Career of note drawing to an end for Hawick’s Bert

Bert Armstrong's singing career is nearing the end of the road.
Bert Armstrong's singing career is nearing the end of the road.

A singing star from Hawick is drawing the curtain on his long career after entertaining townsfolk for over seven decades – but the melodies will linger on.

Traditional Scottish balladeer Bert Armstrong is a musical institution in the town, and he was made a Member of the British Empire by the Queen for his service to the community in her 2002 birthday honours list.

Bert's singing has been entertaining Teries for generations.

Bert's singing has been entertaining Teries for generations.

But after a recent fall, Bert, now 92, of Douglas Haig Court, has decided to take things a little easier in the future.

He said: “I might still do the occasional thing here and there but not too much from now on. I’m 92 after all. It’s time to take it a little easier.”

After leaving the Royal Navy in 1946 following eight years, service as a cook, including an extended spell in Trinidad in the West Indies, Bert returned home and started bursting out into song at community gatherings, although he never accepted a penny as payment.

He performed as Hawick Common Riding’s official singer, for the town’s women’s guild, for Hawick Opera, at rugby club dinners and at countless Burns’ nights.

Bert, whose selfless service was recently rewarded with the presentation of a provost’s award, bestowed on him by honorary provost Stuart Marshall, said: “I’d never call myself a high-class singer. I’m no Pavarotti, but I love ballads, Scottish songs, Hawick songs.

“I’ve always loved performing but never for money. That was never my inspiration. It was the love of the songs.

“I’ve never asked for payment although I’d sometimes be given a gift, maybe a basket of flowers or fruit. It was never about money, I just loved to sing.”

Bert, one of 11 children, was born in Dickson Street in Hawick in 1924.

His father, George Armstrong, was a butcher, fishmonger and member of the town common riding committee.

His grandfather, also called George, was the landlord of the Ewe an’ Lamb pub and the owner of the Howegate fish shop.

Bert went to Wilton Primary, where, at the age of 10, he sang the first and last verse of Up wi’ the Banner for then cornet Bill Brydon.

Bert’s own musical hero is Robert Wilson, the renowned Scottish singer, who died in 1964 at the age of 57. Wilson sang songs such as Down in the Glen, Road to the Isle, Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair and A Gordon for Me.

Bert, who sang in the choir at Wilton Primary and also attended Hawick High School, was a hand-knitting machinist at many mills, ending his working life at Pringle when he was 64.

He added: “I’ve had great help from talented accompanists over the years, Mr Fishwick, the organist and later minister at St George’s Church, among them.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. Now it’s time to slow down.”

Bert has never been in a recording studio, and there are no official recordings available to preserve his remarkable voice for future generations.

“People have taped me over the years, but I’ve never done any recordings in a studio,” he added.

“In fact, I very rarely use a microphone. It was never about fame and fortune, just the love of singing.”

However, anyone wanting to hear him perform the song Teviot in his prime can log on to www.youtube.com/watch?v=GivSnbN7RJA