Last week I received one of these phone calls where you know you are going to get bad news. It was my old chum Davie Scott telling me about the very untimely death of Stewart Cruickshank.
By now you’ll probably have read or heard some fine obituaries to Stewart. It seems as if there’s no one in music in Scotland who hadn’t encountered Stewart in his role as a radio producer. Simply put – everyone loved him. I never doubted that but only realised how far his reach was after I saw the disparate places from which tributes poured in. Folk singers, rock bands, alt sound sculptors, radio people, record people…People!
I had probably met Stewart before this but I distinctly remember meeting him around 23 years ago on Byres Road. (where else) in Glasgow. I was pushing a pram containing my daughter, Emer around the west end – having a long walk before she was due to go home to get fed. It was early autumn and, as a new father again I felt very far from making music although, as I remember now, I was in the middle of completing a new album and about to release a single. As I bumped into Stewart and he offered me the usual congratulations I caught up with what he was up to. ‘Oh we’ve just been recording a session with Alex Chilton and Teenage Fanclub.’
‘Here?’ I asked.
He pointed back at the old BBC over the road and nodded. He started to chuckle with delight and I joined in. I loved the idea of these magical radio events happening as I quietly got on, streets away, with important domestic matters.
In the early days I really didn’t know much about music at BBC Radio Scotland. We’d always had great support from other commercial stations here and RS was good at supporting indy music and we didn’t really fit that bill so I experienced less of their involvement than I would if music had taken a different direction. But after the demise of the first chapter of Deacon Blue I found myself going into the building more and more for various radio shows. Stewart was always there, looking as if he’s just come out of an all night edit. If tape wasn’t hanging around his shoulders it should have been.
One day we had coffee and I told him how, having once been asked to host a show on the radio, I’d got the bug. I decided to ask him if he’d be interested in me doing anything. ‘Leave it with me,’ he said. A few months later, and the conversation almost forgotten the phone rang. It was Stewart asking me to sit in for Iain Anderson. I was willing but very, very nervous. ‘It’s like doing a gig,’ he told me – and he knew a bit about that – ‘You say something, then when the time feels right you play the music.’ None of that probably seems like rocket science but, in its simple wisdom, it explains how good music radio should sound and it’s how I’ve approached it these last eight years or so.
In between times I’ve met Stewart over at Bees Nees and he never disappointed. Whatever we were meant to be talking about it always returned to music, records, artists…the stuff we both loved. No one I knew expected to lose Stewart so early. I always assumed we’d have that long conversation we must have been due. I know there are artists I still need to listen to who Stewart could have recommended…I’ll need to find them myself now. As I write I’m drinking a very small glass of red wine before my last UK tour show. I’m raising a toast to him alone. Isn’t that how we enjoy the radio best? Tonight I’ll say a few words then play some music when it seems like the right thing to do. On the Radio this Tuesday I’ll do the same thing. Join me from 9 this Tuesday evening if you can on BBC Radio Scotland