PAUL McAlinden doesn’t half clatter stereotypes about the head with a pair of cymbals. When a Govan inhabitant opens up on his incredible journeys as a conductor it would be all too easy to drop in jokes about late-night high jinks on the No 17 bus.

But Paul McAlinden’s conducting work involves a far wider world. Part of his incredible adventure has seen him working out of Berlin for 15 years as a freelance conductor, setting up the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq and more recently an orchestra to perform in his adopted town, Govan.

Indeed, such is McAlinden’s standing, he’s off to Malaysia next week to pick up an award from the President for his work in Iraq which involved Blue Ocean Strategy, the business model by which uncontested market space is created.

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Yet, how did he come to be in this position? Maestro isn’t a job on a career’s adviser’s list. Conducting is a career associated with great wealth, but his father was a journalist with Thomson’s Newspapers.

Dunfermline-born McAlinden explains where the dream began. “When I was five years old, one day in the car with my dad he switched the radio on and I heard classical music for the first time. I said to my dad that was the music I wanted to learn to play. Luckily, my parents went out and bought me a piano.”

Meantime, his mother signed her son up for ballet dancing classes. “I loved it,” he remembers,”even though it signalled me out as different from the rest of the boys. I was one of only two male ballet dancers in the whole of Fife.”

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Dunfermline’s little Billy Elliott was bullied and beaten. “But when I got attacked I used my little arts world as a bubble. All the abuse and bullying and s*** was somehow filtered away.”

Not surprisingly, the teenage McAlinden chose to head south to study Theatre at the University of Surrey, “faced with the choice of becoming a professional musician or a ballet dancer.”

The idea of becoming a conductor however had never entered his head until he took off to Michigan on a student programme.

“The Americans ran classes on how to become a conductor. Now, suddenly, it all made sense, this physical expression of music through the body.”

On completing his studies, McAlinden chose to return to Scotland, Glasgow being “the music hub of Scotland.”

He worked with lots of amateur orchestras, including in Paisley to Stirling, promoting the work of Scottish composers, gaining experience. But moving up the scales in terms of career has much to do with background and connections. “I’m from Fife, so I wasn’t born into that world but by this time I was in a relationship with Peter Maxwell Davies.”

Did this relationship with the famous composer-conductor produce accusations of success by association? “Oh, yes,” he declares. “I had to deal with the abuse from those in the business who figured I was hanging onto his coat tails. There was a lot of anger and resentment directed at Max because he was so successful but he had his back-up in the form of agents and PR people. What happened was the critics would come at his partners, the soft targets.”

Yet, Davies was influential. “Being with Max, who spoke French, Italian and German fluently, made me realise my monolingual limitations.” He says: “I thought of moving to Italy but if you don’t get in with the Mafia you’re dead. (And perhaps if you do?) And so I decided, aged 32, to move to Germany, with its massive music culture.”

He began by coaching singers on piano and meantime became a freelance conductor, working around the world, from Finland to New Zealand.

In 2008 however, the recession hit and work evaporated. “I needed an astounding, astonishing project to keep me motivated until work picked up again. Incredibly, he found his answer in the news pages of The Herald. “I was back home in Edinburgh at the time, checking up on my dad who was ill, and there was a headline Iraqi Team Seeks Maestro for Youth Orchestra. I was taken aback. And as I read I said to myself ‘I know how to do this.’”

McAlinden had connections at consular level but landing the job was one thing – seeing it through yet another. “So many friends told me I was quite mad to go into a war zone. And when I called Max [the relationship had since faded] he said, dramatically, ‘When you’re dead I’ll compose a piece for you’.”

Undaunted, McAlinden travelled to Iraq and managed to form the 33 young musicians into a unit, despite a pervasive heat that made it almost impossible for instruments to remain in tune. “These were young people who had learned to play their instruments by downloading lessons from YouTube.”

He set up a summer course, in one of the “safer cities”, Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdistan region. But it was a struggle. “The hard core interpretations of Sharia Law basically said there could be no singing with instrumental music. It was like the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Instruments were seen as the Devil’s handwork. And for so many Iraqis, going to a rehearsal meant you could be reported to authorities, that’s if you made it past the bombs.”

He had to learn to deal in suitcases of cash, in this “ultra-corrupt” country, to push against language barriers, sectarian issues or the gender gap (a third of the orchestra was female). “But somehow, we all felt music was a mechanism with which to help re-build Iraqi culture.”

McAlinden toured the world with his orchestra. But just as he was was set to travel to America in 2014, Isis invaded Mozul. The American Consulate was closed. Game over. And the end of the orchestra coincided with a series of personal disasters. His father and mother passed away. Sir Peter Maxell Davies also died. “Suddenly, I had no energy to do anything so I sat down to write a book (Upbeat) about the Iraq adventure, to help me put it all in place.”

McAlindern returned to Scotland in August of last year and found a flat Govan, “the quickest, easiest way to put a roof over my head with great transport links.”

He moved in to the once salubrious Luath Street, built for the “bowler hats” who once worked at Fairfield shipyards. But in recent years it’s become the land time tries to forget.

Now energised, McAlinden came up with several ideas to help rejuvenate this ailing community. He set up a successful street party (having negotiated with the local drug dealers) he came up with the idea of an orchestra ensemble, the Glasgow Barons, as a focal point.

McAlinden isn’t naive enough to believe a street party could change habits of a lifetime. Unemployment, he says, conditions minds to hopelessness. “Jobs are paramount. But the right strategies can coax a new thinking.”

The positivity in McAlinden’s voice is humbling. Did growing up gay in a dockyard town toughen him up? “It’s risky to say my experience has been character forming, because it could also have lead to suicide,” he says with a wry smile. “Dunfermline High in the Eighties was not a place to be gay. If you were gay or an intellectual you were pretty much doomed. And it was so difficult to keep the gay thing under wraps because I was a ballet dancer, and in little theatre productions I was all too often cast in drag.

“But what really toughened me up was Mum, my poor mother was a paranoid schizophrenic and society didn’t know how to deal with her. She refused help for such a long time and we couldn’t even have her sectioned, whereby she’d have been given drugs. What it meant was we had to manoeuvre our lives around her.” He adds: “But at least in the last 10 years of her life she did take medication and as such we had some lovely times together.”

McAlinden has no regular partner. “I’m still feeling the loss of the orchestra,” he says, the blue Iraqi ensemble sweatshirt he’s wearing confirming his headspace.

Yet, the maestro, who fronts a classical music show on Sunny Govan Radio, is far from lost in his new space.

“I’d like to think that what I’m doing in Govan is worthwhile,” he says in soft voice. “And I feel at home here.”

He adds, grinning: “You could

say I’m totally in tune with what’s going on.”