“I remember riding the bike, one of the auction prizes that night, round the dance floor”, says Donald, one of Scotland’s best-known club and entertainment promoters. “Annie Lennox is sitting there, looking at me, going ‘Who is this maniac?’
“Nobody had blown the bike’s tyres up, now that I think about it. I was seventeen stone back then and wasn’t exactly the best person to be advertising a bike”. He pauses. “Chris Hoy might have been better”.
It’s among the many happy memories Donald has of the Scottish Music Awards, which is one of the biggest events in the music calendar north of the border and is this year celebrating its 25th anniversary. Over the years, many of the biggest names in rock and pop have been feted or otherwise present at the ceremony.
This Saturday night (Nov 4), with Edith Bowman once again as host, will see the Specsavers Scottish Music Awards returning to Barrowland – and, like all of its predecessors, raising vital funds for the UK’s largest music therapy charity, Nordoff and Robbins. The 2022 event, at which the star-studded line-up extended to Lewis Capaldi and Sir Rod Stewart, raised a record £170,000 for Nordoff and Robbins.
Among the 2023 award winners already announced are Stuart Wood, the former Bay City Rollers bass guitarist, who will receive the Royal Highland Centre Legend Award, and The Who, who’ll receive the ROX – Diamonds and Thrills Icon Award.
Nordoff and Robbins now has 15 music therapists reaching out to 270 children and adults each week, in children’s hospices, dementia care homes, mental health hospitals and SEN (special needs education) schools throughout Scotland. They also work with refugee children and with the Bairns Without Borders group. Across the UK the charity employs 101 music therapists who work with more than 10,000 people, delivering over 33,000 music therapy sessions within 280 organisations.
Donald, who is Chairman of Events, Nordoff Robbins Scotland, has had a long association with the charity.
“I was approached 26 or 27 years ago by Lynne McNicoll. She told me what Nordoff and Robbins did and that she was putting together a fundraising committee”, he said. “So we all met up. There were people like Rab Andrew, the manager of Texas; Willie Wilson, a former Chief Constable; Bruce Findlay, who had managed Simple Minds; and Dougie Souness, the manager of Wet Wet Wet, and his partner Tina Waters, of The Tour Company.
“I knew nothing about the charity then but they explained what they did from their small base in Roslin, East Lothian. They had about 20 clients at that time and they wanted to expand their operations in Scotland.
“The charity told how they reached out and tried to break down barriers through the power of music. I was totally struck. They could see what music meant to me and how it had changed my life. I slowly became immersed in it”.
The charity already had, in England, the high-profile Silver Clef awards for musicians, which raised vital funds. The idea occurred to Donald for a Scottish equivalent – the Tartan Clefs, as they became known. The inaugural event took place in Glasgow City Chambers.
He laughs. “Unfortunately, given that we were celebrating at that time the achievements of people such as Simple Minds, Lulu and Texas, there was no live music allowed. I still laugh about that irony – and I laugh even more that we went back for a second year. It got a bit raucous there, even without the music”.
In time, he became the chairman. “I decided, okay, let’s go for it”, he says. “Let’s take it seriously and see what we can do here. Let’s get the music community in Scotland fully engaged behind it.
“I was very struck by the children and adults and the families who needed the charity’s help. There was no NHS funding and I realised that this would have to be privately-led. The board expanded and we also got people like Geoff Ellis, of DF Concerts, the journalist Billy Sloan, Debbie McWilliams and The Hydro, Nordoff Robbins fundraiser Simon Foy, and Mark Mackie at Regular Music, who were all really helpful.
“I told them we should be pushing forward in a common cause. The Scottish Government, initially through Jack McConnell, the then First Minister, and, later Fiona Hyslop and Alex Salmond, were fantastic, too. We also got the media very involved and interested.
“It has been an amazing journey, putting all of this together. And of course the main focus is the Tartan Clef awards, which later evolved into the Scottish Music Awards we know today”.
Surprisingly, given that Donald is not exactly a shy and retiring type, the annual ceremony “is the only event – ever, ever – where I get really wound up. I actually get The Fear. I’m so conscious that I’m representing not just those on my committee and those who support and sponsor the night, but also those we are aiming to help- the clients and their families.
“With that in mind, going from just two therapists to 15, operating from one small place in Roslin to establishing five centres at one point, is amazing. We have teams of music therapists working across the central belt, in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dunfermline and Dundee. We do lots of outreach work and we work, for example, with Enable Scotland and with Sight Scotland. We do so much for families in terms of music therapy.
“The demand for these services has never been so high – and certainly on the back of Covid, when mental health issues really came to the fore.
“So I take a great deal of humble satisfaction from the success of the Scottish Music Awards. To go from the city chambers to such a legendary Glasgow venue as Barrowland is great too”.
The annual ceremony has given rise to so many great moments and memories. And the list of award winners across the various categories – from The Fratellis, Orange Juice, Sharleen Spiteri and Lewis Capaldi through to Paolo Nutini, KT Tunstall, Amy Macdonald, Biffy Clyro and The Bluebells, Nina Nesbitt and the TRNSMT festival – is a staggering reminder of Scotland’s creative talents in music.
“It’s a jam-packed evening, a long night, but a great one”, says Donald. “It’s almost impossible to list all the highlights. We’ve had no fewer than 250 award winners since we started.
“Over the years we’ve celebrated everyone from Frank Lynch to The Skids and Frankie Miller and the Rolling Stones’ Ian Stewart. Great bands as well – Frightened Rabbit, who were one of the first alternative acts we brought in; Deacon Blue, Big Country, Biffy Clyro, Gun, Hipsway, Idlewild, Shirley Manson, Twin Atlantic, Admiral Fallow. Orange Juice came back together after 22 years, the guys flying in separately from London, New York, Australia …. and Bearsden.
“Rod Stewart was absolutely brilliant last year. We once had an amazing gig by the original Mott the Hoople line-up. Midge Ure is among those who’s received a lifetime achievement award: he’s someone we would dearly love to have back. The same goes for Susan Boyle – she blew everyone away when she was last at the awards and sang a number of songs, including the Stones’ Wild Horses.
“It would be fantastic to have The Proclaimers, and Del Amitri, at the annual ceremony; and it would be great to have Franz Ferdinand play live.
“We once auctioned a pair of tickets for the Led Zeppelin 2007 concert at London’s O2”, he continues. “We made a stonking 26 grand. Then the generous benefactor decided he didn’t want to go – I think he already had tickets for the gig – and he put them back up for auction at Cash for Kids, and that raised another £10,000, which was amazing”.
Paolo Nutini once offered for auction a personalised tour of his native Paisley, and the shoes he was wearing that night. The lucky winner made a successful bid of £3,000.
Three years ago, when the event had to go online owing to the lockdown, Lewis Capaldi received a top award. In his video acceptance he quipped: “I know people haven’t been releasing music or anything this year, so that’s kind of an award just for existing I guess but… I’ll take it!”
Donald laughs again. “I also remember the sheer hilarity in the room one night when we announced that we would be auctioning off Elton John’s stool. Right away, you can imagine the Glasgow humour kicking in…”
https://www.nordoff-robbins.org.uk/ The Specsavers Scottish Music Awards, is being held at Barrowland, Glasgow, on November 4.