Obituary: Bob Johnston, musician

Bob Johnston played the alto and baritone saxophone and the clarinet
Bob Johnston played the alto and baritone saxophone and the clarinet
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PIG farming was Bob Johnston’s prime concern in his working life, with physical toil and plenty of graft for the family business, but he always had something else on his mind. He was consumed by the swing bands of the 1940s and 1950s.

Bob, who died on Boxing Day aged 86 after a lengthy illness, made his living from farming in the piggeries around Gylemuir and Corstorphine that decades later were to make way for large-scale redevelopment involving Tesco and PC World.

Everything changed, though, when his dad bought him a clarinet. His idol was Benny Goodman, the universally acknowledged “king” on the instrument, and he remained a life-long addict.

Bob, born in Leith Walk and schooled at Corstorphine Primary and Tynecastle Secondary, in time graduated to local big bands. They were to provide him with his livelihood part-time before ultimately he gave up the farming. The farms were bought over by the big stores.

Bob gigged in and around Edinburgh, playing alto saxophone mainly but he was booked for his versatility, also doubling on clarinet and baritone sax.

Initially his big band work was with the Blue Rhythm Band, playing the Fountainbridge Palais and Leith’s Eldorado Ballroom (only John Dutton from the band survives). A brief spell working on a cruise ship took him to South Africa.

The pickings became richer and he began regular playing in the pit orchestra at the King’s Theatre panto for several years.

A shy man in some respects but a jazz and swing man in many, as his discerning record collection confirmed. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Corstorphine Music Centre, ever willing to encourage and teach youngsters.

Says Jay Craig, working as a professional musician out of London: “It was Bob who in the Seventies helped to persuade me to forsake the unsightly old Selmer sax I’d been playing. I was at Edinburgh Academy and the first time I ever got to play in a sax section was when Elliott Wardlaw had me play in his band at Leith Academy’s school dances.

“I was getting a whiff of what big bands were about. I was chuffed to bits. I wish Bob had been there.

“He came to see us at the Usher Hall when Billy May conducted the BBC Big Band.”

Gentlemanly Bob Johnston is survived by wife Fiona, son Graeme, two grandchildren, and brother Jim, a rhythm guitarist.