the bleak winter months of 1949, a group of these men, drawn
from a wide range of employment and all of whom were members
of a local church organisation called The Knights of St Columba
in Kilsyth, decided to follow the lead of hundreds of other
working men and form a Choir. Within the ranks of the members
was local school teacher Pat Docherty who agreed to act as Conductor
and he swiftly organised the men into the four sections of a
Male Voice Choir and the first rehearsal took place on 5th February
1950. The initial practices were less than satisfactory due
to the inability of the Conductor to attend regularly because
of failing health. Eventually, Mr Docherty intimated it would
be better if another Conductor could take over the guidance
of the choristers and, by the greatest stroke of good luck,
the man of the hour was to hand. As fate would have it, one
of the Founder Members of the Columban Singers was James Turley
who, in addition to his very busy full time occupation, was
also a musician of no mean repute in his "spare time".James
willingly accepted the onerous task of literally teaching music
to the choir members as well as moulding their voices - in the
standard four part harmony of Male Voice Choirs - into some
astounding renditions of some of the classic arrangements of
choral work. The initial choral arrangements tackled included:
The Border Ballad, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Oft in the
Stilly Night, The Long Day Closes, Comrades in Arms, The Farmers
Boy, Stars of the Summer Night and The Lincolnshire Poacher.
All good rousing Male Voice arrangements which were enjoyed
both by the members and audiences too.
Mr Pat Docherty - Founding Conductor
Mr James Turley - Conductor for more
than 20 years
Entry to numerous Festivals of Music was embarked upon under
the guidance of Mr Turley and not a little success was achieved
in these competitions. One of the highlights of the many Festivals
was the participation in the Glasgow Music Festival of 1962
when the Choir emerged victorious with 173 points from a possible
200. What made this victory all the more praiseworthy was that
the "opposition" included none other than the renowned
City of Glasgow Police Choir. To edge out this marvellous Choir
was indeed an achievement.
In early 1970, more than 20 years after taking the helm, ill-health
prompted Mr Turley to reluctantly tender his resignation as
Conductor and, although he agreed a short time later to return
in the much less onerous position of sub Conductor, sadly he
was unable to fulfil this wish.
The need for a musically talented replacement saw the Committee
reach a unanimous decision to ask Mr James Robertson to come
to the rescue and fortunately he responded positively to the
request. An experienced musician and arranger, Mr Robertson
had arranged some numbers previously for the Choir. He also
led a close harmony group called The Four Sharps which performed
on stage and radio on a regular basis at that time.The new era
which dawned in 1970 with Mr Robertson taking over as Conductor
heralded a departure from the previous concentration on traditional
choral numbers to songs in a much lighter vein more suited to
the new direction the Choir moved in. Included was the lovely
Autumn Leaves, Born Free, I Can’t stop Loving You and
many, many more, all of them arranged personally by Mr Robertson.
In season 1971/72, the Choir was most fortunate to obtain the
services of a talented young lady called Mrs Margaret Waddell
to act as accompanist and her expert playing was, and still
is, an integral part of the sound of the Columban Singers.
A memorable occasion for the members was being part of the
1000 voice choir at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow during the
visit of the Pope to Scotland in 1982.The choir thought this
a great privilage as the membership has men from all religious
denominations in the area.
James Robertson died very suddenly and unexpectedly in February
1999 having served asConductor of the Choir for 30 years. His
passing posed another dilemma in that a new Conductor had to
be found to ensure the continuance of the Choir.
As the season had almost ended, it was decided that sub Conductor
Harry Dempsey be asked to stand in whilst efforts were made
to acquire a suitable replacement for Mr Robertson.
During the close season, information was received of someone
who might meet the needs of the Choir and a meeting was arranged
with Mr James G McColl. An agreement was reached that Mr McColl
would work with the Choir for a short period to enable him to
assess the potential of the Choir and also to allow the members
to ascertain if he would meet with their expectations.
Mr McColl’s musical experience began when he was a young
schoolboy in his native city of Glasgow and blossomed when and
he was fortunate enough to join the Army as a young bands-man.
Making good use of the expert quality tuition, ample resources
and guidance available in the forces, allied to some long evenings
of swatting and not a few hours practice, he swiftly gained
the promotion he deserved. Following tours of duty in far off
exotic places where he conducted Choirs, Bands and Orchestras,
he eventually returned to command the musicians of The Life
Guards who were stationed in Windsor and has had the privilege
of conducting the Band when providing entertainment for Her
Majesty. He acted as Musical Director for the prestigious Edinburgh
Military Tattoo for three years.
Eventually, having risen to the rank of Major, he left HM Forces
and returned to "Civvy Street" where he swiftly found
a position suitable to one with his knowledge and experience,
providing expert tuition to school children.
Happily, the result of the deliberations of Mr McColl and the
Choir members as to the suitability of "him for us"
and "us for him" proved to be satisfactory and in
October 1999, he agreed to become the Conductor of the Columban
Traditional choral music is again gradually being introduced
to the repertoire and this, with the evergreen arrangements
of James Robertson still available, provides a much wider spectrum.
The members took part in the Glasgow Festival of Music in March
2001, marking a return to this type of competition for the first
time in almost 30 years.
In February 2010 a celebration Mass of thanksgiving to mark
the 60th anniversary of the founding of the singers was gracioucly
attended in St Patrick's Church Kilsyth by His Eminence Keith
Patrick Cardinal O’Brien, Metropolitan Archbishop of St
Andrews and Edinburgh, who, as an assistant priest in Kilsyth
starting in 1972 had first come into contact with the Columban
Singers and has since benefited from their musical talents at
events in Kilsyth and around Scotland.