Devilish Publishing Music Publishers
Devilish Publishing Music Publishers

Roy Williamson


Roy Murdoch Buchanan Williamson was a songwriter, who was born on the 25th June 1936 in Edinburgh’s New Town, Scotland. He was also a folk musician, most famously a member of The Corries. He wrote the popular song Flower of Scotland, which has become known as the unofficial national anthem of Scotland.

Born to a lawyer father and a mother who was a talented pianist, Williamson was influenced by music from an early age. He used to go with his brother Robert to music events while young. He was once given a mouth organ as a Christmas present and he mastered it in no time. The children had a very comfortable upbringing, even having servants to attend to them. Tragically, in 1944, his 45 year old father took his own life when Williamson was only 8 years old. This had a profound effect on Williamson’s mother and she want sent to a psychiatric hospital for a few months while the brothers were cared for by relatives in Aberdeen.

While at school, he only pretended to read music, while he learnt to play the recorder by ear. His teacher was unimpressed and he was banned from music lessons! He spent some of his school life at the prestigious school Gordonstoun in Moray. Here he became a good athlete, despite being asthmatic. He had many other interests whilst being at school, including a love of ships and sailing. His asthma however, stopped any ambition he may have had to join the navy. His mother was eventually declared fit and she returned to the family home.

For a brief period of time, he taught navigation and seamanship at a small coastal town in Moray called Burghead. He then went on to study at the Edinburgh College of Art, although he chose to live elsewhere rather than at the family home. Here he met his future Corries band partner, Ronnie Browne in 1955. Here began a wonderful partnership that would last nearly 30 years. They became firm friends and shared a love of rugby. Williamson had earlier played for the Edinburgh Wanderers rugby team.

He met Violet Thomson while at art school. By the second year of college, they had started dating. They were married in Inverness in 1958, while they were both still students. They had 2 daughters named Sheena and Karen.

1962 was when his musical journey really began. He joined Ron Cruikshank and Bill Smith to form a group called the Corrie Folk Trio. Their first ever performance was in Edinburgh at a place called the Waverley Bar. Unfortunately, not long after, Cruikshank developed glandular fever and could no longer perform. As they had already committed to performing at the Edinburgh Festival, they needed to find a replacement. Williamson suggested his old friend Ronnie Browne.

Later on, Paddie Bell, an Irish singer, joined the group. They titled themselves the ‘Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell.’ Although they only started with an audience of 8, they played to a full house every night by the end of the Edinburgh Festival. Such was their popular demand, that Williamson decided he needed to give up his day job. He was an art teacher at Liberton High School in Edinburgh. Now he could be a musician full time.

1966 saw a change in the line-up, with both Bell and Smith departing. Bell wanted to perform different music to the others and also to have a baby and Smith fell out with Browne. Browne and Williamson decided to continue as a duo. Williamson was a gifted musician and played many instruments and sang while Browne was the gifted singer, who learnt a few instruments. They decided to change their name to ‘The Corries’ and practised profusely.

Their first gig as a twosome was in Cortachy in Angus at the Jubilee Arms Hotel. Their performance was enthusiastically received, which gave them much encouragement. The continued on as a duo and became highly popular around Scotland, and later around the world. By the end of the 1960s however, Williamson’s marriage was over and Violet and his daughters moved to London.

One of the most famous songs he wrote was Flower of Scotland. It is still a truly patriotic song and is sung at many international events, especially at rugby and football ones. It is also sung at the Commonwealth Games, including by Ronnie Browne himself in 2007. In 2003, it was beautifully arranged for brass band by James McFadyen.

As well as being a talented musician, Williamson was good at woodwork. He helped to design a boat, that he named after his daughter. He also invented a new type of musical instrument in 1969, that combined several instruments into 1. 1 consisted of a mandolin and a guitar and another a guitar and the Spanish bandurria. He called it the ‘combolin’. Their 1970 album Strings and Things featured the combolin heavily.

In 1980, William moved in with his long-term partner, Nicky van Hurck, who came from Holland. Many people disapproved of their relationship, as he was twice her age, with her being only in her early twenties. They moved from Edinburgh to Forres, where Williamson took up painting. Roy Williamson continued to perform throughout his life, right up until late 1989. His illness became more apparent and his health started to decline. He had an operation in January 1990, which prolonged his life for a few months. He sadly died on the 12th August 1990 of a brain tumour. He and Nicky had only married a few months before. His funeral was held in Edinburgh at the Mortonball Crematorium.