Died: May 18, 2021.
DREW Robertson, who has died aged 90 in Lerwick, was a central and inspiring figure for nearly 69 years of the Lerwick Brass Band. Although he officially joined LBB in late 1952 he had already played flute as a teenager in the band, as well as drums for Lerwick Pipe Band.
He was usually in the brass section, playing the trombone but such was his musical versatility that he was often called upon to play other instruments.
He was a major influence, encouraging younger members to join the band, and he freely gave of his time, knowledge and energy to the entire Shetland community.
Robertson was also known for his love of jazz, and especially for his ability as both a drummer and a double bass player in the Malcolm Browne Band.
At a meeting of the LBB in May the musicians played the quick march, ‘Our Director’, composed by F. E. Bigelow as a tribute to their much-loved former director.
Andrew George Robertson – affectionately known as Drew – was born in Lerwick, to Bill and Mabel Robertson. He attended Lerwick Central Public School (now Anderson High School) and left at the age of 14. He worked in his father’s grocery shop until he was called up to do his national service with the RAF. He became a prominent member of the RAF band.
When he returned to Shetland he worked in the grocer’s shop and the Post Office but in 1968 his father sold the shop, and Robertson realised how significant a part music was playing in his life. He attended evening classes to obtain higher certificates and furthered his technical knowledge of music to gain a formal music qualification.
This diligence was rewarded in 1974 when he attended Moray House College in Edinburgh and became a fully qualified teacher of brass and percussion. He taught throughout primary and secondary schools in Shetland and was appointed as Music Instructor (Brass) for Shetland Islands Council.
Roy Hughson was Robertson’s first music student. He played alongside him in LBB and became a great friend. “Drew was a natural musician with a vast knowledge of all aspects of music”, he says.
“His influence throughout Shetland was immense. As a teacher he was very much a friend who lent his knowledge to a student. Drew was my mentor and was for many others throughout Shetland. He was, quite simply, an inspiring leader and teacher.”
Robertson combined his teaching duties with his membership of the LBB. Interviewed for the magazine, i’i shetland, in 2014, he recalled being “shanghaied into it”.
In 1960 he was appointed assistant band master, and, in 1964, conductor. “Whilst on parade, with no conductor being needed, he continued playing his trombone or any instruments that were required”, Arthur Watt said in his eulogy at the funeral.
Robertson’s commitment and dedication to the brass band was all-embracing. Not only was he the musical director and bandmaster until 2000 but during his 69 years with the band he remained a major inspiration in all its aspects.
His love of jazz – traditional and modern – also dated from his time in the RAF. By the 1960s, back in Shetland, he often played drums in the old Excelsior Bar. With the arrival of the oil industry, many people gathered to enjoy live jazz evenings with the popular Jazz Quintet, in which he played drums.
The range of his sheer musicianship was considerable. He played drums with two of Shetland’s top band of the 1950s and 1960s, The Islesburgh Scottish Dance Band and The Hamefarers. He also recorded with several bands on the local Thule Records with such eminent Shetland musicians as Ronnie and Eric Cooper, Jim Halcrow and Willie Hunter.
His involvement in all aspects of the community affairs endured all his life. He sang with the Choral Society, played in many of the Islesburgh Drama Group productions, and enthusiastically played in the Shetland Youth Jazz Orchestra well into his 60s.
He led LBB on many of the annual community occasions – notably the many carol services and the annual fire festival, Up Helly Aa, a long-standing Shetland tradition with Viking origins.
An affectionately amusing story about Robertson emerged on Facebook, written by a musician who has on occasion played with LBB. “Drew was always so welcoming, as were all the band”, she wrote.
“I remember one time when I was a lot younger and playing tenor horn. I came along to rehearsal and he put in front of me the most fiendish horn part I had ever seen and when we got to the end the whole band were having a good old chuckle at my expression!”
Robertson’s son, David, remembers his father as a man of considerable kindness.
“My father was very much a family man. He was a very supportive husband, a good father to me and my sister and a much loving grandfather. That is just how he was.”
Robertson met his future wife, Bunty, when they were teenagers. They married in 1953 and remained happily married for 68 years. He is survived by David, daughter Janice, four grandchildren and his sister, Mabs.