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McLeod merits all the plaudits as he hits his 80th year

Back in late May, after swithering, I accepted an invitation to attend a semi-private function in Glasgow.

Why swithering? When I do go out, it tends to be to work, which is my greatest pleasure (I know: anti-social old saddo), or to take my young lads out to dinner, another great pleasure, though always an expensive one (I blame the cost of their drinks and they reciprocate in stereo).

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Conscience as much as curiosity took me out that night, which was billed as an occasion to mark the 80th birthday of composer John McLeod. I have long been a fan of John's music. He gets sniffed at a bit by extremists of the avant-garde set who think his music is not modern enough, but he has always stuck to his guns and trusted his own instincts. And there was a purely professional reason (from my profession, that is) to get to the function and wish him well.

Over the years, John granted me a number of interviews and, invariably, I rolled out of our meetings with more than I had bargained for, especially if you got him on to the subject of his adventures, whether travelling to a remote island, into a jungle, or wherever. He is a natural storyteller, descriptive and detailed in the telling, colourful and flamboyant in his imagery.

So there he was, at this informal wee function to celebrate his 80th, held across two adjacent venues: the Scottish Music Centre, which hosted the event, and the intimate Recital Room of the City Hall, where, of course, there was music, John's music. Fellow composers, including John Maxwell Geddes, who delivered a sparkling and richly witty eulogy, and musicians, including mezzo soprano Taylor Wilson, violist Michael Beeston, guitarist Ian Watt, a blindingly virtuosic young pianist called Philip Sharp and Margaret Murray McLeod, wife of the composer and a phenomenal pianist, arranger and accompanist in her own right, all surrounded him with their company and their performances of his music.

John chose and presented the selection, tracing a chronological path from his earliest serious composition - a set of Three Nocturnes for mezzo, settings of de la Mare, Rosetti and Tennyson, superbly sung by Taylor Wilson and revealing McLeod's early command of melodic flow and structure - through to his 2012 cycle, Fearful Tales, for mezzo, viola and piano, a set of cautionary tales that make Roald Dahl's efforts seem like nursery rhymes, and on which Wilson, a woman of electric presence, unleashed her considerable theatrical skills.

There was also an exquisitely stylish performance by guitarist Ian Watt of John's magical Fantasy On Themes From Britten's Gloriana and a blistering performance of his Lisztian First Piano Sonata by Philip Sharp, a student at Manchester University and the RNCM.

We then went back into the Scottish Music Centre for giant chunks of sausage roll and quiche, tons of wine, loads of blether and a breathtaking roll call of the musical tributes to come throughout John's birthday year. It is impressive, with Donald Runnicles and the SSO playing his orchestral piece, The Sun Dances, at the Proms, a new commission from the SCO for next February, performances at the St Magnus Festival two days ago and the Aldeburgh Festival yesterday. The year will also see a new CD recording of John's chamber music on the Delphian label.

And there is a tour de force coming up in the 80th birthday celebrations when pianist Murray McLachlan, Scotland's most underrated pianist and one of McLeod's great champions, unleashes John's latest Piano Sonata, the Fifth, on the world next month.

This tribute will be amazing. McLachlan will launch it on July 23 at Londonderry's Walled City Music Festival. Then, in early August, the pianist sets off on a marathon tour that will feature an astounding 19 performances of the Fifth Sonata all over the place, including France, Greece, Australia, Poland, the Canary Islands and the UK, with Scottish performances in St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Nairn.

What a year: 80 and going strong. That's impressive, John. Here's to you.

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