Norrie Anderson played banjo in the early days of Sandy Brown’s Jazz Band. Having attended the George Herriott School in Edinburgh, Norrie went on to the Edinburgh Art College and in his first year, met Al Fairweather. Al, Sandy’s close friend and trumpet player, persuaded Norrie to come along to a band rehearsal with his banjo. “We’d rehearse at Morton Street and at Stan Greig’s home,” remembers Norrie. “My banjo was not very good, so in the end I had to go out and get a better one.”
Holidays for Norrie and Al were often spent working for Norrie a local farmer ‘hedging and ditching’ and wielding a great ‘Old Father Time’ scythe down the side roads. But one summer, as Sandy and Dave Paxton had done previously, Al and Norrie took off for a week camping rough in a wooden hut in the Pentland Hills outside Edinburgh, taking with them their musical instruments for some solid practice.
Left: Norrie with scythe (Photograph © Norrie Anderson)
By 1950, Sandy’s Band had already made a number of private acetate recordings together with the 1949 recordings first issued on the S&M label – now collectors’ items. Up until that time, John Twiss had played banjo, but for the recordings that followed from 1950 to 1953, Norrie was present as the banjo player, including the 1952 live performance from Edinburgh’s Usher Hall.
Like the others, Norrie had served his National Service, but he did not travel abroad as Sandy and Al had done. Initially based at Yatesbury in Wiltshire, the rest of the time was spent in Scotland at Edinburgh, Peterhead and Prestwick where he was finally demobbed.
In 1953 Al and Sandy had tasted the music scene in London, and when they finally left, Norrie like Bob Craig and some of the others remained in Scotland.
Norrie had enjoyed his period at Art College with Al, who he thought had been a very talented artist. “I remember he painted this picture of a First Aid Post in Egypt,” recalls Norrie. “He had potential in excess of his fellow compatriot students, but it was not fully realised.”
And so as the others travelled south to a career in music, Norrie went into teaching art in primary and secondary schools in Murray, Ayreshire, Midlothian and Fife, believing in the importance of “putting your abilities out to the children.”
The early days with Sandy had been times when students were particularly politically aware. Norrie looks back:
“It, was, for a while for most of us a time of youthful exuberance mixed with other factors like (a) a strong identification with New Orleans type music, (b) far left Socialism (Sandy in those days being Communist in outlook though he later renounced this), and (c) a reactionary outlook to the established status quo, Calvinist ‘whatever you are doing – stop it’ view point, so, in my mind at most venues was the thought that there was to be ‘a hot time in the Old Town tonight’.
“Those days naturally compare favourably with the present ones as I have now entered what Robbie Burns described as ‘joyless eld’ (elderly).”
Norrie’s interest in Socialism continued longer than some of the others:
“Subsequent to playing days I visited the then U.S.S.R. – Moscow, St. Petersburg, Minsk - when thoughts of international Socialism as a remedy to the world’s ills still existed, but this like many other illusions has departed. It was not the utopia Bernard Shaw thought it to be.”
Although Norrie eventually gave up playing the banjo, he kept in touch with his old pal Al Fairweather, and when in retirement Al decided to come back to Edinburgh, wondering how he would get his possessions back, it was Norrie who hired the removal van and helped him. “Al was,” says Norrie, “the brother I never had.”
Sadly, Norrie passed away in December 2009.
Norrie and Al (Photograph © Norrie Anderson)
© Norrie Anderson and Sandy Brown Jazz 2009 - 2015