heading first for the index, to look up names that surprise me. And here there was a rich haul: the Baader Meinhof group, Stephen Hendry, Ally McCoist and King Hussein of Jordan, being just some. And I always do the reverse “why aren’t they there?” move: in this case, no Hamish Henderson, Ian Green, Dick Gaughan or Dougie MacLean. And what do the omissions prove, exactly? I confess: not a lot, even though I try in vain to read things into them.
But where I really part company from that reviewer, is that I always read every word...in this case, all 390 pages of a handsomely presented hardback book (which includes a further 32 pages of most informative photographs).
With some books it is hard work. But this one wasn’t. I read it in three days, and rarely wanted to break off for that day. Ronnie’s easy conversational literary style was helped by superb editing: there was no repetition of the same anecdotes (a surprising lapse one can find in the most esteemed biographers like, say, Melvyn Bragg with his acclaimed work on Richard Burton), and virtually no spelling errors that I noted, other than getting Riego Street wrong with an e before the i (p.33) and missing the p from Danny Thompson’s surname (p.125).
There is so much to admire in this book. Like what exactly? Well here are a few things at random...
Him telling clubs that The Corries would not perform while their bar was serving drinks. Good man! Then there are priceless anecdotes, like his story of the aforementioned Danny Thompson being “arrested by the police on Edinburgh Castle ramparts, where he was singing in full voice, half pissed, to the people of Edinburgh: GREGALLY GREGALLOO / COME UP AND FIGHT YA COWARDLY CREW / AH’LL HUV YE FOR MA POT O’STEW / YE’RE FEART TAE FIGHT WI’ ME”. Golly, I doubt if we will ever see Danny in quite the same light after that. Ha.
Fascinating stories of Roger Whittaker and Paddy Maloney as house guests. A gripping account of his road crash near St Mary’s Loch.
His rejoinder - when challenged by Sassenachs re the Anti-Englishness of Flower Of Scotland – that they should look at this verse from their own anthem: GOD GRANT THAT MARSHALL WADE / MAY BY THY MIGHTY AID / VICTORY BRING / MAY HE SEDITION HUSH / AND LIKE A TORRENT RUSH / REBELLIOUS SCOTS TO CRUSH / GOD SAVE THE KING.
And what I liked most of all, was his willingness to look a cad occasionally: that takes honesty. His account of his brutal physical attack on then fellow Corries member Bill Smith, who was soon to be ruthlessly removed from the group, does not show Ronnie in a good light: but we should at least commend him for his frankness.
But what does show him in a good light is his love of family, and especially his devotion to his wife Pat. You would need to have artificial eyes not to shed a tear at his moving account of her death in 2012, after 53 years of marriage.
He also speaks warmly of his long collaboration with the late Roy Williamson, and rightly credits him with being the man totally responsible for “that” song: an anthem that Ronnie is now synonymous with, and de facto custodian of.
The book worked for me on various levels, not least his obsessive record-keeping and his willingness to give us all the detailed minutiae on his earnings from appearances, CD sales and his - considerable and gifted - art work.
The Inland Revenue could go through this book and almost get an exact picture of his earnings since the year dot. Fascinating. Not least his brass neck in claiming an antique couch as tax allowable (p.268)!! And the book is full of detailed accounts of his house conversions and his (post retirement) package holidays. A somewhat rum affair, but they held my attention precisely because this sort of stuff is so out-of-the-ordinary in an autobiography.
There are some readers I guess who would have liked less of these mundane facts, and more of the anecdotes that must abound from Ronnie and Roy’s years together. Pity Roy died so young: maybe he was the man to write such a book. But the anorak (if not the poet) in me, hung on Ronnie’s every word here.
I will end this review by noting Ronnie’s favourite mantra: “make the most of moments”. Well I made the most of mine here: they were plentiful, in an absorbing read.