For 63 years, the name "Columban Singers" has been synonymous with Choral music in
Kilsyth and throughout West Central Scotland and far beyond, but when and where lie the origins of the Choir?
Kilsyth, like so many other small towns in the Central Lowlands of Scotland, was at one time heavily dependent
upon the coal industry with very little alternative occupations available which did not incur travelling to the larger towns
and cities to the East and West. As was common in the first half of the 20th
century, there was very little in the way of entertainment available other than the local cinema or a night at the dancing.
This encouraged people to make their own enjoyment and one of the methods used was to form an alliance, in many cases associated
with some religious group, where they could meet and find ways to help themselves - and others too - in a convivial environment.
During the bleak winter months of 1949, a group of these men, drawn from a wide range of employment and
all of whom were members of a local church organisation called The Knights of St Columba in Kilsyth, decided to follow the
lead of hundreds of other working men and form a Choir. Within the ranks of the members was local school teacher Pat Docherty
who agreed to act as Conductor and he swiftly organised the men into the four sections of a Male Voice Choir and the first
rehearsal took place on 5th February 1950. The initial practices were less than satisfactory due
to the inability of the Conductor to attend regularly because of failing health. Eventually, Mr Docherty intimated it would
be better if another Conductor could take over the guidance of the choristers and, by the greatest stroke of good luck, the
man of the hour was to hand. As fate would have it, one of the Founder Members of the Columban Singers was James Turley who,
in addition to his very busy full time occupation, was also a musician of no mean repute in his "spare time".James willingly
accepted the onerous task of literally teaching music to the choir members as well as moulding their voices - in the standard
four part harmony of Male Voice Choirs - into some astounding renditions of some of the classic arrangements of choral work.
The initial choral arrangements tackled included: The Border Ballad, The Battle Hymn of the Republic,
Oft in the Stilly Night, The Long Day Closes, Comrades in Arms, The Farmers Boy, Stars of the Summer Night and The Lincolnshire
Poacher. All good rousing Male Voice arrangements which were enjoyed both by the members and audiences too.
Entry to numerous Festivals of Music was embarked upon under the guidance of Mr Turley and not a little
success was achieved in these competitions. One of the highlights of the many Festivals was the participation in the Glasgow
Music Festival of 1962 when the Choir emerged victorious with 173 points from a possible 200. What made this victory all the
more praiseworthy was that the "opposition" included none other than the renowned City of Glasgow Police Choir. To edge out
this marvellous Choir was indeed an achievement.
In early 1970, more than 20 years after taking the helm, ill-health prompted Mr Turley to
reluctantly tender his resignation as Conductor and, although he agreed a short time later to return in the much less onerous
position of sub Conductor, sadly he was unable to fulfil this wish.
The need for a musically talented replacement saw the Committee reach a unanimous decision to ask Mr James
Robertson to come to the rescue and fortunately he responded positively to the request. An experienced musician and arranger,
Mr Robertson had arranged some numbers previously for the Choir. He also led a close harmony group called The Four Sharps
which performed on stage and radio on a regular basis at that time.The new era which dawned in 1970 with Mr Robertson taking
over as Conductor heralded a departure from the previous concentration on traditional choral numbers to songs in a much lighter
vein more suited to the new direction the Choir moved in. Included was the lovely Autumn Leaves, Born Free, I Can’t
stop Loving You and many, many more, all of them arranged personally by Mr Robertson.
In season 1971/72, the Choir was most fortunate to obtain the services of a talented young
lady called Mrs Margaret Waddell to act as accompanist and her expert playing was, and still is, an integral part of the sound
of the Columban Singers.
A memorable occasion for the members was being part of the 1000 voice choir at Bellahouston
Park in Glasgow during the visit of the Pope to Scotland in 1982.The choir thought this a great privilage as the membership
has men from all religious denominations in the area.
James Robertson died very suddenly and unexpectedly in February 1999 having served as Conductor
of the Choir for 30 years. His passing posed another dilemma in that a new Conductor had to be found to ensure the continuance
of the Choir.
As the season had almost ended, it was decided that sub Conductor Harry Dempsey be asked
to stand in whilst efforts were made to acquire a suitable replacement for Mr Robertson.
During the close season, information was received of someone who might meet the needs of
the Choir and a meeting was arranged with Mr James G McColl. An agreement was reached that Mr McColl would work with the Choir
for a short period to enable him to assess the potential of the Choir and also to allow the members to ascertain if he would
meet with their expectations.
Mr McColl’s musical experience began when he was a young schoolboy in his native city
of Glasgow and blossomed when and he was fortunate enough to join the Army as a young bands-man.
Making good use of the expert quality tuition, ample resources and guidance available in
the forces, allied to some long evenings of swatting and not a few hours practice, he swiftly gained the promotion he deserved.
Following tours of duty in far off exotic places where he conducted Choirs, Bands and Orchestras, he eventually returned to
command the musicians of The Life Guards who were stationed in Windsor and has had the privilege of conducting the Band when
providing entertainment for Her Majesty. He acted as Musical Director for the prestigious Edinburgh Military Tattoo for three
Eventually, having risen to the rank of Major, he left HM Forces and returned to "Civvy
Street" where he swiftly found a position suitable to one with his knowledge and experience, providing expert tuition to school
Happily, the result of the deliberations of Mr McColl and the Choir members as to the suitability
of "him for us" and "us for him" proved to be satisfactory and in October 1999, he agreed to become the Conductor of the Columban
Traditional choral music is again gradually being introduced to the repertoire and this,
with the evergreen arrangements of James Robertson, and over the years still available, provides a much wider spectrum. in
2012 we still have our gifted conductor. And now after 14 years of service in 2013 we were give
the sad news Jim McColl had to retire because of his health this was devastating news to the choir, and we wish Jim all the
best for the future This was at the end of our season in April. During the break we started applying
for a conductor and were fortunate to have an enquiry from Mariot Dallas who is a music teacher from Falkirk and teaches in
Falkirk High School and is working with the Scottish Youth Choirs. She has now joined us and we are fortunate to have her.
And so we look to the future with our new conductor.