Colin Somerville, broadcaster and journalist

Born: October 20, 1957;

Died: May 14, 2020.

SEVEN years ago, having retired as a college lecturer, Colin Somerville was asked by a Scottish media website to list the 10 records that meant the most to him.

His choices included artists as diverse as the Allman Brothers, Lorraine Ellison, Prince, Jackie Leven and Captain Beefheart: together, they testified to his high-profile career and his lifelong love of music.

For Prince, for example, he recalled being sent to the musician’s Paisley Park studio complex in Minnesota prior to a concert in Edinburgh. “It was a hoot, but seeing him playing to an exclusive audience of less than a hundred people at 3am will live on with this jaded cynic for a very long time”.

When it came to the Clash – “the best rock band ever” – he had seen them at Aberdeen University Student Union in 1977. Years later, he had met Joe Strummer, the band’s singer and guitarist, when he was DJ-ing backstage at T in the Park, at Strathclyde Park. Strummer “invited me back to the campsite for a party. Didn’t go, a regret ever since”.

When it came to the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, he reminisced about hearing their music in Glasgow’s old Listen music shop, with its “aircraft seats and headphones”.

Somerville, who has died at the age of 62, was an indefatigable and remarkably knowledgeable fan of music, a passion he latterly conveyed to students on the Creative Industries course at Fife College.

During his long career he was a prominent figure at Radio Forth, where he spent 15 years. He also contributed music features to The Herald, was a presenter with the BBC, wrote for the Edinburgh Evening News, The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday, and also worked at the radio station, Scot FM, in the 1990s.

Between 2006 and 2012, he was a member of this paper's reviewing team at the Edinburgh Festivals, covering Fringe comedy with a keen eye for new talent as well as incisive criticism of established acts, and making recommendations for the Herald Angel awards. In the fetid atmosphere of the capital in August, he took a delight in not being swayed by publicity hype, and recognising acts with the promise of a sustained career.

Colin Somerville was born in Comrie, Perthshire, in October 1957, to William and Jacqueline, who ran a local hair salon. He was educated at Christ’s Hospital in Horsham, West Sussex (he was once photographed playing the drums in the school marching band), and from a young age he decided to become a journalist. He was writing concert reviews for an Edinburgh newspaper at 15 and, like hundreds of hopefuls before and since, went to study journalism, at Napier College, in Edinburgh.

In 1979 he started working as a trainee news reporter at Radio Forth. At one point he was invited to take over a local music show, which he eventually made his own. The music coverage was steadily expanded; one of the new shows, Forth Street, was originally presented by Somerville with Muriel Gray. He also become the station’s music controller.

He interviewed many celebrities during his time at Forth, among them August Darnell, otherwise known as Kid Creole. The pair of them once went into the well-known Edinburgh pub, Mather’s, with Darnell resplendent in a full zoot-suit, says Neil Cooper, an arts writer on The Herald.

Adds Cooper: “Colin was a mighty broadcaster and writer, whose musical antennae was genius. He got me into the Edinburgh Evening News to do theatre reviews in the late 1990s when he was running the arts and entertainments page, and became a mate who got me into more scrapes than I can remember.

“He was wonderfully deadpan, witheringly cynical and glorious company, with a story about anyone and everyone. He taught me a ton. Listening to war stories of Edinburgh’s music scene in the 1980s, or else ear-wigging in on him doing a phone interview with someone, was an education”.

For the Herald Somerville wrote album reviews and music features, his knowledge and his passion on full display, and he also reviewed comedy shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

David Belcher, formerly a rock and pop music writer on the Herald, says: “He was enormously knowledgeable about music and comedy, and about most things. He was very wise and enthusiastic, and great fun to be around”. He recalls going to Moscow for a weekend on a promotional trip, along with Somerville and a planeload of other journalists, to see the Scottish band, Big Country.

“I would meet him periodically at various events, and he was the calm man at the centre of any storm that might be going on, for example when you were trying to get your name on a guest-list or retrieve your guest-list tickets.”

Somerville, who had a golden retriever named Iggy, after the colourful rock singer, Iggy Pop, was an enthusiastic reader of such writers as Hunter S. Thompson, Iain Banks and Ian Rankin; he loved cooking but was “rubbish at DIY”, says his son, Joe, who adds, “He was very interested in people and their stories”. He passed on his love of sport to Joe’s brother, Jake, and his love of music and comedy to Joe and his sister, Rachel. Before his untimely death he was able to meet his granddaughter, Norah, who is now 14 months.

Colin, who was twice married, contracted early-onset dementia several years ago, was being cared for at Manor Grange Care Home, Edinburgh. Recently it was reported that Fife College is planning to create a scholarship for new and emerging radio talent in his memory.

Dougi McMillan, director of the Faculty of Creative Industries at the college, described Colin as “very well respected, knowledgeable and connected throughout broadcasting, publishing ...the radio students and his colleagues alike adored him, all his life stories, anecdotes and laughter”.