Kenneth McKellar

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Duration: 1 hour

Anne Lorne Gillies leads this celebration of arguably Scotland's greatest tenor - Kenneth McKellar.
McKellar's career, which spanned 50 years, saw him rise to be a household name in Scotland and beyond, but behind the public persona was a quiet man who regularly spurned personal honours and accolades.

Although McKellar never sung in Gaelic, through singing he had an affinity with the language and was always meticulous about ensuring any Gaelic words in his songs were pronounced perfectly, reflecting his love and affection for his native country and all that it was.

Humour was also a big part of McKellar's life and a script he wrote was used in a Monty Python sketch, indeed he became the only person outside the Monty Python team to have a sketch performed by them. He wrote many popular comedy songs like 'The Midges' and formed a comedy duo with Johnny Beattie.

The definitive interpreter of the songs of Robert Burns, McKellar also composed 'Royal Mile', the song which opened the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games.

When his voice began to falter with age, he bowed out gracefully from his singing career to become an acclaimed arranger.

Bill Innes, who presented Radio nan Gàidheal's opera music show, Abair Aria, was a big fan, and doesn't think Scotland recognised his vocal talents. Indeed McKellar was arguably a bigger star, and some would say more appreciated in countries such as Canada and Australia.

  • Barrachd fiosrachaidh mun phrògram

    Tha an seinneadair ainmeil Anna Latharna Nic Gill Ìosa gar toirt air cuairt tro bheatha Choinnich a’ tachairt ri seann eòlaich, càirdean agus caraidean. Cluinnear sgeulachdan mu chliù agus phearsa Choinnich bho leithid Johnny Beattie agus Sir Jackie Stiùbhart agus dealbh phearsanta air an duine fhèin bho a bhràthair agus bhon nighean aige.

    Tha an t-Ollamh Chris Underwood bho Acadamaidh Rìoghail Ceòl agus Dràma na h-Alba ag innse de dha rìreabh a bha cho sònraichte mu dheidhinn guth Choinnich agus na h-òrain air an robh e a’ freagairt.  Bha meas mòr aig Coinneach air òrain chlasaigeach agus òrain Albannach agus tro a ghuth-sheinn choisinn e cliù dha fhèin air feadh na rìoghachd agus cuideachd thall-thairis.

    Bha e tric ri fhaicinn air telebhisean a’ gabhail pàirt ann am programan mòra cuir-seachad an latha. Ach bha taobh èibhinn air an duine cuideachd agus fhuair e an cothrom a bhi a’ cleasachd ann an cuideachd glè ainmeil, còmhla ri sgioba Monty Python! A thilleadh air a sin bha Coinneach agus an cleasaiche Albannach Johnny Beattie ag obair còmhla son ùine air pròiseactan comadaidh.

    'S e duine iriosal a bha ann an Coinneach a bha a seachnadh nam meadhanan foillseachaidh ach a dh’aindeoin cho ainmeil sa dh’fhas e mar sheinneadair eadar-nàiseanta, chum e dùthaich àraich aig cridhe a’ bheatha.

  • More about the programme

    He did for Scottish song what Pavarotti did for Opera, bringing it to the masses with unequivocal poise and purity of tone. Kenneth McKellar, who died earlier this year aged 82, leaves a musical legacy that few could hope to replicate. As 2010 draws to a close, a moving television tribute celebrates the life and work of this favourite son of Scotland, the nation’s kilt-clad ‘Great Tenor’, composer, and self confessed patriot.

    The hour long BBC ALBA documentary ‘Trusadh: Kenneth McKellar’ produced by MacTV, delivers a stirring musical journey peppered with tales from showbiz friends such as River City’s Johnny Beattie, motoring top man Jackie Stewart, and the renowned singer Anne Lorne Gillies, who leads the tribute with her moving narration. We also hear from friends and family as well as the Gaelic and Scottish musical community. A range of stories, warm recollections and anecdotes are shared offering a portrait of an often understated and underestimated talent from working class Paisley who rose to being a musical maestro.

    The programme takes a journey through his colourful career, from his early spine-tingling classical arias and famed rendition of Handel’s Messiah to his trademark Scots Folk Ballads which he brought to an international audience. His countless contributions to television and comedy, including the surprising revelation that he once wrote a sketch for the Monty Python team, are also celebrated.

    Johnny Beattie, who formed a comedy partnership with McKellar, said: “To entertain people like he did with that glorious voice and of course the comedy aspect of his career too: you can leave no finer legacy.

    “He wasn’t the usual gregarious show business type but once you got to know Kenny you realised he was a truly great man.”

    McKellar’s daughter Jane, speaks honestly about her father’s life which was characterized by an unerringly humble approach to fame. She reveals the family man behind the many colourful album covers, the devoted father who refused an OBE, shied away from interviews and even spurned the idea of a fan club.

    ‘He was offered an OBE but in his own independent spirit actually turned it down,’ she says. ‘He tended very much to buck the trend and to make decisions which ultimately some may say had a negative effect on his career but for him that wasn’t important at all. That kind of recognition was something he didn’t strive for.”

    Here was a man whose commitment to Scotland over-rode all, and though never a fluent Gaelic speaker, the musicality of the native language influenced his interpretations of the traditional songs that he was best known for.

    Kenneth’s daughter Jane, said: “Throughout his life he never ever forgot the fact that he was Scottish, a ‘Paisley Buddy’, and that was something he was very passionate about, even when he was living abroad towards the end of his life.”

    The programme enlists the help of voice expert Professor Chris Underwood, of Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, who guides viewers on a journey through some of McKellar’s most moving work, examining the qualities that set his voice aside.

    Professor Chris Underwood said: “It’s as if with a great singer you can see the expression on their face, even when they are just listening, and that shows how communicative he was as a performer. At the end of the day he knew what singing was for and it was to light up people’s lives and that’s of course what he did.”

  • Kenneth McKellar: Scotland's Great Tenor

    Kenneth McKellar: Scotland's Great Tenor

    Johnny Beattie leads this celebration of one of Scotland's finest singers, the tenor Kenneth McKellar.

    Kenneth McKellar: Scotland's Great Tenor


Anne Gillies


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