Born: November 11, 1935; Died: November 2, 2013.
JACK Alexander, who has died aged 77, was the vocal half of one of the most enduring double acts in Scottish light entertainment. While his elder brother Tom provided the accordion accompaniment, Jack supplied the singing and the banter between the songs.
Though only one of their records ever made the UK singles charts, at one heady point during their career "the boys", as they were known, outsold the Beatles in Scotland. And together with the likes of Jimmy Shand, Kenneth McKellar and Andy Stewart, they kept the kitsch end of traditional Scottish music alive for decades.
Jack Alexander was born in Cambusnethan, near Wishaw, in 1935, the second son of Jimmy and Helen Alexander. Jimmy worked in the local steel works and such was his desire to see his sons become traditional performers, he fastened steel hooks and straps to the ceiling of their home, and attached an accordion. Thus, the heavy weight was lifted from young son Tom's still-forming shoulders.
But not the heavy weight of expectation. Jack, who sang wonderfully, was sent to piano lessons. The brothers' first taste of showbiz success came one Christmas in the mid-1940s when they took part in Cambusnethan North Church Sunday School's production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Jack was cast as Prince Charming while Tom, who was never a great singer, served as stage manager. Yet, Tom and Jack were pushed to achieve even more as Jimmy Alexander ferried his sons around the West of Scotland's churches and OAP homes to perform in talent competitions, going up against friends such as Sydney Devine.
Jimmy Alexander however wasn't entirely convinced Mother Showbiz would always provide for his boys, and insisted they learn a trade. As a result, they became apprentice painter/decorators with Torrance the Painters in Motherwell by day, while at nights and weekends they turned out with their sister Betty, a talented dancer, as the Alexander Trio.
In 1958, after Jack returned from National Service with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders (Tom was exempt from conscription because of a hearing problem), the brothers decided to turn professional. But they were not keen to make tartan music; the pair saw themselves as Scots rock n'rollers. It was only after a disappointing appearance at the Webster Theatre, Arbroath, they realised there was a gap in the market for Scottish music with a country twist. The sharp suits were dropped for Highland dress and thanks to the backing of Glasgow theatrical agent Ross Bowie, the brothers took off in the direction of major success. Bowie introduced the brothers to legendary producer and songwriter Tony Hatch who took them to London and not only secured a recording contract with Pye Records, Hatch helped them to an appearance Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
Within a short time the boys had their own entertainment series on STV and, in 1964 released their first single for Pye Records, Nobody's Child. This 1949 Hank Snow country song about an orphan boy who never gets adopted because he is blind may have been so mawkish and perfect for a later parody by Billy Connolly, but it brought tears to the eyes of the nation's grannies, and made the Alexander Brothers household names.
In 1965, Andy Stewart, in his role as producer, invited the pair to tour Canada and the US with the likes of Stanley Baxter in the line-up.
It was a huge success and soon they were flying off for concerts in tours in New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong. Of playing the likes of New York's Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera House, Tom Alexander later reflected: "No' bad for two housepainters frae Lanarkshire."
Jack once said that the only disappointment in their long career came early on in the 1960s when, having played to packed houses in Dundee and Perth, they came to play to a local audience in Motherwell Town Hall - and the venue was half empty.
Yet, the brothers' success continued through the 1970s, going on to be awarded MBEs, peaking in the mid 1980s when the "White Heather Club" style of traditional Scottish entertainment became less popular.
Nevertheless, Jack and Tom carried on touring both at home and abroad until, with some 52 albums under their belt, they officially called it a day in 2012. Jack had already suffered a stroke and, despite making a partial recovery, was not fit enough to work.
Jack Alexander spent the final few months of his life quietly at home in Prestwick with his wife Lilian until he suffered a second stroke and was admitted to Ayr Hospital. He has two daughters from his first marriage.
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