THE death of John Calder during this year’s Edinburgh Festival occasioned looking back to an era when he was a pivotal figure, particularly as a publisher. His inheritance of Ledlanet House at the eastern end of the Ochil Hills also led to it becoming an arts venue, particularly for song recitals and small-scale opera, in the 1960s. That was long before I was writing about the arts, but older colleagues have suggested that Ledlanet Nights were a special addition to the cultural calendar of Scotland at the time.

One of those was Conrad Wilson, whose memory was also being invoked during the Festival with the publication of a small book of interviews with him conducted by his neighbour, former head of music at Edinburgh Napier University Philip Sawyer, in the year before his death last November.

Although the bulk of Conrad’s career as a highly-respected music critic was spent at The Scotsman, he spent the years from 1991 until ill-health forced him to retire writing for The Herald, during the bulk of which I was nominally his boss, an idea that seems even more ridiculous with hindsight than it did at the time.

The launch of the slim volume from The Hardie Press was appropriately at the refurbished St Cecilia’s Hall, just off the Cowgate, and a fine opportunity to catch up with former colleagues. I owe Conrad a huge debt for the generosity with which he shared his knowledge. It is in the nature of covering the arts – even and especially in the hothouse of Edinburgh in August – that critics on the same newspaper rarely see one another, because they are necessarily at different events. (One of the side-benefits of The Herald Angel awards has been that we have to make appointments to do exactly that in order to make recommendations and decisions about the weekly winners.)

From the start of Conrad’s relationship with The Herald, however, he made a point of meeting me for lunch at some point during the Festival when our dairies would allow. This was always a highlight of the month for me, because as well as being hugely knowledgeable about music, Conrad was also extremely well-informed about food, and particularly food from Italy, a country he knew well, and whose cuisine he could recreate expertly at home. Over lunch at one of the capital’s finest Italian restaurants, where he was always clearly a familiar and favoured customer, much was added to my store of information about the Festival, which Conrad had first attended, as a schoolboy, in its inaugural year.

As was said at St Cecilia’s Hall, it is a great shame that Conrad did not write a memoir. As well as the vast archive of journalism, he left us a fine biography of Puccini, and the official records of the RSNO, Scottish Opera and the founder of the latter and transformational conductor of the former, Alexander Gibson. An autobiographical record of his concert-attending and tour and festival-chronicling would have been a valuable resource for all of those interested in the development of the arts in Scotland.

Philip Sawyer’s records of their chats, the first few of which Conrad had seen and approved, is therefore especially to be welcomed, with its memories of Ledlanet Nights, opera performances in Wexford and Verona as well as Edinburgh, famous names at the Festival and tours abroad with Scotland’s orchestras – as well as of an earlier, and very different, era of Scottish journalism.

The Hardie Press is primarily known for its volumes of and about traditional and early Scottish music, a couple of which I have, although no-one will ever hear me attempt to play their contents. By contrast, the tales in Conrad’s conversations, his amanuensis may be assured, are likely to be referred to often.

A Life in Music, Conrad Wilson in conversation with Philip Sawyer, The Hardie Press, £11.95.