The Melotones [Bert Mackay]

NE Scottish band who played popular cover tunes [circa early '60s]

NE Scottish band who played popular cover tunes [circa early ’60s]

  • Photo taken during a Melotones rehearsal in Dingwall Town Hall, Ross-shire in 1962.
  • Left, Johnny Fisher, Tenor Saxophone
  • Second Left (at back)..Bert MacKay, guitarist.
  • Third from left (facing front)…Ronnie Reid Tenor Saxophone.
  • Fourth from left (at back), Dodo Ross, drummer and accordionist.
  • Fifth from back (standing) Willie Wilson, bass and vocalist
  • Second from right (facing) Jimmy Stewart, Alto Saxophone.
  • Extreme right, Tam Wilson Keyboard and piano.
Missing…Fergie Brown, Trumpet.
Former band leader Jimmy Wilson had been killed in an accident previously.
Former drummer Eck Wilson had been assigned to head up a musical trio on the Queen Mary.

The Melotones [not to be confused with the “doo-wop” Mello-tones] were a performing band [1950’s-’60 popular music] among several musicians around Scotland who were not represented by a recording company. They were popular with those out for music and dancing and were playing to a large crowd “well over 1,000” at the Strathpeffer Ballroom when “the Beatles show was nearly empty  so it closed early”. Bert Mackay [quote from “Are Ye’ Dancin” Eddie Tobin]: ” I saw them waiting on the steps for their gear to arrive… They wound up coming to the Strath and a lot of my friends saw them, but I didn’t”

Bert Mackay: I was born north of Inverness as was my wife and as part of younger years played skiffle/bluegrass and in 1959 joined the Melotones, a 8 to 9 piece band from Dingwall that played both dance classics Sinatra and Bennett style as well as current top forty 50s and 60s music.

The MELOTONES were only a part time band. I was a risk analyst and subsequently took up Power Engineering and went to Canada in 1966 after a recruitment from Alberta Power in London. I did record very amateurishly on stage with two Grundig recorders in series on  reel to reels at Strathpeffer. However master tape went missing…
We had the 3 Wilson Brothers, Jimmy Wilson as piano, electronic keyboard and vocals, Willie Wilson as bass and vocals, Eck Wilson as drummer and vocals, Jimmy Stewart and Ronnie Reid and Johnny Fisher as sax players. Dodo Ross played interim  accordion and back-up drums and I played both rhythm or lead guitar depending on music. Fergie Brown when home from Navy played trumpet.
We played all over northern Scotland from Aberdeen to Skye and all points north. Our major venue was Strathpeffer pavilion.
We did play several times at Two Red Shoes in Elgin and Mr Bonici was a well know promoter who booked several big bands at his venue including Kenny Ball Jazzmen, Mick Mulligan, all the famous Irish Bands, Rock Bands from all over England, and mostly we backed up these bands. What would happen is that we would play from 8.00pm or 9.00pm to 10.00pm or 11.00pm and big band would play after us until 2.00pm or after.” Remembering promoter AA Bonici:  “Albert Bonici was a very astute businessman and I often wondered if in fact he made any profit with this arrangement. On  7 or so visits to Two Red Shoes and [Albert’s] house  we were invited to to see his new PROJECTION TV, first in Scotland he said. (Black and White).”
Melotones Stories By Bert MacKay
Bert Mackay [third from left] with The Zodiac [circa 1963]

 Bert Mackay [third from left] with The Zodiac [circa 1963]

Another photo from a small group prior to the Melotones called THE ZODIACS
Left to right….George Innes, Lal McLeod, Bert MacKay and the late Neil Grant
“The history of the wonderful community of Dingwall would not be complete without its musicians, and the Wilson brothers made a
remarkable contribution in supplying town halls and weekend socials with the best of both contemporary and big band sound, in the rise of
ELVIS, THE BEATLES, and many other groups.
The Melotones Orchestra evolved through changes in its musicians, but always provided an evening of good fun and favourite musical
repertoires for many years and in many communities from John O’Groats to Perth. Here are some stories I recall from these halcyon days.
1.The Air Force Stage: (1960)
We were scheduled to play in Kinloss at the Royal Air Force depot, and a large stage was set up on oil drums in the main empty hangar
on the perimeter of the runway. Uniformed airmen and their families and guests looked forward to hearing the great sound of
the famous Melotones of Dingwall. A piano, sound equipment, bandstands and instruments were all installed on this temporary stage,
the floor was cleaned and strip-waxed for the dance. Over 500 dancers took the floor and enjoyed low-cost liquid refreshments, tax free,
at the portable bars set up on either side.
Jimmy Wilson made his usual welcome announcements to all and the dancers anticipated an excellent evening of music entertainment.
Requests were made for some rock’n’ roll and true to form the band delivered resounding renditions of Elvis, Bill Haley and others.
What wasn’t noticed was that the piano, (perched on the temporary stage made up of heavy planks on oil drums) had gradually shifted
to the edge of the stage. Half way through a swinging musical number I heard a shout from Jimmy and all I could see were
three uniformed airmen rushing up to the far corner of the stage, but too late, the piano had migrated over the edge and came
crashing to the floor, fortunately on a rubber matting. This brought the music and dance to a stop. A musical recess was taken and
the piano inspected. Fortunately all that transpired was that the lid had cracked slightly.With the use of a forklift, it was again hoisted
on to the temporary stage and nailed-down chocks were applied. The music continued and all had a great time.
2.In 1960 we were booked to play with another group in Inverness Meeting Rooms for the annual Royal Ball, at which Princess
Margaret and other notable blue bloods and debutantes were guests. Jimmy had received a large package of instructions and
protocols from the Buckingham Palace charge d’affaire. Simply put, it mandated wearing of tuxedos, pre-agreed repertoire, no
drinks on stage, band could not leave the stage, fixed time between musical numbers and no public jokes or other unwelcome comments
on microphone, all of this completely foreign to our brand of fun. The pay however was good, and we determined not to embarrass the
Princess when she entered the dance floor. As all musicians know, we had to commence all evenings with some lubrication, and the going
stuff at that time was Newcastle Brown Ale, one of the best in the world.
We were the first band to play and set up slightly early after vacating the local bar. The tuxedos were adjusted, the instruments tuned and
we began to play the pre-arranged tunes. We had noticed that Willie Wilson had made some brief exits behind the stage and Jimmy
reminded him about the rules.. nobody left the stage until our music ended.
Princess Margaret looked radiant and glamorous as she danced to the bands’ strict tempo numbers.
After the Melotones repertoire ended, we drew the curtains ready for the next band. Willie removed his bass and also the three lemonade
bottles that had contained the remains of the filtered out Newcastle Brown Ale (after drinking, so to speak).
Jimmy received a fine letter from Buckingham Palace complimenting our music.
3.Bert’s “Gas Guitar” (1961)
The band played at all locales, large and small. One of the places was in the north west part of Caithness at a small, very small, town hall.
It barely held 100 people. The hall was brightly lit and we began to set up our instruments and bandstands.
My job was to get the amplifiers and mike set up, which I did. Then I looked around to get the electrical power plugged in and test the
microphones. I could not see any plug-ins on the stage and went to talk to the organizer at the front reception desk. When I asked him
where I could string an electrical cord to power up the amplifier, he looked at me in a quizzical way and said, “man we have no
electricity in here”…. I looked up at the lights and yes they were gas lights like the old Tilly Lamps. I started to laugh at which time
Willie Wilson came over and I had the gentleman repeat the message. Willie started his legendary laugh and this brought the entire band over.
We then realized that this fine Community Hall had only gaslights and no power. My guitar and Jimmy’s keyboard were electrical as were the
microphones, so I sat out that night. Later that week Willlie wrote a column about my “gas guitar” We also learned a little about Scotland’s geography.
4.“The Gift horse that never was”
The band was traveling in the dead of winter, close to Christmas, from Helmsdale to Thurso to play. Roads were icy.
As we rounded a corner, there appeared a large box wrapped in Christmas paper on the other lane. Clearly it had dropped
off a lorry or other vehicle and was probably full of Xmas goodies. Our driver carefully brought the band bus to a halt some yards
further down the road past the box, so as not to skid on these wintry roads. He backed up the van to the approximate location,
but no box was there. We backed up a bit more but still no box.
As we were all excited about its contents, several of us got out of the van and again searched the roadway to no avail. We were puzzled as we
had definitely seen that box at this location. Just then voices ringing with laughter came from the far side of the road to our left behind a hidden
bank “… you are a dumb bunch of ##**@@**%%## ” .
It was then we knew that the box was a joke to bring traffic to a halt. The box was tried to a string and when the traffic came to a halt the jokesters
would pull in the box to conceal it and wait for the inevitable anger of the people who thought they had found some treasure.
Loud cries of promised violence came from the band to the hidden jokesters as their laughter faded in the distance. Needless to say, this was
northern entertainment at its best!
5. “Tuning the Bass” (1962)
We had played at the famous “Two Red Shoes” ballroom in Elgin, packed up the instruments and gear and headed home. At the first
corner we heard a “thump” and the driver realized that the large double bass had left the roof rack and skidded down a ditch in its cover.
Willie who played the bass gave out a shout and cursed himself for forgetting to attach the hold down straps. We retrieved the bass, strapped
it firmly down to the roof and left for home again. Later we discovered that the bass had sustained a crack on its lower body but all of us
maintained that it sounded much better after that.
6. “ Meeting the Beatles”
I do not have the exact date but we do know that it was in January 4th [1963] that the Melotones were booked to play at the Strathpeffer Ballroom,
one of the most popular dance venues in northern Scotland. The band was very popular and I recall a grey-haired old lady once coming to the stage
and giving me five pounds, a large sum in those days, to play “Wheels” which I did rather badly but she appeared to be happy with it.
On that Friday afternoon in Dingwall while we went to the Legion for some refreshments we noticed a group of musicians sitting on the
Town Hall steps. They were neatly dressed with long hair and were anxiously awaiting their long trailer with their instruments and gear.
They announced themselves to us as the “Beatles” which at that time when there were two hundred bands around Scotland and England,
were just another group. Regrettably that night only a handful of dancers were present in the Town Hall.
At the Strathpeffer Ballroom that same evening we had 1000 dancers gyrating to the music of the Melotones. Willie wrote a long story in the
Northstar about that evening which today is hard to comprehend, but it is true.
7. “The deadly crash”
On January 27th 1962 we traveled to Invergordon for a special band night as it was an anniversary night for the British Legion and someone’s
birthday. We had brought some guests from Dingwall and Strathpeffer. Roads were extremely bad with black ice. It was an excellent evening of
After loading up, Jimmy decided to return home with some friends in their car. Near Alness we noticed that their car had seemingly
disappeared on a corner but when we turned the corner we saw that the car had skidded and crashed violently against a tree. All three
occupants were clearly injured but we did not know the extent until we removed them and got assistance from a local farmhouse.
Ambulances were called. Jimmy Wilson was especially badly injured with internal problems and eventually after initial treatment in Inverness
was flown to the Glasgow Western. He died of his injuries on Tuesday February 6th, 1962. It was devastating for his family, for the band and
for Dingwall which had sustained three other sudden deaths at the same time. It took a long time to renew our enthusiasm for music.
Jimmy, a master musician with a great personality, will always be remembered, as will his brothers Willie and Eck. I still regard those as the real
“Happy Days”. We played with many different jazz and big bands from the Clyde Valley Stompers to Calum Kennedy, to Mick Mulligan
and George Melly , had met the Beatles and Chris Barber and had played for Royalty, but it was the common working folk that we really
enjoyed and spent many miles and much music for.
Sadly Dodo Ross, one of Scotlands best band accordionists, was also to pass away in November 2007, another great musical member of Dingwall’s
elite entertainment groups.” Melotones Stories By Bert MacKay

THE BEATLES: Those who listened to the top 20 song chart from Amsterdam had already heard The Beatles tune, “Love Me Do” which had hit number 17. Johnny and The Copycats, a teenage beat band from Buckie, were disappointed that The Beatles were unable to do their first gig in Keith. The following night at Elgin’s Two Red Shoes, 80 young people showed up on unusually snowy January evening to see the band. According to a ticket taker, there were 200 attendees for the second half as they rocked the house with their original tunes and thoughtful arrangements of popular songs. However, the next night didn’t go well for the band as the Scottish group, The Melotones,  were playing four miles down the road to a packed house. The Beatles didn’t do their second set in Dingwall though they finished their four day tour in Scotland to a welcoming audience in Aberdeen.

Here’s another account about the Beatles coming to Dingwall:

Original Beatles Fans enjoy Dingwall Reunion Gig [by Jackie MacKenzie]

FIFTEEN of the “Dingwall 19” the meagre group of fans who turned out to hear The Beatles play the Town Hall in 1963 were reunited last Friday night at a concert in the same venue. But this time round it was a Beatles tribute band who were on the stage, The Upbeat Beatles, an event organised by the Dingwall Business Association to help promote the town as a shopping and visitor centre.The association tracked down 15 of the original 19 folk who turned out to hear the little-known Beatles on January 4 1963 while over 1,000 local lads and lasses were dancing to popular local band The Melotones just up the road in Strathpeffer. Just 10 days later The Beatles’ first No 1 hit was released, Please Please Me, and their careers went stratospheric and Dingwall’s snubbing of the biggest band of all time has become the stuff of local legend.

Business association member Billy Shanks, who traced the few fans who did attend the 1963 gig, said: “It was a great reunion and we tried to get all the people who attended the original gig sitting down the left hand side of the hall so they could all chat. What stories they had of back in the day, and then we got them all on the stage. “It was a great get-together and there was a lot of swapping of email addresses and phone numbers so it’s put a lot of local people back in touch which each other which is nice. “The concert itself was super you forget just how many good songs The Beatles had and there wasn’t a seat left in the hall. It was so encouraging to see such a good response from Dingwall folk and everybody had a terrific night.”Highland Councillor Margaret Paterson, whose idea it was to bring the Upbeat Beatles to Dingwall, said: “It was a fantastic concert and it was attended by more people than was at the original Beatles concert in 1963! “The tribute band was superb and had the whole place rocking. It was like a step back in time. People travelled long distances for the gig and it was tremendous for Dingwall.” Among the Dingwall 19 who got in touch with Billy following his appeal were Ian MacKenzie, now in New Zealand, and Stanley Ferguson who lives in South Africa.

A special plaque is now proudly installed on the wall of the Town Hall, telling of the venue’s association with the “Fab Four”.

“I remember The Beatles were late in arriving and when they came on stage one by one they were wearing three-quarter-length leather jackets, long scarves – one was trailing his on the ground behind him – and winkle pickers” Olive Lees, 64, was among the 19 audience members and stayed to the end of the gig even though her father Jimmy Stewart was band leader of the Melotones at the time. She said: “My father told me the mini bus to the Strath was full so I’d have to go to the town hall. I wasn’t bothered because the Melotones would come round to our house and play in the sitting room… I remember The Beatles were late in arriving and when they came on stage one by one they were wearing three-quarter-length leather jackets, long scarves – one was trailing his on the ground behind him – and winkle pickers.” Olive Lees One of the Dingwall 19

Mr Shanks, of Dingwall Business Association, said eight of the 19 had been traced so far. He told the BBC Good Morning Scotland programme a performance by local band, the Melotones, in nearby Strathpeffer had been a bigger attraction on the night. Mr Shanks said: “The Wilson brothers, who were the Melotones, were a big band here at the time.”People had heard there was this new band visiting, but they thought their music was rubbish and went away up to Strathpeffer to watch the Melotones. “They say The Beatles later packed it up and went to Strathpeffer to listen to the Melotones.” Mr Shanks went to the town hall himself to look in on The Beatles, but had second thoughts after doorman David Murray told him the music was not good.

“Olive Lees, 64, was among the 19 audience members and stayed to the end of the gig even though her father Jimmy Stewart was band leader of the Melotones at the time.

She said: “My father told me the mini bus to the Strath was full so I’d have to go to the town hall.

“I wasn’t bothered because the Melotones would come round to our house and play in the sitting room.

“I remember The Beatles were late in arriving and when they came on stage one by one they were wearing three-quarter-length leather jackets, long scarves – one was trailing his on the ground behind him – and winkle pickers.”Everyone was laughing at them.”But they were brilliant and they chatted with the audience between songs.”

Olive Lees One of the Dingwall 19


My research began in 2007 as a visitor to the north of Scotland. With a fascination for the beat music era that took place throughout the UK, my research investigates the late '50s through early 1970s. Relying on interviews, the Albert Bonici archives, and other resources, I continue to gather materials to tell the story of a special time in music in the mid 20th century. Scottish promoter, Albert Bonici, brought many of the top beat music acts to Scotland which delighted music lovers during the early days of the beat music era. SCOTBEAT was created to share a bit of history about the BEAT years in Scotland and remembers the contributions of promoter, Albert Bonici, a man with a vision who, with the help of his family and staff, created a happening that is still fondly remembered by those who attended dances and concerts. Besides other local resources and interviews, SCOTBEAT presents exclusive photos, adverts, and documents from the A Bonici Archives [circa 1960s]. Unless otherwise agreed, materials are not to be used for financial gain and ask that you respect the terms below. Materials presented are not to be used for financial gain without consent. © 2014-2019 All rights reserved. No part of this web site may be copied, redistributed, broadcast or published in any form without crediting this blog and/or copyright websites mentioned. All correspondence, flyers, programs, and photos from the Bonici Archives are not to appear in print other than through the propietor of SCOTBEAT. Use of the site signifies your agreement to all of these terms without condition. Please reference when sharing materials found here as the site is continuously updated to present the subject matter accurately and as a historical resource. Thank you.

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Posted in 1960's pop music

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