The Ayr Music Scene

Past & Present

by Robert Neil

Whilst watching the iconic chart show, Top of the Pops, one night in July 1993 with my dad, one of my favourite bands, The Waterboys, appeared and launched into ‘Glastonbury Song’. My dad made me laugh when he looked at me with amusement and asked, “Did he just mention Maybole?”

I took great delight in enlightening him that this, indeed, was the case. I explained that Mike Scott, the lead singer, had lived in Ayr for a while, attending Belmont Academy, and had even name checked the Wellington Bar in Ayr on the sleeve note for the 1988 classic album, Fisherman’s Blues. Later on down the years, I discovered that the town of Ayr and its surrounding landscape were the inspiration for the album, This Is The Sea.

We had a good chat about music and Dad chuckled when he said, “As a young lad you met another Scottish music legend who lived Ayr, and even sat on his knee – Sydney Devine”. Not quite on the same scale for me as Mike Scott, but Mr Devine did manage to sell more than 15 million albums worldwide. No mean feat!

As a young music fan, I was forever checking writing credits on album sleeves and singles and not long after this exchange with my dad, I was inspired to find out more facts about Ayrshire and its connection and contribution to the world of music. Bearing in mind I didn’t have the internet back then, this was a real labour of love, and one that I took on with great gusto!

The strangest place I discovered a music connection to Ayrshire was through The Muppet Show album. I know, I have very eclectic taste in music! It introduced me to the world of singer/songwriter, John Hendry Blair, who was born in 1943 in Ochiltree. He recorded under many names, the most famous being Johnny Cymbal whose signature hit, ‘Mr Bassman’ was covered on The Muppets’ first album. Why not check this song out on YouTube, where you will see Scooter and Electric Mayhem add their classic comedy style to it? With his friend and producer, Michael Rashkov, Johnny wrote many songs, the most successful being, ‘Mary In The Morning’ which was a big hit for American crooner, Al Martino, and covered by many, the most famous being Elvis himself. Not bad for an Ayrshire lad!

Ayr had some amazing music venues back in the day and when people talk of gigs in the town, Ayr Pavilion is probably the most fondly remembered for its quality and broad spectrum of musicians that graced the stage there, putting it on a par with many larger cities. It was also home to local legend, Tom Jones, who ran the Powerhouse Rock and Indie discos there for many years until it turned into Hanger 13, a rave/dance club.

Of course, there was no social media back then and I later found out I had missed a lot of great bands who had played there: The Specials, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Spear of Destiny, The Fall, New Order, Tenpole Tudor, Frankie Miller, The Skids, Girls School, Magazine, Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The Pretenders, and Generation X. Other acts the Pavilion played host to were Big Country, Iron Maiden and Rory Gallacher. Quite the line up.

The gigs I did manage to attend were Lloyd Cole & The Commotions supported by The Blow Monkeys around 1985, and in 1989 I saw The Waterboys supported by The Saw Doctors which indeed was a truly memorable night.

The biggest icon probably to play Ayr was on July 12th 1953 at Green’s Playhouse and was none other than ‘Ol Blue Eyes’ himself, Frank Sinatra. Oh, to have been in the audience to witness that!

Between 1965 and 1967, if you were lucky enough, you could have attended Ayr’s old ice rink in Beresford Terrace to witness class acts such as The Kinks, The Troggs, The Yardbirds, and a little known combo called Band of Joy, whose vocalist Robert Plant would go on to bigger things with Led Zeppelin.

Status Quo, Slade and Thin Lizzy were amongst some of the acts to entertain the punters at The Caledonian Hotel (now The Mercure) in the early 1970s, and the Civic Theatre, now sadly demolished, and the Station Hotel, were hosts to some great folk nights.

Back to the present and let’s not forget the current venues hosting various genres of music and entertainment such as the Gaiety Theatre and Town Hall, plus the various pubs and the newly built community venue space, Cutty Sark. There are just too many to mention and we really need to support these places. Use it or lose it, as they say.

The heritage of the musical legacy seems to have seeped through to many of the current bands from Ayr’s music scene. Local Authority is an original band I first came to know about when lead singer, Gary Holland, was admiring my bike one day outside HMV. I have caught them live a couple of times and their energy and commitment is a joy to behold.

Another original band, Pelikan Rogue, have just dropped their new track ‘The Vet’ on Spotify. With some fine vocals from Scott Russell, it’s a very poignant and heartfelt song.

Then we have The Mocking Byrds who have just dipped their toes across the border in England and are going down a storm by all accounts. Their guitarist and larger than life personality, Gavin McMulkin, let me hear a couple of the new tracks they have recorded. I wasn’t quite prepared for what I heard and to be honest, it far surpassed any expectations I had.

Gavin told me that when he wasn’t busy rehearsing or playing with the band, he helps promote gigs at recently opened Venue 38 (formally Madison’s Night Club) in Carrick Street, which boasts a top of the range sound system, staging and lighting facilities. As well as putting on established acts, the idea is to give local and new bands a foothold on the live circuit. The most important thing, he explained, is teaching up-and-coming bands how to promote themselves. You can catch The Mocking Byrds when they play The Market Inn on Saturday 19th August.

From the early 1970s, the Ayr music scene has had one mainstay. An unassuming figure, always with his trusty camera in hand, he’s the man I refer to as ‘The Prog Rock Lollypop Man’, Mr Alistair Mulhearn. His devotion to gig photography and music is legendary. I recall at a mutual friend’s 60th birthday party (another music fan, Tom Vallely), Alistair presenting the birthday boy with a stunning framed print of Rory Gallacher playing Ayr Pavilion.

So let’s not underestimate Ayr’s importance in the world of music. And it’s worth remembering that many people all over the world see out the old year and welcome in the new by singing a song written by a man from Alloway called Robert Burns.