Published: 27/03/2016 06:00 - Updated: 25/03/2016 10:29

Beat Scene exhibition highlights promoter's impact

Written byCraig Christie

WHEN you’ve performed on the same stage as Eric Clapton and watched Pink Floyd and The Kinks rocking a Moray stage, you know you’ve been part of something special.

Brian McDonald is reforming his Windy Miller band to help launch an exhibition based on impresario Albert Bonici and the Moray music scene he created.
Brian McDonald is reforming his Windy Miller band to help launch an exhibition based on impresario Albert Bonici and the Moray music scene he created.

During the 1960s and 70s, the vision of music impresario Albert Bonici helped young Moray hopefuls like Brian McDonald to achieve their dreams.

As a lad growing up in Elgin, Brian played in bands who got the chance to perform alongside chart-topping artists while he watched other acts play at venues on his doorstep who would go on to achieve stardom.

It’s an era he remembers fondly and this weekend he will pay his own tribute to the man who made it all happen.

Brian, now 67 and living in Buckie, is reforming his Windy Miller group to perform at the launch of an Elgin Museum exhibition charting the life of promoter Bonici and the memorable music scene he created in Moray.

Bonici and the Beat Scene features some of the artefacts relating to the career of the man whose Two Red Shoes Ballroom was the place to be in the swinging 60s. The venue famously housed a performance by the Beatles before they became the biggest band in the world.

The museum exhibition – organised by Moray-based American writer, artist and Beatles enthusiast David Dills – also studies the thriving beat scene which helped to fill Moray dance halls and venues at the time.

“It was a great time to be around,” said Brian, drummer and vocalist with Windy Miller, formed from members of The T-Set and the Ian Charles Quintet, who both broke up around the same time.

“We were one of many local bands around here that played with the big bands as well.

“You watched them on Top of the Pops on Thursday and you were supporting them on the Saturday. We were like kids in sweetie shops.”

When Brian and his brother Fred were in The T-Set, he remembered how they played at Aberdeen’s Beach ballroom in support of Cream, who featured Eric Clapton.

The Elgin group rose in popularity after they were winners of the Cullen Beat Festival and were given their prize by soul singer Geno Washington, who was headlining the festival with his Ram Jam Band.

The T-Set also played alongside massive names such as Slade and The Tremeloes, and in September 1968 made a name for themselves when a gig they played in the grounds of Banff Castle earned them a breach of the peace charge.

A national newspaper reported how while the group thrilled a crowd of 200 teenagers crammed inside a marquee tent, the noise of their music could be heard two miles away. It was claimed that ornaments were bouncing off mantlepieces, hospital patients were awakened and babies were crying all over town.

“It was great publicity for us,” said Brian, who revealed how the group had to appear at Banff JP court to face the charge but were admonished.

When The T-Set disbanded, Windy Miller was formed. Brian started as singer with Fred on rhythm guitar and vocals, joined by Kenny MacDonald (lead guitar, vocals), Charlie Gerrard (bass, vocals) and Finlay Grant (drums). Grant quit after a couple of years and Brian took over the sticks as well as continuing on vocals.

“The Windy Miller that everybody knows was the four-piece version,” Brian added.

Formed around 1971, they stayed together for the next six years and played right across the north of Scotland, including some impressive support slots.

Glam rockers Sweet, who had a number one hit with Blockbuster, were supported by Windy Miller when they gigged at Elgin Town Hall. The Elgin band also performed on two or three occasions alongside beat combo The Searchers, who reached the top of the charts with Needles and Pins and Sweets for my Sweet during the 60s.

The band played many times at Two Red Shoes Ballroom, owned by Mr Bonici, who also promoted their gigs.

They recorded an album Windy Miller On the Rise at the venue in 1974 and the recording is available today to listen to in full on YouTube.

Windy Miller recording on YouTube

The band gigged at Moray’s HMS Fulmar navy base in Lossiemouth and RAF station at Kinloss and performed songs written by Mr Bonici.

Brian said it wasn’t just a great time to be performing music in front of big crowds, but also a memorable era for seeing bands coming to Moray who went on to become superstars in the music industry.

“There will be a lot of people who remember the time and all the bands that came up and played in the area,” he said.

“I went to see Pink Floyd in the Two Red Shoes when Johnny and the Copycats were playing with them. I also saw The Kinks play at the Town Hall in Elgin. It was endless, really.”

Eventually they split in 1977, going on to play in other bands over the years and remaining in touch.

The exhibit at Elgin Museum opened on Saturday, March 26 and runs for six months.

Links: Scotbeat

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