Pam Wilkie is one of the great mainstays and characters of Scottish country dance music, a pianist whose sure sense of tempo has been the foundation of many of the leading bands of the past sixty years.
Born in Glasgow on October 21, 1927, Pam was adopted and brought up in Perth. Her adoptive parents had no particular interest in music but her grandmother had a pedal organ that Pam was drawn to and when her parents heard her picking out tunes by ear they decided that they should send her to piano lessons at the age of eight.
For the next eight years Pam studied light classical music and she made her first appearances in a band aged sixteen, playing strict tempo foxtrots and waltzes at weddings, dances and other social gatherings. Apart from a vague memory of dancing the Duke of Perth at school, Scottish music had yet to come to Pam’s attention and she was a confirmed fan of the then current popular music, such as the Glenn Miller Orchestra, until one Saturday at a wedding she was approached by a chap who invited her to join his Scottish country dance band.
At first Pam refused but a further approach from an old fiddle player Pam knew resulted in Pam arriving at the Pavilion music hall in Perth for a tune with what she describes as “a pair of yokels”. These turned out to be Ian Powrie and his brother Bill and playing various reels and strathspeys by ear, Pam impressed them sufficiently to be offered a regular place in the first version of what would go on to be one of the great dance bands.
Initially the Ian Powrie Band, with Ian on fiddle, Bill on button accordion, Bert Smith on bass, Hugh MacIntyre on drums and Pam on piano, played the circuit of town and village dances immediately to the south of Perth. But as their reputation spread they were invited to audition for the BBC. They made their first radio broadcast in 1949 and after a spell of what would now be called maternity leave, Pam remembers vividly getting on the wrong side of one George Martin during the band’s early recording sessions for EMI Records in London.
Having been chastened by the future producer of The Beatles for playing inappropriate waltz accompaniments, Pam soon recovered and remained the rhythmical and harmonic anchor of the Powrie band until Ian Powrie emigrated to Australia and Jimmy Blue took over the band’s leadership in 1966. After two years with Jimmy Blue, Pam moved on to the Jim Johnstone Band and then on to the John Ellis Band with whom she spent nine years.
In an eventful career Pam has toured Australia – at a time, she points out, not long after going from Perth to Lockerbie had been considered a big deal – and appeared at the Royal Albert Hall, which was quite a thrill, as well as venues the length and breadth of England and Scotland. Her television appearances include several editions of The White Heather Club and The Kilt is My Delight and into her eighties she remains a favourite on Robbie Shepherd’s Take the Floor as well as appearing on CDs including Ian Hutson’s Memories of Jim Johnstone, Neil Barron’s Scottish Dances Vol 2 and her very own 2009 recording, Pam on Piano.
Thanks to Hands Up For Trad for their help with this information.
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