Musician’s moving tribute to ‘mentor’ Robert Black

Alex Wotherspoon and Robert Black performing together at the 2018 Mull of Kintyre Music Festival. Photograph: Kenny Craig.
Alex Wotherspoon and Robert Black performing together at the 2018 Mull of Kintyre Music Festival. Photograph: Kenny Craig.

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A talented young musician has touched the hearts of thousands of people through a song composed in memory of her ‘mentor’ Robert Black.

Alex Wotherspoon, 18, from Campbeltown but currently studying for a Bachelor of Traditional Music (piano) degree at the prestigious Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) in Glasgow, has written a slow air as a tribute to the paramedic who died after a battle with Covid-19 last May.

As well as being a healthcare hero, Robert was known to many in the community as an amateur actor, football fan and experienced musician, which is how Alex came to know him.

With help from her ‘wonderful best friends and course mates’ Emma Hill, from Connel, and Bede Patterson, from Sydney, Australia, both pipes and whistles, and Malachy Arnold, from Glasgow, harp, Alex professionally recorded the song before sharing it on social media last Sunday – the first anniversary of Robert’s death.

From left: Bede Patterson, Alex Wotherspoon, Emma Hill and Malachy Arnold.
From left: Bede Patterson, Alex Wotherspoon, Emma Hill and Malachy Arnold.

Explaining her inspiration, Alex said: ‘I spent a lot of the year composing for one of my RCS modules and I submitted a piano solo version of this song as part of it. I knew that at some point I wanted to compose a tune to remember Robert, so I expanded the arrangement and got other instruments involved.

‘I decided I would love to let everyone hear it because I know how much of an impact ‘Big Rab’ had on everyone in Campbeltown and beyond, myself included.

‘The reaction has been absolutely fantastic. I have received so much positive feedback and heard from so many people that appreciated listening to it. It had more than 3,000 views in the first 24 hours.’

The song is now available to stream on iTunes/Apple Music, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon Music and Deezer, with Alex choosing to donate all proceeds to South Kintyre Development Trust to assist with the costs of operating the Robert Black Memorial Helipad.

The musician also encouraged people to donate to an online fundraising page – justgiving.com/fundraising/trbmh – which was set up to help with these costs.

Alex, a founding member of the rising traditional band Rhuvaal, has been passionate about music from a young age, with her grandfather, Alex Irvine, starting to teach her fiddle when she was only three and beginning piano with David McEwan when she was about eight.

She first got to know Robert through the Mull of Kintyre Music Festival (MOKFEST), at which they both performed.

‘Robert mentioned he needed someone to help with keyboards in the Slainte Davaar Allstars and in June 2018 he asked me if I would like to play with him and the rest of the band on the Survivors Night of MOKFEST,’ Alex said. ‘After agreeing to it, I formed a wonderful friendship with him, spending several months in the run-up to the festival practising with him. His enthusiasm for music was so inspiring.’

She added: ‘I would like to say a big thank you to Catherine Black and family for allowing me to share this music, as well as Eric Spence, Raymond Hosie Photography, Martin and Calum at Birnam CD, my family and my friends and tutors at RCS who all helped me during the process.

‘Thank you to everyone who has bought, streamed and downloaded the music and to those who liked, commented and shared it on Facebook. The more it is bought and streamed, the more money will go towards the helipad.

‘It is truly difficult to put into words how grateful I am.’