Appreciation: Bobby Colgan, drummer with Scotland’s famed Jimmy Shand Band

Bobby Colgan, drummer to the Jimmy Shand and Jim Johnstone bands, singer, raconteur, concert performer, comedian. Born: 2 April 1937 in Tranent, East Lothian. Died: 14 May 2020 in Macmerry, East Lothian, aged 83
Bobby ColganBobby Colgan
Bobby Colgan

As primary schoolboys in 1951, my friend Francis Gormley and I were struggling to make a bogie when two bigger lads appeared. These were his neighbours, Bobby Colgan and Jim Johnstone. In no time they had built our go-kart for us.

The ladies from East Windygoul Farm invited us to a dance in the Robertson Hall, Tranent, to Jim Johnstone’s new band. They taught us the St Bernard’s Waltz, the Pride of Erin Waltz, the Quickstep, and the Foxtrot. The dancers sensed that something was adrift when Bobby, his drummer, shouted.

“It’s ok, folks, Jim just went up the wrong drill’.

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Bobby, who had drawn up the List of Play, had given Jim the list for a kirn at Phantassie by mistake. Slightly flustered, Bobby announced that the next dance was The Flashing White Policeman. So, we took our partners for the Dashing White Sergeant!

From Jimmy Colgan, the father of Bobby, Wilson, and Hamish, I learned that the legendary Colgan wit was born from an ability to observe, then mimic the antics of human race, in an hilarious way. That inherent gift and a perceptive memory was the foundation of Bobby’s creative ability as a comedian, raconteur, singer, and as a Master of Ceremonies, as well as his masterly drumming. Bobby Colgan had become a performer of the finest.

Jimmy told me, too, of how his wife, Annie, controlled Bobby and his brothers when bedroom fights broke out: “She threw a brush shank round a corner and never missed them.”

To stiffen the collar of his only dress shirt Bobby stole the plastic strips from his mother’s corset on the washing line. In the dark, Annie clipped a mouse trap to it!

The hallmark of the Colgan-Johnstone musical partnership, of 56 years, was that they never forgot the people from whence they came. Their generosity to pensioners, Riding for the Disabled and John Anderson’s charities was commendable. Bobby helped out other famous bands. His skill was pivotal to the bands of Jimmy Shand, Andrew Rankine and Jimmy Blue. With Bobby Macleod, Bert Shorthouse and Jimmy Lindsay, Bobby sang and drummed when recording their LPs. As a concert entertainer he toured Australia with Andy Stewart and Jimmy Blue. He then performed with Calum Kennedy in various theatres. Thereafter, he did 112 concerts in a 16-week tour of the highlands, with Jim Johnstone and his Broadcasting Band.

Bobby Colgan, a creative workaholic, ran several profitable hospitality venues using Billy Connolly, Chic Murray and Scottish accordion champions Robert and Duncan Black to attract his custom. All that time his quicksilver mind was developing new scripts and sketches for his next concert.

The high days of Scottish dance band excellence in the Sixties and Seventies were spearheaded by a trio of musical masters. Jimmy Shand and Jim Johnstone’s playing was enhanced by the gentle touch of their drummer, Bobby. They enchanted the country, and enthralled the commonwealth with the sheer clarity, emotional depth and sweet musicality of their playing. In short, they became world renowned!

On 26 May, as Bobby’s cortège eased its way through Macmerry, I could hear a Mexican wave of appreciation expressing the sadness and the gratitude of the great crowd as they bade farewell to him. Similarly, from the top of Tranent to the far end, those who loved him clapped in their hundreds too.

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Bobby told Tommy Johnstone, who visited him during his few remaining days, that he was looking forward to meeting Saint Peter.

“How will you address him, Bobby?”

“Tommy, I won’t say a word to him ‘til I’m inside. Then I’ll tell him that his gates are off the plumb!’

A final thought occurs to me.

Why is it, despite our shortcomings and frailties as a nation, that we Scots, from time to time, give to the world good and truly decent men of unique competence. Men like Bobby Colgan, Jim Johnstone and Jimmy Shand?

I suspect it was because their fathers, James Colgan, George Johnstone and Erskine Shand were men of substance too.


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