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Sunday Ceilidh – Featured Album by Iain Cathcart

Iain Cathcart - Album of the week


By Karyn Mac 
“The Real Ceilidh” Presenter. Irvine Beat FM


Karyn Mac here, from The Real Ceilidh on Sunday afternoons, from 4 – 6pm.

I wonder how many people fondly remember watching ‘Thingummyjig’ on the telly? Iain Cathcart certainly does – but more about that in a minute!

As If By Magic

This week’s (Sun 10th March) featured album is from Iain Cathcart and his Band, “As If By Magic”.
It was released in 2004 by Conisby Music.

The band members are: Lead Accordion Iain Cathcart
2nd Accordion James Coutts
Fiddle Alistair McCulloch
Drums Scott Gordon
Piano Graham Berry
Bass Mark MacDougall

Sleeve notes from Iain on the album are:

“As if by magic… after playing together as a band for over 10 years we have finally decided to record a commercial release of some of our favourite sets that we have enjoyed playing during this period. We hope the choice of material will appeal to a wide range of listeners and perhaps even dancers who enjoy traditional Scottish Dance Music with an added flavour of variety. I’d like to express thanks to my fellow band colleagues for their first rate musicianship and also David & David at Thane for their professionalism and expertise. A final thanks goes to my wife Shirley and my family for their encouragement and support. Iain Cathcart.

As If By Magic - Iain Cathcart

As If By Magic, by Iain Cathcart & His Band



Although his parents never played any musical instruments, music was still in the family. Iain’s grandfather, Neil McNicol was Pipe Major of the Singer Pipe Band in Clydebank between the wars and was leader of the Islay Pipers. Given the piping history in the family, you would probably expect Iain to have become a piper.

However, when Iain was about six or seven years old, he had been watching ‘Thingummyjig’ on the telly. That’s where he first set eyes on Walter Perrie playing the accordion. His Mum asked him if he wanted to learn the pipes or the accordion – and Iain “quite fancied having a shot at the accordion”.

So, while they were on holiday in Blackpool (or “the annual pilgrimage” as Iain calls it), they visited a music shop, with “rows and rows” of accordions. He chose a red 48 bass accordion which cost about £80. His parents put a payment down on it there and then. Then around six months later, his uncle (who lived in Blackpool) came up to visit and Iain watched eagerly as the car was unloaded. Disaster – no accordion!! The one they had ordered hadn’t been delivered – so he had to wait another three months until his uncle’s next visit before he could have a shot at his new accordion!

Iain’s first public performances

Iain started lessons with George Paxton in Saltcoats when he was seven years old. He attended lessons there for about two years, but the lessons only ran from September to April – as George was working on cruise ships during the summer. One of Iain’s first public performances was in Saltcoats Town Hall, in a concert organised by George Paxton where his pupils played in a ‘mini accordion orchestra’. He doesn’t remember much about it – apart from being upstairs afterwards and getting a bag of cola cubes as a reward!

Soon after this, they were told that George would be working away on cruises for six months. That was going to be too long between lessons, so they started looking for another teacher. A family friend recommended Jim Hutcheon in Ayr (incidentally, Jim was also Karyn Mac’s accordion teacher). Iain started lessons with Jim in 1980, when he was about 10 years old (and had a new accordion – a 72 bass Galotta), he continued until he left school in 1988.

The Band

Iain started attending Ayr Accordion and Fiddle Club when he was 14 years old – and discovered there were other clubs in the area – so started attending the Beith Club too. He soon became friendly with John and Sheila Strachan (Beith organizers at that time) – and during the summer of 1990 John asked Iain if he would do his first guest spot there – and John would arrange the rest of the band. All Iain had to do was arrange the music – he didn’t even know who would be playing in the band until he turned up on the night!! On the night of the gig, Iain discovered that the line-up of his band was; fiddle – Andrew Knight; second box – David Hume; bass – John Strachan; piano – Keith Dickson; and drums – George McLeod. Not a bad line-up for a first band!!


The first competition Iain ever won was in the 1985 Ayrshire Music Festival. This was playing a classical piece – as most of the tuition from Jim was on the classical side. Iain also won the Senior Pipe and Senior Scottish at the ASMa Competition in 1989 and 1990 just after he moved to Dundee to go to College. It was while he was at College that he met James Coutts – and James suggested that Iain should go and see Peter Bruce and get a couple of lessons, just for a ‘wee polish up’, as he was still competing in Festivals, such as Perth and Musselburgh. Soon Iain was becoming more successful on the competition circuit. 1992 was a memorable year with successes at Musselburgh (Senior Pipe), Newtongrange (Senior Scottish & Pipe), Oban (Senior Scottish & Pipe), Mull (Senior Accordion, Bands, Mull composers) and at Perth (Trios, Bands, Senior Scottish Finalist). Not bad for a ‘wee polish up’!!

Top Dance Bands

While Iain was at college in Dundee, he started going to the Accordion Clubs there. On a visit to the Dundee club around 1988, he met Bruce Quirie (who was second box player with The Craigowl Band). They struck up a friendship and it was Bruce who introduced Iain to the ‘Stanley Ceilidh’ which was organised by Bill Black. Iain had no idea what to expect – although he knew who Bill Black was and had heard about this weekend. He was totally amazed when he walked into this ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ full of fantastic musicians. Iain remember seeing and hearing so many talented young bands – like Simon Howie, Craig McCallum, Colin Dewar and Graeme Mitchell – and thinking to himself, “They’re not much older than me – and they’ve got their own bands!” This was where Iain was really inspired to form his own band. Iain has attended almost every Stanley Weekend since. When Bill retired from organizing the Ceilidh, Iain took over the running of it, along with his wife Shirley, Scott and Susan Gordon, Lynne Christie, and Dave and Lil Millward. The weekend consists of the Friday night Session – just like an accordion club night. There’s a “bit of a session” on the Saturday afternoon where some of the same players come back and have a tune. Then it’s the Grand Dance on the Saturday night – where you can dance the night away to some of the country’s “top dance bands”. You might even find some people having a tune for a few hours on the Sunday – or “Survivors Sunday” as it’s commonly known! All the proceeds from the weekend go to the charity CHAS.


Nowadays, Iain can be found adjudicating for various competitions and festivals – something he thoroughly enjoys doing! He has adjudicated at the ASMA Festival, the Newcastleton Festival and at Musselburgh – which included judging the Band Section and the ‘Open’ competition along with Gordon Pattullo. “A great experience”.

Iain first met his wife, Shirley Campbell, at the Scarborough Festival whilst playing at a dance there with The Glencraig Band. Shirley herself is a talented accordionist who has been both Senior Scottish and Pipe Champion at Musselburgh.

The Accordian

Iain owns a 1970 Hohner Morino VN, which he has had since he was about nineteen and he played this accordion all the time – until a few years ago. Now he also has a Sonola accordion. However, he originally wanted an SS20 (with tone chamber) but couldn’t get his hands on one for love nor money, so he eventually managed to get an SS15 (which doesn’t have the tone chamber) but has 4 voices – piccolo, bass + 2 treble. He got it converted and had the piccolo reed removed, so it now has 3 treble reeds and one bass. He uses the Sonola for all his lead box work now and the Morino for all his second box work. He bought his Sonola over the Internet from a chap in America called Edo Guidotti – who just happens to be the pianist with Paul Williams – who wrote and played all the music for the film version of ‘Bugsy Malone’. Indeed, this very accordion can be heard playing through the underscore of the film – allegedly!!

Sonola SS20 Accordion


I’m sure that many people will agree that Iain Cathcart and his band are – and will continue to be for many years to come – one of the ‘Top Dance Bands’ in the country.

Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about Iain Cathcart :-

  • Iain’s grandfather was best man at Mairi’s Wedding, yes, as in the well-known song, the ‘Mairi’ in question being Mary C. McNiven from Islay. (However the words to the song were originally composed by Johnny Bannerman in Gaelic some six years prior to Mary finally tying the knot).

  • His favourite band is Iain MacPhail’s band – he just loves Iain’s playing, his arrangements, his tunes and the sound the band creates.

  • His favourite solo accordionist is Gordon Pattullo – “his technique is fabulous and there’s just nobody to beat him”.

  • In the early 80s Iain once appeared on Blue Peter when Simon Groom was invited to be chieftain at the long defunct Irvine Highland Games. Iain was caught on camera after being asked to hold Goldie (the Blue Peter dog) whilst Simon attempted to ‘Toss the Haggis’.

  • As a junior, Iain played competitive tennis to an international level representing his country on several occasions.

  • When he’s not listening to Scottish dance band music, you’ll more than likely find him listening to a varied range of music from Prefab Sprout to Frank Sinatra – or even some good old-fashioned Country ‘n’ Western – in particular, Kenny Rogers.


The Real Cielidh with Kayrn Mac airs live every Sunday. 4pm – 6pm (GMT) on 107.2FM & online around the world here on Irvine Beat FM.


The Real Cielidh with Kayrn Mac airs live every Sunday. 4pm – 6pm (GMT) on 107.2FM & online around the world here on Irvine Beat FM.


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