Billy Allardyce, who has died aged 68 of cancer, was a charismatic live performer and an event organiser who made a lasting contribution to popular music both in Scotland and internationally. Career highlights included the introduction of live rock music to Morocco and having a young Elton John play keyboards with his band.
As a long-term committee member of Dundee’s annual Blues Bonanza, he also played a major role in building and sustaining the summer weekend event, which is now one of the largest festivals of its kind in Europe. In 2007 he was inducted into the Tennessee-based Blues Hall of Fame as its Scottish ambassador.
Born in Aberdeen he was the son of part-time Aberdeen swing band leader William “Bunny” Allardyce and his wife Georgina. From primary school age he showed an aptitude for music, sometimes sitting in on stage with his father’s band; and he credited his love of blues music to listening to his father’s 78rpm shellac records when Allardyce senior played them to fellow band-members at home after gigs.
He won a scholarship to Robert Gordon’s College and later attended Robert Gordon College of Advanced Technology (now Robert Gordon University), where he attained a degree in electronics.
But music was in his genes; his grandfather had owned a dancehall, ran a school for Scottish country dance tuition and sometimes collaborated in composing tunes with J Scott Skinner, the famous Victorian fiddle maestro. In Edinburgh he met guitarist Johnny “Fats” Sutherland whose colleague, guitarist Stefan “Kos” Kocemba, teamed up with Allardyce to form a partnership first as Just Us, and then re-named as Gully Foyle, that lasted 46 years.
Following a residency in Klosters they realised there was a market for rock music in resort hotels elsewhere in Europe and so they headed for the delights of St Tropez and Marbella, which led them to Morocco. From Casablanca they ventured to Rabat, Agadir, Tangier, Marrakech, Kenitra and Fes, the first rock band to play there.
Regular Moroccan TV and radio airplay brought the band to the attention of Prince Moulay Abdellah, the younger brother of King Hassan II and they were ordered by royal decree to play at an engagement party at a country estate near Casablanca. With another residency already lined up, Allardyce initially refused until he was threatened with prison.
Taken under escort to the palatial venue, the band, which also included singer Jim Scott, rhythm-guitarist Pete Goldie and Swiss bassist Werner Frolich, found themselves on a bill that included French superstars Johnny Hallyday and Francoise Hardy.
When it came to talking money at the end of the command performance, Allardyce based his concept of a fee roughly on what he guessed were the French singers’ terms and the prince’s aide paid out without question.
Back in Scotland the band was brought to the attention of Bob Halfin, a Jewish veteran of the Spanish Civil War’s International Brigade and a radio song plugger for London publishing house Campbell Connelly, which needed fresh song-writing talent and was looking to launch a record label.
Working in a West End recording studio they found themselves in session with Elton John on keyboards. The band also played in London’s legendary Marquee Club and did a live session for DJ John Peel’s BBC radio show.
Frolich returned to Switzerland and was replaced by Robbie Manson, a bassist from Thurso, and it was he who suggested Gully Foyle as a replacement name. Campbell Connelly’s Concord Records label failed and back in the north-east the band featured on Grampian TV’s first pop show and also performed the first-ever rock show in the Uists, at Balavanich Gym, the social centre of Benbecula.
Then Jim Scott left, so the band advertised for a singer in the Evening Times. A stocky red-headed Glasgow teenager named Jim Diamond was recruited for a European tour. At one gig in France they had to replace bill toppers Deep Purple after the heavy rockers ran into problems with their paperwork. They also toured with Procol Harum, of A Whiter Shade of Pale fame. Diamond, who swore that musically these were the best years of his life, went on to have massive hits with I Won’t Let You Down, I Should Have Known Better and the Boon TV series theme song Hi-Ho Silver.
Back in Aberdeen, Allardyce signed up for an electronics degree course at Robert Gordon’s College of Advanced Technology, which led him to a senior job with Panasonic. But he kept on gigging part-time with Kocemba and others, mainly in electric or acoustic blues bands, being occasionally joined on stage by Diamond or Robbie Manson when they were back in Scotland and bassist and singer Dave “Barrelhouse” Blair, who was a playing partner for the past 15-years.
In recent years their blues band Papa Mojo has been active over most of Scotland; their Hell on a Blues Train LP was well received in America. Allardyce chose The Blind Man as his electronic pen-name, which is the title of a traditional Delta blues song made famous by Muddy Waters.
Friends say it took a superhuman effort for him to perform his last concert at Dundee Blues Bonanza; Scots blues fans are still raving over superb Chicago artiste Dietra Farr, whom he persuaded to top the bill at the Dundee event in 2011.
Twice-married, Billy Allardyce leaves his partner Lorraine Linden and his grown-up family of Hazel, Adam, Dawn and Aaron.