Thursday, June 23, 2011

Andy Stewart

The streets of downtown Winnipeg form a north-south east-west grid. That’s not unusual. The streets north of downtown, all the way up to the north end, right across the CP yards, also form a grid, but the direction varies from the downtown streets; the east-west streets point more north-west – south east, with the north –south streets at right angles. The street at the south edge of the north grid is called Notre Dame (always pronounced English – “noder dame”). As Notre Dame heads south east into downtown it meets a street called Donald and that’s where the street convergence takes place.

And right at the odd angled corner of Donald and Notre Dame is where Pyramid Records first made its home in the early 80s. It was a used record shop, very organized at the beginning. If you brought them a blues album, you’d get credit in the blues section; likewise with jazz, country etc. They didn’t keep that up. But back then it had the freshness of a new business, even some new Rhino stock now and then.

They moved a few times, first down the street on Donald closer to Ellice, then up into the exchange district, then, for a long time, they had a location on the south side of Portage Avenue, and I’d often stop in there on the way home from work, easy because it was on my bus route, right where I’d switch to the 18. They had books too by then, and magazines, though the owner, whose name was Don, refused to carry adult magazines.

Used record stores started springing up all over the city then; there was Argy’s, Red River Books and Rainbow’s Gold, Comic World, Sound Exchange. But Pyramid was the hub, the centre, the standard by which the others were measured. It was a kind of a home there, amid the dust and the chaos, a place to chat with Don or with Ken, who took care of the books. There was constant inventory turnover; prices were good, and he’d always give you good value for your trade-ins. He even sent me a client once - a Canada Post employee whose pottery adorned Pyramid's display window.

Did I say inventory? It was unbelievable what oddities turned up in his store; you’d wait long enough, you’d find anything. It was listening to Andy Stewart that inspired this diversion, and that was typical; nothing was too odd or too strange or too obscure. I picked up everything from Paul McCartney to classical symphonies by Shostakovitch to Chava Alberstein. Don the owner looked at the Andy Stewart LP as I handed it to him and he started singing “Let the wind blow high let the wind blow low”…. I like when he breaks into the Elvis routine, he said.

Last time I was there was the last day of November, 1993. He’d moved again, this time he was in a little shop across from the Marlborough Hotel on Smith. He was selling out, everything 75% off. I can’t do this anymore, he said. The taxes are too high, the rent is too high, the shop doesn’t pay for itself anymore. It was sad of course, but he wanted to sell off his inventory and pay off his creditors. Alas, he didn’t get the chance. I went back, but the door was locked, the landlord having exercised his right of distress for unpaid rent. The date of the notice was November 30, 1993.

Now Andy Stewart, he was Scottish. That’s obvious. He wore it on his sleeve. He sang about it. He hosted a TV show about it. And he put 2 records on the charts. Oddly, neither made the UK top 20, though they made Billboard (as high as 69) and the Toronto CHUM charts, where they did very well indeed. All but two of these songs come from a collection that I picked up at Pyramid Records. The two (Galawa’ Hills and Morag O’Donegan) came from 2 sides of a single that I got at Red River Books.

Andy Stewart:

A Scottish Soldier – This one actually reached number 69 on Billboard in the summer of 1961. On CHUM it was number 1. It is nothing more than the tale of homesickness, and how, when you are far from home, the familiar can be harder to endure than the unfamiliar. I don’t know that the fact that he is a soldier is all that significant, except perhaps to remind us that the Scotsman can fight as well as anyone.
Oh What A Ceilidh – Pronounced “kaylee,” a kind of party, the Scottish equivalent, perhaps, of a hoe down.
Galawa’ Hills
Morag O’Donegan – Love song to a nice Scottish girl.
Soldier Boy – Not The Shirelles song.
Two Lands – The other one is Canada, believe it or not, and he sings of the connection between the two places. Maybe things were different 50 years ago.
Scotland Yes
Highland Paradise
Campbelltown Loch – Plays on the alleged love of the Scotsman for, what else, scotch. Apparently this is a real place.
Tunes Of Glory
Dr. Findlay – A TV show character.
Donald Where’s Your Troosers – Some wear turbans and some wear kafiahs and some wear shtreimels and some wear robes. The Scotsman wears a kilt, and, if Andy Stewart is to be believed, he’s damn proud of it. The fact that this song is the biggest send-up you’re likely to hear does not diminish the pride of it one whit. The song reached number 77 on Billboard in the fall of ’61. The Irish Rovers gave it a good shot, too.
The Tartan Ribbon

1 comment:

Life Student said...

Now I want to know whatever happened to Don. Sad.

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