The Best of Robert Wilson

Label / Cat. No: Starline SRS 5134 
First Released: Unknown - possibly early 70s, but recorded from at least 1943

What The Album Blurb Says...

Robert Wilson was born in a Glasgow suburb in 1909 and from a very early age had the burning ambition to become a singer.

He first broke into the entertainment world when he bacame a memeber of a concert party at Rothsay, on the Isle of Bute. While savouring the applause that these rather small beginnings brought him, he had the good sense to realise that he needed years of study and hard work to reach the top of his chosen profession. To this end he joined and stayed with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company for several years, touring America, Canada and Great Britiain, and from this he gained vast experience which was most valuable to his future career. In 1939 he decided that the time had come for him to enter the Variety scene as a solo artist - and how right his judgement proved to be. What with his magnificent voice, charming personality and superb stage presentation his success was almost immediate, and he soon became 'top of the bill' wherever he appeared. Not only was he starred in every medium of the entertainment world, but he was particularly acclaimed by exiled Scots both near and far who, like those in the Homeland, saw in his grand voice and fine physique the very embodiment of a true son of Scotland. No one wore the Kilt more proudly or better than he.

Much to the regret of all who heard him, Bob Wilson, as he was affectionately known to his many friends, died in 1964, but there remains a wealth of those great Scottish songs which he recorded during his lifetime and for which we have received many requests. The fourteen songs presented in this album illustrate why his was generally acclaimed to be "The voice of Scotland". 

T.D.
What I Say

There's one thing that the Scots are very good at. Actually, before I get myself into trouble, I should point out that I'm sure that there are lots of things that Scots are good at. Lots and lots. Really. But one area in which they excel is being Scottish. I mean proper, professionally Scottish. How many 'professional' Welsh or Irish people can you think of? Max Boyce, Daniel O'Donnel, Terry Wogan maybe... People for whom one of their distinguishing features is their nationality. OK, now think of professional English people. I'll give you Steven Fry, and I'll accept David Niven, even though he's dead. Any more...? No, see. And yet without putting any real effort into it, the Scots can proudly boast The Proclaimers, Billy Connolly, Moira Anderson, Harry Lauder, Sean Connery, Carol Smillie, and of course, the Krankies. OK, that may be stretching the definition of 'proudly boast', but I hope you get my point.

 

They say that the most Scottish part of Scotland is just over the border from England, where the difference between countries is clearly marked. Tartan and Saltires everywhere. It seems that the Scots have a very clear cultural identity, and the business nous to translate that into profitable entertainment. Our Robert Wilson (or Bob, as we must call him) falls strictly into this 'Professionally Scottish' category. You only have to look at the album cover to know what you're getting. A burly man in a skirt, sorry, a kilt, his face red from the harsh highland wind rolling off the moors and the whisky he has on his porridge. His pose is also extremely Scottish, though I can't quite figure out why. I assume it's meant to reflect Bob about to launch into a Highland Fling - right hand tucked in his belt, left knee slightly raised. Tunic and tie making him look like a policeman about to knee some poor suspect in the knackers. Delightful.

 

And the songs don't disappoint. Well, they do if you don't like maudlin songs about your wet, dour homeland, but let's assume for a moment that they're the very reason you bought this album. The choice of songs is absolutely perfect. It's 'The Greatest Scottish Songs In The Whole World Ever' for our parent's generation. Some of the arrangements however are... well, on the camp side of traditional, shall we say. When I first listened to 'Scotland The Brave' (which you'd expect to be the standout track here), I was transported back to a Saturday evening in the 70s, with the Two Ronnies about to do their musical number dressed as a pair of Highland Infantrymen making suggestive songs about Gay Gordons. The arrangement is pure Ronnie Hazlehurst. Actually, it is the standout track on the album, because it's the only one that sounds vaguely happy or interesting. The rest conjure up a wet Wednesday in Aberdeen with incredibly clarity.

 

The problem is that I don't think Bob sings very well. His voice, described elsewhere on this internet of ours as a 'rich baritone' sounds to my uneducated ears as a thin, weedy and reedy baritone. That doesn't even always hold the tune particularly well. This album was released after he'd died. I have to wonder if it was also recorded then too....

 

This man was called 'The Voice Of Scotland' which is a bit worrying. I could accept 'The Voice of Arbroath' which would allow for bigger and better voices to represent the nation. So don't judge the Scots too harshly. Though I do wonder who's the 'Ears of Scotland'. 

 

However, I do have one small niggle. From 1997 to 1999 I lived in Galway, and I'm sure, absolutely positive that it was on the West Coast of Ireland, and not in Scotland. It seems therefore that this song is an IMPOSTER, and should be removed immediately. Unless they're playing the Celtic card, in which case of course, everything is fair game.

 

 

By the way, our Bob Wilson, is not this Bob Wilson, one time goalie for Arsenal...

Nor is he this Bob Wilson, who's an English Lecturer, and posessor of one of the finest hair confections known to man...

And this is the Krankies. I think the Scottish Government should apologise immediately.

Sound Clips

Tracks

 

Side 1

 

1. Westering Home
2. Scotland The Brave
4. Down In The Glen
5. Bonnie Mary Of Argyle
6. Marchin' Thru' The Glen
7. The Black Watch

 

Side 2

 

1. The Gay Gordons
2. The Road To The Isles
3. Hills O' The Clyde
4. Galway Bay
5. My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose
6. The Gathering Of The Clans
7. My Scottish Homeland.

 

Final Score


4 out of 10

Write a comment

Comments: 11
  • #1

    John MacPherson (Friday, 27 December 2019 13:20)

    I think he is a very good singer in the style that was of his time. Listen to some Ina Miller to hear comparable styles. Pure Magic!

  • #2

    Morrison William (Saturday, 28 March 2020 13:23)

    Robert Wilson was born in my native village of Newarthill,a brilliant singer who did a lot charity work for the village

  • #3

    David Rodger (Monday, 13 April 2020 02:54)

    It might be your opinion that Robert Wilson "does not sing very well." That he was greatly loved and respected as a singer there was no doubt: at his height there was not a spare seat in the theatres. I have spoken in my time to many people who had the good fortune to hear him in large theatres. With respect,sir, if you listen to items such as "Passing By" by Purcell,for instance, featured on British Pathe News and maintain that stance -that "he does not sing very well" - then you must have cloth ears. He was not kept on as Principal Tenor with the D'oyly Carte for five years till 1937 for nothing; he was not featured in the British Pathe News reels 1934 - 1944 for nothing either. He became world famous for his singing and a very wealthy man as a result. Singing teachers I have spoken to are in awe of his tone, breath control,sincerity and artistry. His great contemporary, Canon Sidney McEwan, bowed down to Wilson's voice at its height. Like the great Irish tenor, John McCormack, there was a decline in Robert's voice through age. The same happened to a myriad other fine singers. For instance, Amelita Galli - Curci went from having some 60 curtain calls in 1916 to being booed in the 1930s. Even the great Kenneth McKellar eventually wobbled. About 20 years is par for the course for a tenor as opposed to a baritone. I have to be honest and say I found your assessment of Robert Wilson the most cynical commentary of any quality singer I have read in my life. Does it make you feel better in some way? By the way, his records are not just found in charity shops, as you maintain, - there are plenty of cds about - remastered recordings - which one can buy at the flick of a button on Amazon. They sell well. He was not born in 1909 as you claim,but 1907. When Kenneth McKellar announced Wilson's death to a Canadian audience in the autumn of 1964 he recounted that a heartfelt collective sigh was heard from his audience , who remembered the man in his prime. He did a huge amount for charity and went round hospitals in all weathers.Enough said. Wilson and his contemporaries - old hat maybe ,but old magic certainly. One regrets of course he did not record more than a few classical items. If you prefer your singers not to cherish their roots and to sing a strict four beats to the bar without expression and artistry, a bit like Bruce Springsteen, then good luck to you. Mind you, the Boss's American hinterland shows up well, to be fair to him. If strict time, four beats to the bar type of turgid singing gives you a thrill then do write about it and tell us more about it sometime. Whatever next? When are you having a go at Robert Burns or Hugh MacDiarmid for favouring their Scottish tongue and culture? Show a wee bit of imaginative apprehension,sir, concerning what constitutes quintessential Scottish culture,of which there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed. With every good wish. -

  • #4

    David Rodger (Wednesday, 15 April 2020 00:32)

    An important additional point is that most of the fortunate people who heard him in the flesh or who listened to his records at the height of his abilities are either dead and gone - or else, like most old people now, they are not able to deal with laptop computers and the excellent Youtube. But just because they are not here defending him proves nothing, - as I say they have either passed or are computer illiterate. Robert Wilson to my mind had a much superior singing voice to that of Sir Peter Pears , for example, with his strangulated tones { I do not deny his innate musicality}. Pears only got where he was because of his friendship with Sir Benjamin Britten.

    You seem to object to him for putting a lot of expression into his singing. There is nothing of course wrong with that. The wonderful Beniamini Gigli arguably went a little overboard with a hint of sobbing. What precisely do you mean about him "not being able to hold a tune."? It is good to linger over telling words and phrases. Only a bad performer clings slavishly to a tum -te - tum four beats to the bar or whatever.You also seem to object to him because of "the baritonal quality" to his voice. I am not sure if you are aware of this, -but there are many different types of tenor voice, - for example, tenor di grazie, heldentenor, light tenor, sphincto tenor, dramatic tenor, lyric tenor, counter tenor.. Plenty tenors start out as baritones and then discover a little later they can do amazing high notes. So with reluctance I have to be frank and say your denigration of tenors with a baritonal tinge shows a strange ignorance. Domingo himself now sings as a baritone. Robert's voice,despite later problems, always retained an element of its lovely richness, - for example as late as 1960, in his memorable singing of Rothesay Bay. To cut my comments short, I would say your opinions about him having a poor voice and singing style fit only for Arbroath put you in a minority of about one. You ought to be ashamed of yourself,sir. At his height Robert Wilson's singing was adored by millions all over the world. You are strangely silent about Andy Stewart. Like many others he was likeable as a comedian and as a singer of a few comedy songs. However, his voice and style were the height of mediocrity. Robert Wilson was an extremely charitable man, - but in promoting the very Andy Stewart he perhaps did music a disservice. The least said about Sidney Devine's singing the better. I take it you are his number one fan, perhaps... Good wishes again.

  • #5

    David Rodger (Wednesday, 15 April 2020 21:56)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rep5gyuc85g A tenor from Scotland who is a lot more forgotten than Robert Wilson is Joseph Hislop, who recorded this I would think in the early 1930s. The old song is Bonnie Wee Thing. {One can track the Hislop version down on youtube in a trice if the link does not take here].You will be hard put to find a more beautiful version of this song. Hislop sang with many of the 'greats', including Dame Nellie Melba and the Russian bass Chaliapin. He sang in all the major opera houses of the world, including La Scala, Milan. But just because he is forgotten does not mean to say he was a bad singer,-which seems to be the stance you adopt towards singers of a bygone age. For the record I still prefer the voice of Robert Wilson to that of either Joseph Hislop or Kennneth McKellar, who were superb in their own ways. Be it noted that in this old record Hislop's voice does not sound powerful at all. And yet, like Wilson's, it was powerful enough to carry in a large auditorium without a microphone. In other words,old records do not tell the whole story. It is my hope that anyone reading my comments might feel a little more compelled to buy the albums of Robert Wilson on Amazon. He will never be forgotten and does not deserve philistine, superficial and silly splenetic comments from anybody. But i wonder darkly - when are you going to have a go at Joseph Hislop, with all your cynicism. But cynicism, as Ivy Compton-Burnett wrote,-unlike thingslike love and hard work is never wasted.

  • #6

    Forgotten Albums (Wednesday, 15 April 2020 23:18)

    Hi David,

    Firstly, I would like to thank you a) for using what I assume is your real name, rather than hiding behind internet anonymity to make your case, and b) for leaving such detailed, considered and profuse comment. Little did I know, 12+ years ago when I wrote this piece that all these years later it would produce such ire that someone would feel it necessary to put me right, at length, with three substantial comments over 2 days.

    I can't help feeling that you've missed several points here. Firstly, I believe that you find Robert Wilson to be a wonderful singer, and you are surely right to do so. Many before have held the same opinion and I accept that he must have had something special to have had such a long career, and to be remembered even now. That doesn't mean that I have to like him, or that I can't hold an opinion on what I've heard.

    Which brings me to my second point. I make no assertion that the opinions here are considered ones. The whole premise (especially in the earlier days of this site) was to procure an album based solely on how garish I found the cover, give it a single listen, and react to the music as I found it. I can say with some certainty that I listened to this album once, and only once, and the piece reflects my initial thoughts and reactions. It is fair to say that this particular approach has changed to some degree - due to changes in my working arrangements since the website started, I found that I rarely had the time to listen and write at the same time, and so I would put the album under review into a portable format, and ended up listening to it again and again as I commuted or did other tasks where I could listen. The consequence of repeated listening meant that I became familiar, and often fond of the music which I felt undermined what I had hoped was a visceral reaction, rather than any attempt at 'criticism' in it's true, artistic form.

    I do not claim to be an expert, but where possible I will try and contextualise the album I'm looking at, find out biographical details or try and find where they fit in the cultural landscape. If the year of birth is wrong, it doesn't mean I haven't bothered - if you go and check, you'll see that's in the section that is transcribed from the album notes printed on the back cover. If it's wrong, it's because it's been printed wrong there, and I've just accurately transcribed the mistake. Yes, I use lazy tropes, and to some degree stereotyping, especially in this case. I had hoped that people would see the humour, or the underlying comment about my inexpertise and laziness in choosing and reviewing these albums, but there's no second guessing everyone. Please don't mistake it for any kind of Anti-Scottish sentiment, but if someone is selling a product using their 'Scottishness' as a brand, I'm going to comment on it.

  • #7

    Forgotten Albums (Wednesday, 15 April 2020 23:19)

    You seem to be under the misapprehension that I actually care about this music. Generally, I don't. That's not just being flippant, but the music I have here to review covers every genre imaginable, and I'm not here picking off Scottish Baritones and Tenors on a hit list. I happily admit I know next to nothing about any of them - this was the album I had, so this was the album I reviewed. And my thoughts and comments about it are as valid as yours.

    However, sometimes I am surprised, and I have found some truly great music on albums I wouldn't have expected to, from people I'd never heard of. If you look at my review of 'A Canadian In London - Edmund Hockridge in Romantic Mood' you'll see that I thought very highly of it, and a number of other albums have gone on to be firm favourites. Sadly, Robert Wilson's was not one of them, and is just a further illustration that we have different tastes. And that's perfectly normal, and perfectly acceptable.

    I find it baffling that you assume I want 'four beats to the bar in strict regularity'. I work directly with a number of singers across a broad spectrum of styles, and I have a great appreciation for the variety and emotion that music stirs. My favourite band have been unfashionable and made fun of since they started out in 1981, primarily for being progressive rock, and rarely having anything like 4 beats to a bar. I have faced a barrage of mockery and uninformed opinion, even from my own family, and yet I've never, not once felt it necessary to sit them down, point out where they're wrong, and give examples of other bands who might be better or worse or why.

    Because this is all about opinion. We both have one - you're very welcome to make comments here about your opinion of Robert Wilson, and even to try and change my mind. You are not so welcome to make personal attacks. especially when they are based on a misunderstanding of what this website is about.

    If you wish to carry on this discussion, I ask respectfully that you do so via e-mail at forgottenalbums@gmail.com I will leave your comments visible here, but I would ask you to reread them, and to consider whether any argument you are making may be undermined by the manner in which you have addressed me as the author.

    Finally, while going back to check the original date of publication (on a site called LiveJournal where this format originated - you can find it on this page - https://forgottenalbums.livejournal.com/?skip=10 ) I noticed that two entries previous to this one, about a week, I had conducted a poll in response to someone complaining, much like yourself about my "fashionable cynicism". Now, I appreciate that the poll hardly stands up to statistical scrutiny, what with it only having 11 respondents, but the unanimous result was that this blog should focus on cynicism. This clearly isn't for you, but there are those who 'get it', and should I ever get around to making new entries, I will continue in the same vein.

  • #8

    David Rodger (Sunday, 26 April 2020 15:59)

    I am genuinely very pleased at the democratic nature of this important website.. Like yourself, I have catholic tastes in music and I am as much at home with Brahms and fine singers of the past as I am with jazz and rock bands . I love the progressive rock band IQ as much as Alex Harvey and Fish and Steve Hogarth of Marillion. I love making connections: like Fish, Robert Wilson loved a good party {no doubt a lot more sedate!} and,like the 2012 Marillion album, he excelled in songs of longing and regret. Quite a few of his recorder songs are non - Scottish, by the way.

    This album is certainly not Robert's best,but I give it 7 out of ten. The bottom line is that he could sing extremely well when he was young. He had everything: sincerity, artistry a fine rich vocal tone and amazing legato as well as power and stupendous breath control, capable of lasting nearly twenty seconds without a microphone. A telling sentence from his obituary in the London Times on 26 September ,1964 reads: "Many of his [old} records are selling as well as when they were made, about 30 years ago." As early as 30 September,1929 he was broadcasting on the radio and he was still broadcasting as late as the winter of 1960, in STV's Jigtime. After his successful 5 years stint in opera at the D'Oyly Carte he became the best-selling Scottish popular artiste of his day, had two Royal Command performances, and died a very wealthy man. Audiences as far apart as the Massey Hall in Toronto in 1948 had him singing till past midnight:- they could hardly let him go. At the 3,000 capacity Massey Hall he would sing his heart out.. He became world - famous, with extended tours of Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Surely all this speaks for itself?

    I have looked at the many reviews about his shows and there is not a single bad one. For example, the Aberdeen Evening Express writes on 28 May,1951: "The vociferous welcome accorded Robert Wilson at the Tivoli last night was a sure indication of the esteem with which this most popular tenor is held." A review from a Glasgow newspaper in December,1935 reads: "Robert Wilson is considered to be among the first rank of singers for the purity of tone and finished technique." Two good judges of his singing were Kenneth McKellar { " the greatest Handelian tenor of the20th century" - Sir Adrian Boult} and the famous Canon Sydney McEwan. Both agree he was a great artiste and human being. McKellar introduces an almost hour-long tribute to Robert in 1966, to be found on Youtube under "Robert Wilson Voice of Scotland Short}.

    My favourites on this particular album are : Westering Home, An Eriskay Love Lilt, Bonnie Mary of Argyle,The Road to the Isles and My Love is Like a Red ,Red Rose. I have to be very honest and comment that the title " The best of Robert Wilson" defies the Trade Description Act. It also contains so much dross and second rate songs that, apart from the items I mentioned plus Down in the Glen, - it should not be promoted under a title like that. The album is still well worth buying for the items I have mentioned.Although his voice wavers in Galway Bay, there is much to be said for some of the items he recorded - singing low - elsewhere, such as Haste Ye Back, The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen and Song of the Clyde, for instance. Memorable richness.It wasn't for nothing that he won two singing competitions in 1924, -one as a tenor, and, the previous day, as a baritone. Latterly, I would say that he made the transition from tenor to baritone with more felicity than Placido Domingo.

    His best albums include the one entitled "Westering Home Robert Wilson The Voice of Scotland." I would give top marks to 23 out of the 25 items {8 of which are not Scottish}. Another fine one is "The Very Best of Robert Wilson" EMI. The majority of the items here are very memorable,-showing as always his masterful control of legato singing. I actually prefer his rendering of "I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair" to the version made by the very great Jussi Bjoerling. The album entitled " Robert Wilson The Voice of Scotland Volume 1" - has about nine songs sung superbly well. So now you know.

    A very general word about cynicism.Mention has been made of its value. There's a place for cynicism in life in some quarters,- in novels, short stories and politics. I could expand! But great singers of the past are arguably a special case and deserve a little indulgence:vocal chords do not have the durability of drums and guitars.

  • #9

    David Rodger (Sunday, 26 April 2020 16:35)

    It goes without saying that I am very sorry for any intemperate comments made in earlier posts about musical judgement. I was a bit upset. Hopefully we now have a little common ground and mutual respect.

  • #10

    DonB (Wednesday, 06 May 2020 03:23)

    Robert Wilson was loved in theatres and homes throughout Scotland and much further afield. He was a masterful tenor. True, this album does not do him justice BUT he WAS “The Voice of Scotland “.

  • #11

    David Rodger (Wednesday, 06 May 2020 23:49)

    Agreed, DonB. We could do with a Robert Wilson Appreciation Society, I think. I don't think there are any blue plaques up to him in the houses where he stayed, but I aim to check. Plenty of young folk nowadays like the old Scottish songs,but they have never heard of Robert Wilson. I don't think it occurs to school music teachers ever to play any of his recordings to the kids. I may try to form a Robert Wilson Appreciation Society later in the year. I knew his theatrical landlady, Mrs Green, well in the old days in Aberdeen.