Corrie Folk Trio

…a brief history

The Corrie Folk Trio was founded by architects, Bill Smith and Ron Cruikshank (other sources have erroneously reported Ron Cockburn), after returning from a song collecting trip in Ireland. The duo were joined by a banjo player named Andy Turner and formed the group, "The Corrie Voices". Andy Turner dropped out of the group and eventually Roy Williamson and Paddie Bell were recruited. Ron Cruikshank fell ill prior to the group scheduled performance as the Edinburgh Festival, and Ronnie Browne was asked to joined. In 1964, the Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell (CFT & PB) became the resident folk group on the BBC's "the Hoot'nanny Show". In 1965, Paddie Bell left group to have her child and later pursued a solo. The group continue for another year until Bill Smith left in January 1966.

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Bill Smith
Roy Williamson
Ronnie Browne
Paddie Bell
The Bill Smith Interview

Q: Prior to forming the "The Corrie Voices", please tell us a little of your background. Where you were born, college, musical background, etc.?

A: I was born in 1936 in Edinburgh and went to school during the war years and eventually made it to the Edinburgh College of Art where I graduated as an architect in 1959. I came from a musical background on both sides of the family, with my fathers' brothers involved in dance orchestras of one sort or another, playing with army units entertaining the troops. My earliest memories are of our front room crammed with instruments of all sorts and of music going on for days whenever the brothers managed a reunion or at family gatherings post war. I started learning guitar at around the age of eight and have no particular memories of being ever shown the basics or of being taught how to handle the instrument.

At school I teamed up with other players and at college joined in the trad jazz revival of the fifties and sixties playing tenor banjo and a massive Martin/Colletti cello guitar which carried to the back of the hall wherever we played.

Q: Were you involved with the Folk Revival prior to forming the group?

A: In Scotland the Folk revival was more of a quiet re-awakening of interest in the musical heritage of the country. The ditties (usually music hall) and the more serious ballads were always lurking, revived at parties, funerals etc. The traditional ballads remained buried under a pile of sentimental rubbish that claimed to represent Scottish music; the Brigadoon factor draped in tartan and smelling of haggis. It was therefore quite natural to be drawn to the American Folk songs, Burl Ives, Big Bill Broonzy, The Weavers etc for material, shunning the material sitting under our noses, material that we later uncovered and turned to as the mainstay of the Corrie repertoire.

At University there was a flourishing Folk Club and the late Hamish Henderson at the school of Scottish Studies was already working with a young Robin Hall bringing the old ballads to life, discovering Jeannie Robertson and campaigning among the singers of the "revival" to adopt the ballads of their own country. Happily he succeeded.

Q: Who were some of your early musical influences?

A: I remember listening to the Big Bill Campbell show in the '40's (drawn from the U.S.) and loving the C&W feeling it invoked. Later I heard a wonderful series on BBC called "As I Roved Out" which was an eye opener into English folk song. At around the same time the great Burl Ives sang "Barbara Allen" and "Froggie went a Courtin". The series of radio ballads by Ewan McColl was probably the greatest influence. (Freeborn man of the Travelling Peoples etc..) throughout college I had a guitar with me in the studio playing everything from ballads to skiffle, trad jazz to swing playing with a number of groups. Roy and Ronnie were there at the same time and Roy and I used to meet up and play. I showed him the rudimentary chord positions and he was off. Ronnie I never knew as a singer until he stepped into Ron Cruikshank's shoes just before the Festival opening of 1962.

Q: How long were "The Corrie Voices" together?

A: We never performed as the Corrie Voices. Various other titles were aired but none stuck. Ron Cruikshank and myself had worked together as students and we started singing together and eventually travelled to the Irish Fleadh Ceol in Gorey ('62) to dig up songs and to immerse ourselves in the music. We came back with great material, carried in our heads and on the backs of envelopes. (No fancy recorders for us). I had made the trip the year previous to Mullingar where I met up with Barney McKenna and Luke Kelly both unknowns at that time. the following year I met up with Ronnie Drew and Ciarán Bourke and have fond memories of sessions that went on till the wee small hours. My intense love of the Irish ballads is still there. Later in 1963 when we needed an Irish presence on the Hootenany Show I got hold of the four of them and the Dubliners were born. To answer your question; The Corrie Voices were together for as long as it took to work up a repertoire that we were comfortable with in public. Then with the first real gig at the Festival in '62 and the introduction of Ronnie and Paddie Bell to the group the Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell was coined and remained.

Q: Did "The Corrie Voices" record anything?

A: No. We did not record under the name the Corrie Voices. As the newly formed CFT&PB we did however put down some twenty or so tracks of our best material and sent it to Liam Clancy at his request. The intention was to cut a disc for the Clancy label " Tradition". It never happened. In fairness although it was professionally produced, the end result was raw and unpolished. I still have the material. Some of it is very good. Others less so. It is always difficult to judge your performance when you are close to the material. You never hear what the audience hears.

Q: (If you know) What became of Ron C. and Andy Turner?

A: Ron continued his career as an architect. I lost touch with him although he maintains a link to Paddie Bell. Andy Turner. I have no idea how he fared. Last time I saw him was when I was in Nottingham doing Brecht with the Royal Lyceum Company at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1966. A long time ago.

Q: You said you "never knew Ronnie Browne as singer", who brought him in or how was he brought in?

A: I knew Ronnie over his four years at college with myself and Roy. I had no idea that he could sing. At some point in time he had had discussions with Roy on getting together to sing and he attended a party at which Cruikshank and myself trotted out our repertoire of Irish & Scottish songs that had stopped Roy (for one) dead in his tracks. At that point in time Roy became hooked. Ronnie also must have heard us rehearsing at some time or another with Roy and Paddie Bell. At any rate he was the natural choice after Ron Cruikshank fell sick. On hearing his clear tenor it was obvious that he had all the qualities we needed to complete the line-up. He stepped in at a day's notice and the next night we were on stage.

Q: I know from previous communication with you, you weren't thrilled with the quality of some of the CFT & PB recordings, in particular the "Burds" EPs. Who was responsible for that, were you managed at the time? The record company? What is your opinion of the other recordings made by the group?

A: After the success of the network Hootenany Show on BBC the producer of the show rushed us into Waverley Recording Studios to sign us up. Not that we were reluctant in any way. As it transpired we were not ready and on re-hearing the results of under-rehearsed performances, our in-built musical immaturity and with nobody competent in the studios to guide us, we naturally turned out a fairly poor recording of material that would have benefited from careful coaching and a more informed approach to what we were trying to achieve. Swapping over from verse to chorus, where one or other of us would move from lead to harmony, seemed to be beyond the skills of the engineers to capture, with the result that the final product was unbalanced and not representative of our overall sound.

In addition Roy was tending to "find his feet" and on one occasion we had a standup row about his recording of "Quare Bungle Rye". First of all, it was not our kind of material and Paddies banjo playing was less than proficient at that time. I was unhappy about releasing the track and said so. However, democracy prevailed although I could see trouble looming ahead. Perhaps unfairly I tended to vet all our songs and even undertook all the arranging of our material. Selection of keys, running orders etc were all down to me. I even tuned all the instruments before every show (to Roy's concertina) to be certain that we were all singing from the same hymn sheet! Everybody went along with it at the time.

Q: Why did you leave the group?

A: Groups are like families. Total interdependance and constant forgiveness the hallmarks of any group who have survived the first five years. For reasons I fail to understand to this day we tended to avoid each other's company off stage. On stage it was a different matter with differences apparently forgotten as we gave out the impression of total harmony. In 1965 I went through a well publicised divorce. Suddenly the sky was less than blue. It was not a good time all round. After the 1965 New Year BBC Hogmanay show I made my way to our car to find the back seats already filled. There was no way I was going to get home that night. It's was as good a way to say goodbye as any I know. Ronnie and I disappeared around the back of the BBC building for a showdown that went nowhere. Probably just as well for both of us. The back of the car was full of police pipers. At that point I could not see myself working with either of them again. I walked.

Q: What is your opinion as to the direction Ronnie and Roy went…did you like the " Corries" as a duo?

A: I can only answer this by comparing them to my experiences as a trio.
Our best recording of the trio was Those Wild Corries released in 1966. It was also my last recording with them. For the first time we were fully supported by professionals on all sides. Fontana studios got the balance just right. For once we sounded the way I had hoped we would sound on those earlier recordings. While it true that we used session musicians, I could just as easily have sent them all home, apart from Brocklehurst on bass who drove the big numbers along with some magnificent bass playing.

Once I had gone, the duo seemed to be at a loss for a while. Bonnet Belt and Sword was a poor follow up to Those Wild Corries. I felt that the loss of my voice which had always worked as the catalyst between the very differing voices of Roy and Ronnie was a serious loss to the original Corrie sound. It was apparent that they would need to do a lot of work before they could become comfortable once more with their overall output. I fully expected them to look for a replacement. Roy's response was to invest in the wide range of instruments he played. Ronnie's response was to attempt the rhythmic strumming that I added to the group and which to this day is remembered as the hallmark of the early recordings. I am not sure he got there.

Bill Smith - circa 2006

In the months following the break up I was approached by Ian McFadgen and Ian Sutherland who had arranged and mastered the Wild Corries tapes with a view to patching up differences between myself and the Corries. We met up in London for dinner to discuss everything. They were currently laying down the tracks for the Corries second Fontana album. What they hoped to achieve is anyone's guess. I was out and intending to stay that way. McFadgen did however involve me at a later time in some other television work which I was happy to do.

I had real difficulty listening to the early duo recordings so I am the last person to judge them. Later on, they achieved a nice balance and became more discerning in their choice of material. Their success rate as a duo speaks for itself. Where we would have been musically had we stuck together is anyone's guess. I foresaw a very rosy future for us judged at the time prior to the break-up.