THERE was a time when Moira Hepburn entertained more nieces and nephews than anyone else in Edinburgh.
That’s because a generation of kids knew her as ‘Auntie Moira’; just one of more than a dozen aunts and uncles playing during Children’s Hour at public parks across the city. In the summer months it was up to them to provide musical accompaniment and encourage the children to get up on stage and sing and dance.
And Auntie Moira had one of the biggest and best stages in Scotland: the Ross Bandstand in Edinburgh’s West Princes Street Gardens.
“We were on stage every day except Sunday for Children’s Hour,” says Moira, 80, “During the school holidays it would get so busy that my daughters helped out with crowd control”.
As pianist Moira required an eclectic repertoire which catered for all ages. “To this day I can play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or Baa, Baa, Black Sheep with my eyes closed.
“I’d also play lots of pop songs; there was a point in the seventies where the kids requested Puppy Love by Donny Osmond every single day.
I will be sad to see the Ross Bandstand replaced, as I have many years of happy memories to look back onMoira Hepburn
“But you never knew what you’ld be asked for, and I became very good at dealing with impromptu requests”.
Having started from an early age, performing in public came naturally to Moira.
“I came from a very musical home. My mother was a professional pianist and we played together as a duet. During the war I sang to the American troops at the Royal Overseas Club.
“My grandfather was superintendent at Holyrood Palace and used to invite bandleaders round to hear me sing. One of them asked if I would go and sing with his band at the Ross Bandstand. I was only 8 or 9 at the time.
“I also performed live on the BBC’s Children’s Hour at their Queen Street studios. The BBC’s Richard Telfer had spotted me singing at a talent competition at the Regent Cinema on Abbeymount.”
After leaving school it wasn’t long before Moira was entertaining Edinburgh’s masses on a regular basis.
“I started at Inch Park in 1958 and also played at Niddrie for a couple of weeks while the auntie there was on holiday. The city entertainment officer eventually moved me to the Ross Bandstand in 1961. I was the first person to play the grand piano there, replacing ‘Blindman Uncle Bob’ who had been there for 30 years.
“There was loads going on at the bandstand in those days. There was always an afternoon show and an early evening show: ballroom dancing; Scottish country dancing; military bands - you name it.
“The kids loved the talent competitions. All the major parks in Edinburgh brought in two children to perform, sing, play an instrument or dance. Three of my daughters had a harmony group and they won a trophy 3 times in a row. I didn’t tell anyone they were my kids in case they thought it was fixed.”
Playing publicly in the centre of Edinburgh every summer for over two decades, Moira’s music was heard by countless numbers of people, many of them leaning against the fence at the bandstand perimeter to hear the children sing.
When the traditional Children’s Hour was brought to an end in 1987, Moira was distraught, telling the Evening News at the time how saddened she was that her services were “no longer wanted”.
“It came to an end because the enthusiasm started to wane. Kids simply became interested in other things. A lot of the younger kids would still show up but not in the numbers that they used to.”
Edinburgh-born Moira is also sad to know that the curtain is set to drop on the Ross Bandstand too.
“I will be sad to see the Ross Bandstand replaced, as I have many years of happy memories to look back on. But if it’s crumbling and needs replaced then I realise you’ve got to move with the times.
“I wish every success to new Ross pavillion.”
Now aged 80, evergreen Moira Hepburn works with the elderly and continues to play the piano with the Scottish Music Hall Society.
As a mother of four, grandmother of six and great grandmother of four, she has devoted many decades to playing music and making children smile.
If there’s anyone who knows the keys to a happy life it’s Auntie Moira.