Conductor’s half century with the Glasgow Gaelic

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By Mark Davey

Fresh from Dunoon Mòd success, Glasgow Gaelic Choir’s conductor will return to his roots for a Campbeltown concert.

Conductor Kenneth Thomson, 69, who spent his formative years in Kintyre, will lead the choir at 7.30pm, in a charity concert, on November 10 at Lorne and Lowland church, to benefit the RNLI and Campbeltown Brass.

This year, Kenneth celebrates 50 years in the Glasgow Gaelic Music Association and has detailed that history through a book of about 100 pages, titled The GG and Me.

Kenneth’s love of Gaelic singing started at Dalintober primary where he was inspired by 1960s head teacher Hector MacNeill.

Many years later, Mr Thomson told Hector’s widow Iona that her husband: ‘Was the single greatest influence on my life outside my family.’

Hector taught Kenneth, aged seven or eight, the Portnahaven song Am Bàta Rannach to sing at the Campbeltown Mòd and the tyro singer won.

Kenneth recalls: ‘In Dalintober we had singing every second Friday with M G McCallum, the brilliant, but rather scary, conductor of Campbeltown Gaelic Choir.

‘Wee Micky, as we called him, was a rather cross wee man with a deadly aim with a blackboard duster.’

Kenneth was born at Craigard Maternity Hospital on August 20 1949.

He enjoyed that Campbeltown youth, until aged 14 in 1963, coming from what he describes as: ‘a fairly comfortable middle class family,’ he left for Keil School.

This fee paying school had been established in Southend but following a devastating fire had relocated to Dumbarton.

Singing lessons continued at Keil and Kenneth was a leading light of the choir but it was at home, in the holidays, that he progressed.

‘Two ladies, Rena Morrison and Morag Grumoli, had taken an interest in my singing,’ writes Kenneth. ‘They were friends with Agnes Duncan who conducted the Scottish Junior Singers.

‘Her advice was I should join a choir, so I went along to the Glasgow Philharmonic Male Voice Choir where I sang with the basses.’

Keil was not the making of Kenneth and lured by ‘…girls, fags, booze and the bright lights of Glasgow,’ he left with one higher to drive a van.

Kenneth writes: ‘Probably one of the most stupid things I have ever done.’

Life twists and turns and at Southend, in 1967, Kenneth met his wife to be, Valerie Ferguson.

In Valerie’s 2009 Herald obituary, after she was run down by a lorry, she was described as ‘a proud guardian of Gaelic, the language she was brought up speaking on Islay after her Glasgow birth.’

It was Valerie who reset the course of Kenneth’s singing when she introduced him to Martin MacKay, the president of Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association.

‘Martin took no time in suggesting that, as they were a bit short of basses, I might like to join them ‘for just one Mòd’. That was 1967 and 51 years later Kenneth is still going strong having just returned from Dunoon 2018.

Kenneth added: ‘I was at the Mòd and adjudicating Monday to Wednesday.’

Kenneth conducted the Glasgow Gaelic Choir which won the Male Voice, was second in the Puirt-a-beul and the ladies choir but not placed in the Lovat and Tullibardine.

Kenneth said: ‘We also won the trophy for the highest aggregate music.’

The front cover of Kenneth Thomson’s book The GG and me. 25_c44bookcover01

Kenneth Thomson with the Glasgow Gaelic men in 2017. NO_c44kenneth06_with the men 2017

Kenneth Thomson far left with the Glasgow Gaelic at Dunoon 2018. NO_c44kenneth05_The Gg’s Dunoon 2018

Kenneth Thomson conducting the massed choirs at Dunoon 2018. NO_c44thomson01_Conducting Massed Choirs Dunoon 2018.Photographs by Graham Hood Photography.