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Classic Scottish Artists: Bobby Henry

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Davie Scott Davie Scott | 10:30 UK time, Tuesday, 27 September 2011

One day they'll give me the chance to make a radio series about members of the community of musicians and artists who are, for many, a touch off-piste but who nevertheless have made magical contributions to music culture. I alluded to this in a recent blog on Capercaillie and have warmed to the subject again this past week or so, with a somewhat heavy heart.

Let me digress for a moment. A small but perfectly enthusiastic incarnation of my Pearlfishers recently guested at the Ceol's Craic event at CCA in Glasgow. During sound-check I glanced out and there in the corner, making the International Sign for "I feel and can demonstrate emotion" (fanning one's eyes with two rapidly flapping hands, the better to dry emerging tears), was my old friend Jerry Burns, just in from a sophisticated and doubtless enigmatic European City. After catching up on some tears and years of nonsense, talk fell to someone who was once very important to both of us, the artist Bobby Henry of Coatbridge, Lanarkshire.

I met Bobby in 1984 when, recently returned from a stint in London, he was producer gun-for-hire-to many Scottish groups. As I recall one could procure his services for £50 a day if the studio was 16-Track, or £100 a day if in a 24-Track facility. I was vastly impressed by this ultra-professional (in retrospect, bonkers) pricing policy. While in London he had recorded with the group BIM and signed a solo deal with Charlie Gillett's hip label OVAL; the cover of the single Head Case featured a grinning, be-wooled Bobby with the legend "Cardigan: Lene Lovich", something else we all found utterly impressive. Best of all was actually working with the guy in the recording studio (24-Track if you must know). Over the course of about six months Bobby taught me how to make records; he crafted basslines with hooks the size of a house on top of my ickle songs, got drummers to play like they were half-cut (in hindsight not difficult), blended guitars, guitars, more guitars then some 12-string guitars until the word 'chime' was redundant, added daft backing vocal hooks - one favourite phonetic was "Voo" - and gorgeous quasi-orchestral flourishes on a cool instrument called The Emulator. Everywhere I looked Bobby's magic was turning up, on amazing records by Friends Again, Valerie And The Week Of Wonders, His Latest Flame, The McCluskey Brothers and Hue and Cry (the first pre-major label wax Here Comes Everybody), always adding a quirky muscularity to the dish of the day. There was darkness too, the empty, rattling ambience of Ravenscraig in dust, and grim, angular modernism in the songs from his (still-unreleased) solo album Russo's Jukebox. There were definitely night creatures in the margins of Bobby's music.

Some of that strange atmosphere seeped into the songs and sound of Bobby's greatest moment; and I hope one day we can make a Classic Scottish Albums around the record he cut with Jerry Burns in 1992 for Sony. The blend of Jerry's evocative lyricism and enchanted, half-whispered vocals with Bobby's haunted approach to harmony and layering of sounds proved defining. In the song Pale Red their heady mix finds its finest expression and the music almost floats off the planet, light and dark and dark and light as it rises. Completely My Dear and Sometimes I'm Wild are among other recordings that manage to suspend motion and emotion in mid air. Jerry and Bobby debuted their new work in Glasgow at The Old Athenaeum and that little mini Theatre Royal was filled with music industry hacks (me included) chomping free chicken legs and sausage rolls with increasing silence as something otherworldly happened on the stage. I think I saw something fragile in between the music and the people and the industry that signalled a somewhat short-lived blooming; possibly hindsight but in any case it proved to be so. The music exists though, timeless and perfect and still vibrating. Please seek out Jerry Burns if you can, along with Jerry's other great recordings. You'll find some Bobby solo stuff too, if you look hard enough, in the shadows somewhere.

A few days after our chance meeting at the CCA Jerry and I were in touch again, this time because of news that Bobby's health was in bad trouble. He passed away on 20th September 2011, as 'quietly smart as ever' according to JB. In common with many gifted artists Bobby walked a real thin line all his life between the darkness and the light; I remember him saying we should make some music arrangement sound 'tough' (he often used that word 'tough') before putting some sweet little sparkling guitar licks on there. And it was tough, and it was sweet underneath. As one of Bobby's night creatures said, in the song She Called Me Robert:

Inside we're soft; inside we're very, very frail.

RIP Bobby Henry.


  • Comment number 1.

    Bobby was a beautiful, snappily-dressed and peaceful man who I always remember with a wry smile on his face.

    Hopefully he'll be reunited with another one of my favourite Glasweigans, Graeme Kelling, in the Kingdom beyond this life.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hey, abeautifulnoise. thanks for leaving a comment. I know a lot of folk have visited here to see the piece about Bobby. You're so right about Graeme too - what a wonderful guy and a fantastic musician. I wrote something a while back about the late great Eddie Trayner, my first manager and Bobby's partner in Shift Records. He was such an amazing man too - I'm saving that piece for a Hearts And Minds related project for the future. So many of these wonderful people that make a difference in the world...

  • Comment number 3.

    This is a wonderful tribute to a wonderful person. I had the pleasure of working in recording studios for years with Bobby and considered him one of my closest friends. He was probably the most creative people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I'm currently sifting through hundreds of recordings and have found some lovely gems I made with Bobby. They still sound amazing today even though they were recorded over 25 years ago now.

    Also agree with 'abeautifulnoise' about Graeme Kelling. I also had the pleasure of knowing and working with Graeme on many occasions through the 80's and he is very sadly missed.

    Very sorry to hear about Eddie Traynor too - I didn't know he had died. Hopefully they will all be reunited as 'abeautifulnoise' suggests.

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi Davie,
    Jimme O'Neill here. Sorry to hear the sad news but Bobby wasn't in great shape the last while and I look on his passing as a final release.Don't know if you know but we lived together in the early seventies in London. Our band was called OREE and we made demos for Island. Richard Williams was the a&r guy and he said you and Bobby have got what it takes but not the other two go away and rethink. We were devastated but yes he was right.We were a soul pop band although our favourite bit was jamming psychedelic country blues which sounded just like Beefheart or we imagined. We were talented yes and naive extremely but we both had dreams of what could be. Bobby broke my heart so many times - changing his mind going off on a tangent - going back to Scotland - coming back to London -going back again -he was like trying to catch smoke. I thought I'll never find anyone who I can play with like Bobby there was a natural spark between us that was well - it!!! He had an original mind. I was convinced we would do great things together. Then he would disappear again haha. He was so smart and charming though that you could never be mad at him for long. We both did our own things after a while of course and we'd meet up have a pint ( or a few ) and talk about music - all kinds -from blues to experimental to country to soul to pop. He would always seduce me with some fact or other that I used to think he was making it up but no he'd read it or remembered it. I introduced him to Charlie Gillet as part of my own project. Shouldn't have been surprised that Charlie then decided to switch and make records with Bobby but it was the catalyst that forced me into forming Fingerprintz and finally being my own man. I remember well the eighties in London - Bim - and then the lovely record with Jerry. Yes the darkness that you talk about was always there. When you make your life with music you walk in an emotional minefield. Then you can put real stuff into songs that connect with folk. Bobby did that. xxxx

  • Comment number 5.

    Gordon - great to read your comments. You're so right about Bobby and his amazing creative artistry. I would be thankful to hear any music you have hanging around - I have plenty of it playing in my head over the past while...I was thinking about a song he recorded with Simone Lahbib (now an actor of some repute) called Come On Love - really brilliant pop song. And Jimmie - we had a conversation a lot like this last time I saw you which was in the Columbia Hotel in London about 12 years ago! Again you paint a vivid picture - trying to catch smoke...so true of so many great artists.

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Davie - it's been a long time. I know what you mean about Bobby's music playing in your head. One of the highlights I uncovered when I was raking through my old recordings is a copy of "Russo's Jukebox' that I recorded with him in Berkeley Street Studio circa 1985. I know you referred to that in your original blog. Me and Bobby talked about releasing it a few years ago but for some reason it just never seemed to happen. There are so many classics there....Masquerade, The Ave of Whispers, Tell Me Tonight, Queen Of Babylon, She Called Me Robert and of course the title track itself. I've also uncovered the BIM album from circa 1982 with Factory and Romance and some other demos he recorded about 6 years ago. I've still to go through about a dozen large boxes of cassettes so I'm sure I'll come across loads of other gems. It's been amazing some of the other things I've found from that time from a lot of the bands Bobby produced.

    I tried to remotely collaborate with Bobby about 3 years ago (I now live in Kent) and we were swapping ideas like we did back in the 80's but his eyesight was failing and we just seemed to lose contact. I have some of his lyrics he was working on at that time and some music we collaborated on but sadly we never got to complete them. Would be good to get permission from his family to publish all of these onto a tribute site where everyone can enjoy.

    Jimmy - great comments, especially 'trying to catch smoke'. Don't think I've seen you since we recorded Blues For Buddha. Hope things are good with you.

    Davie - I'm sure Bobby would love you to have a copy of some of these recordings so let me know how I can get them to you.

  • Comment number 7.

    I just heard tonight about Bobby... A lovely man... he produced many sessions for us (along with Gordon Rintoul.. Hi Gordon) and produced our first album... Lost touch a long time ago but thought about him often genuinely sad tonight.. Frank (Shine)

  • Comment number 8.

    hi would like to say thanks to all of you and am happy that there are so many fantastic memories of my father.....x

  • Comment number 9.

    Thanks to all of you for the wonderful comments and memories of my Dad. My sister and I were overwhelmed at the response to our Dad's passing. My Grandfather was also very touched by the music world's appreciation of his son's work. My Dad plays on, and we hear his harmonies and melodies everywhere we go...
    Kirstin and Lucy Henry

  • Comment number 10.

    Kirstin, Lucy
    Thank you so much for taking the time to post here after what must have been a difficult time. Please know how highly people regarded and respected your Dad and his wonderful artistry. It's nice to hear that your Grandfather has been comforted by the appreciation that so many feel. I met your Grandfather and Grandmother years ago in the mid 80s in Coatbridge when I used to go pick up your Dad to go to the studio. Lovely people and very happy times.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Davie. News has only just reached Australia... I played in a band with Bobby in 1979, along with Matthew Seligman and Dave Wickham. We cut some demos for Oval, played the London pubs, and toured as opening act for the Police (travelling the country in a Transit with the Cramps...)
    I've posted some historic recordings on https://www.myspace.com/bobbyhenryband1979
    Great times, great memories, lovely guy. Cheers, Robert.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hi all

    I was doing a search for JB, and thought about Bobby when I searched and came across this blog. Very sad news indeed.

    I worked as a trainee engineer at the old St. Clair Studio in Osborne Street in the early 90's and was privileged to do a couple of late night stints with Bobby while I learned my way around the studio. I remeber giving him a drum loop I'd created from an old Ahmed Jamal song, and him jamming to it, saying "Keep it going Gary, I think I have something here...", and watching the creative process take place before my eyes. It's an experience I treasure. RIP

  • Comment number 13.

    Robert - thanks for the link. Great stuff and very Bobby - tough and cool. I'm trying to imagine traveling the UK in a Transit with The Cramps. Half shuddering and half giggling. I'm guessing you could write a book just based on that experience. In any case, glad you found your way here and remembered BH in your post.
    Garybug - It is sad news. When a creative soul leaves us you just think 'what might have been?'. Glad you had a chance to work with Bobby and glad you have that great memory. Best, David


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