Real Lives: Ron’s reflecting on the high notes of his career

Ron Carruthers at home with his piano
Ron Carruthers at home with his piano
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THERE was never going to be any escape from music for former marine engineer and bookseller Ron Carruthers – who hails from such a musical family.

For a start, his granny was the pianist who played for the silent films in the building in Shandwick Place that was to become the West End Cafe – a haven for some of the biggest instrumentalists in jazz.

Lydia MacDonald sang there before she was recruited by the Ted Heath orchestra.

Ron, who will be 84 in February and certainly doesn’t look his age (I assured him, envying his head of hair, turning from black to silvery grey), is celebrating an astounding 21-year residency as house pianist at Henderson’s, the Hanover Street deli and restaurant.

Tucked away in there, the vast majority of customers are oblivious to the house pianist.

“But it’s a great gig for me. It keeps my hand in and, probably more importantly, it’s therapeutic,” says Ron.

From schooling at Leith Academy Primary and Boroughmuir Secondary, after the family migrated from Leith uptown to Viewforth, he served a five-year apprenticeship with Brown Brothers in marine engineering.

Browns was famed for its products that were crucial to the war effort.

Ron recalls: “The huge perk with that was that Browns made the artificial wave-making machinery for Portobello open-air pool and, along with two other apprentices, I spent that entire summer in the mid-forties ensuring that everything worked for the bathers without a hitch. What you’d call a cushy number.’’

Primarily, Ron’s interest in music is jazz and his earliest associations were with legendary clarinetist Archie Semple at the Semple family’s home in Braid Crescent.

Fellow prospective clarinet giant Sandy Brown and Archie went on to make their reputations in the UK and the Continent.

Ron played in Tony’s Ballroom in Picardy Place and Leith Assembly Rooms – some of the UK’s best known dance bands played the “Rooms”– before fronting his own band in the George Hotel.

Ron, whose taste had morphed from traditional to modern, forsook jazz for a living to indulge another passion, working in Brunton’s, a bookshop in George Street, for four years. He remained in the book trade for several years.

Ron met his wife-to-be in Clifton’s, the hallowed Princes Street record store.

They married in 1953 and produced two children.

Short of the Henderson’s gig, the virtually retired Ron now lives with his wife and a piano in Lochend.