A POTTED HISTORY.
The career of Fraser Bruce has not been dedicated to folk song, although it has taken up a large part of his life. As a young boy he was a beneficiary of the Norman Buchan Ballads Club at Rutherglen Academy on the South Side of Glasgow. There were many young people from this club who went on to retain an interest in folk song for the rest of their lives, a few made it their career.
Fraser has been described as a ‘man of many parts’ because of the diversity of his interests. Having left school at the age of 15 he had to create a career with no educational certificates to support him. His first job was as a ‘trainee manager’ in a Bacon importing company but the title was far grander than the job. He moved in to the Glasgow meat market, where his father worked and this created an interesting outlet to train as a meat inspector with the hope of getting in to college and becoming a vet. Rats urine put an end to that hope and he was desperately ill for a time. As he recovered he took on several jobs which helped create a life experience. One such job was to train as a Contracts Manager with a Specialist Construction Company not realising that this would one day be the career he would follow for the rest of his life.
During all of this he was part of a group of friends who all had an interest in folk songs. There would be lots of sessions and the occasional ‘gig’ in a pub or at somebodies private birthday party, nothing too grand and certainly nothing that created an income. There would be a few free beers and enough money to cover your expenses, if you were lucky.
At one of these venues one night he was offered a ‘solo’ spot by a kilted eccentric folk enthusiast called Alasdair ‘Spider’ McSwan originally from Skye. ‘Spider’ ran two folk clubs, The Rockfield in Paisley and The Tudor in Airdrie. This was the start of a great friendship between the two men and also the start of Fraser’s singing career, back around 1967/68. When ‘Spider’ decided to return home to Skye to live, he handed the Paisley club over to Fraser to run.
In his early folk club days, Fraser enjoyed the organising of clubs as much as performing and at one time had 6 clubs running at the same time. This allowed him to book travelling, visiting artistes and give them a full weeks work with a night off. In turn it created friendships between him and many touring artistes, so much so that he set up a ‘folk’ agency for artistes either domiciled in Scotland or touring artistes visiting Scotland.
Finbar & Eddie Furey, Bill Clifton, Cyril Tawney and many others benefitted from this. Throughout this time Fraser was developing his career in the Construction Industry. It was a busy but very enjoyable life.
In the late 1970s the ‘real’ job became very serious and Fraser was transferred by his employer to a senior position based in London. This was a huge step up for him which he could not refuse. However, it meant severing his connection with the folk scene. Whilst it was a very prestigious job, it didn’t fit in with his musical life so he resigned after two years and decided to have a go at being a full time performer.
And so it was, totally unprepared for what was ahead, Fraser ‘took to the road’. During the next two years he travelled to many countries and appeared at folk clubs, festival and other venues but didn’t enjoy it as a life style. The tours were fun and appearing on stages in front of audiences was a thrill but the bunking down on people’s floors, waiting around in railway stations and the hours spent in airports plus the limited income was not a great life, especially when you were travelling on your own and, by now, had a family to support. When Fraser was ‘head hunted’ to rejoin the Construction Industry, it was a no brainer and he accepted with little consideration.
Back in Scotland working in a career he loved with the chance to start singing around the folk clubs was too much to refuse. And so it was but the thought of singing solo again never crossed his mind.
His brother Ian started travelling with him and suddenly they realised they had something ‘special’. They decided to start singing as a duo, Fraser & Ian Bruce. They could never have anticipated how quickly this would catch on. Within their first year together they were appearing on TV and Radio and had released their first album titled ‘Mrs Bruce’s Boys - Volume One’. This was the first of three albums that they released as a duo during the early 1980s. They became hugely popular and were as busy as any full time entertainers but just not interested in making it their main career. Their fans called them ‘Mrs Bruce’s Boys’, long before Mrs Brown and her boys became famous.
Ian had started writing songs and Fraser’s job was developing. However, in 1986, Fraser fell out with his employer and decided to set up ‘FRASER BRUCE LIMITED’, a company specialising in works which general contractors could not deal with. Ian left his job and went on the road as a solo singer-songwriter, creating a hugely successful career which developed over the next few years.
Fraser Bruce Limited later became ‘The Fraser Bruce Group’ with three individual Companies, ‘Waterproofing Limited’, ‘Resarf Flooring Limited’ and ‘Structural Repairs Limited’, each company name describing its ‘specialist’ activity. It also meant that Fraser’s singing career was put on hold. By 2014, Fraser’s two oldest sons had taken over the running of the companies. Fraser stepped back, but didn’t retire.
This allowed him to return to singing, initially solo but very soon it was with Ian accompanying him, not quite ‘Mrs Bruce’s Boys’ but not far from it. GREENTRAX Records released a ‘Best of Mrs Bruce’s Boys’ album and soon he was back to where he was in the late 1970s. There were plenty of gigs but, during the 28 years that Fraser had been away, the folk club scene had changed beyond recognition. There were very few clubs still running and those that there were had very small audiences. It was difficult for Fraser to appreciate and something had to be done to capture his enthusiasm.
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Remembering the packed clubs of the 1980s, Fraser was disillusioned and decided to set up a show which typified the early Scottish folk club scene, but it would be a theatre/ festival show. The show was called ‘Auld Hat - New Heids’ and naturally included his brother, Ian, along with fiddler Pete Clark and accordionist Gregor Lowrey. It was a great success but after two years it was decided to call it a day because financially it could not support 3 full time musicians plus Fraser’s expenses. It was a group decision but a great pity as the interest in the group was catching on, including a sell out ‘top of the bill’ concert at the amazing
CELTIC CONNECTIONS FESTIVAL in Glasgow.
A self-released album was released to take on tour with the group. One of the main features is the cover, designed by Ian Bruce. It has 129 photos of performers from the 1970s on the cover.
Whilst all this music was going on, Fraser decided to write a children’s book especially for his grandchildren. The book, ‘Wee Shoobie - Nobody Looks Like Me’ is very popular and one day he may add a few more books, but not during his current busy spell. The story of the book is about a wee misfit character called Wee Shoobie who has become separated from his family but is helped by his human friends to reunite them all. Of course, they succeed and all lived happily ever after.
Back in 2019, one of Fraser’s old classmates and friends from the early Ballads Club days passed away. Gordeanna McCulloch was an amazing traditional singer and the thought came that she probably took many great stories of the early Scottish Folk Scene to the grave with her. Realising how few folk enthusiasts from the late 1950s and early 1960s might still be around to tell their stories, Fraser decided on a serious piece of writing. Well as serious as Fraser ever gets about anything. ‘The FOLK RIVER - Tales from the Early Scottish Folk Club Scene’ is the title of the book and it took over 2 years for Fraser to gather up all the information, including meeting up with many people from those early folk club scene days, still alive and full of stories to tell.
The Covid outbreak restricted several visits but strangely benefitted Fraser as he was able to go in to ‘lockdown’ for four months and hide away in piece and quiet on the banks of Loch Tay to actually finalise the writing of the book.
Fraser’s first album, or L.P. was released on the Nevis Label away back in 1971. ‘Shamrock and Heather’ was popular and in those days it was an honour to be asked to release an album. Several years later, 1974/75 (nobody can remember) a second album, ‘Farewell Tae Tarwathie’ was released, again on the Nevis Label.
These were the last two ‘solo’ albums which Fraser released until 2021 when he released ‘Every Song’s a Story’ on the GREENTRAX Label. Fraser reckons that this is by far the best album he has released. Not only does it have a fine selection of songs, it is brilliantly engineered and produced by his brother, Ian.
The contract management, the singing at clubs etc., the organising of venues, writing of books and laterally, the writing of songs have weaved in and out of Fraser’s life over a fairly long period of time. Born in 1947 with a Welsh mother and a bag-piping Scottish father (he was actually Pipe-major of the London Scottish) it seemed natural that he would be musical but his instrumental skills are limited.
Fraser is a ‘song’ man. He believes true folk is all about songs and the telling of stories, and if you just want a story, he has plenty of them as well.
One of his greatest honours was when CLYDE Football Club asked him, back in the 1970s, to write a couple of songs for them and release them on a single. This was the first for Scottish football clubs. ‘The Song of the Clyde’ and ‘One, Two, Three’ were played before every Clyde home match for many, many years and still they get played on ‘big’ occasions. The single was voted ‘Football Anthem of the Century’ by BBC in and around 2000, beating all the ‘big’ club anthems on the way.