Born: June 18, 1932;

Died: April 18, 2022.

STANLEY THOMSON, who has died aged 89, was one of Scottish music’s most colourful and versatile characters, about whom amusing anecdotes will circulate for years, writes John R Turner.

Though largely self-taught, he excelled as a pianist, organist, trombonist, accordionist, arranger, teacher and conductor, and in retirement was one of three former lecturers of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD, now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) to enjoy success making jewellery: he sold pendants, bangles, rings and Christening spoons at a stall he hired in the Barras, Glasgow.

His other leisure interests included magic tricks involving sleight of hand, the compilation of quotations, DIY, golf and bowls – in which he won many trophies.

He had owned 58 cars and three small yachts, which afforded varying degrees of adventure, and, occasionally, misadventure. Being a stickler for clarity of thought and speech, he would not hesitate to berate any accosting police officer who fell short in that regard – without penalty.

His was an intellect sharpened by lifelong study, acute observation and original thinking. In politics and philosophy he was radical but, thanks to an innate geniality and sense of humour, had friends of all persuasions.

A few friends and colleagues suspected his wide reading and endless curiosity – extending even to neuroscience – nourished a tendency to overestimate the novelty and value of various radical ideas and conclusions, but many were in accord with his general suspicion of authority and institutions and the malign psychology that too often pervades them. Mistrust and even truculence can be detected in some boyhood photographs, but there is also a pensive air and strikingly visionary eyes.

Stanley is chiefly remembered today for his visionary musical direction of the Savoy Opera Club (1963-1993), first at the Pavilion, then at the King’s, Glasgow.

At Coatbridge High after the war he became passionate about football and, already an accomplished cornet player, started the piano.

Much of his leisure time was occupied by Salvation Army band and choir practices, with four meetings every Sunday. During visits to his grandparents in Belfast he would play and sing by ear with the army, gladly accepting its laudable insistence on such adaptability, which was not always encouraged in “official” musical circles.

He formed a brass quartet and a male voice quartet, and accompanied soloists on the accordion. For the next six years he worked assiduously as an army officer in London and the South. But increasingly the organisation was alarmed by his enormous appetite for football, and he was irked by its military regime, rigid approach to doctrine (this being in the 1950s) and the requirement of a move every year.

So he enrolled as a student at the RSAMD, of which he said “there was no posing: everyone just got on with it”. He won good reports and supported his studies by playing in several bands, notably the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, and by serving as organist of Partick Congregational Church and Govan Old Parish.

By 1963, having taught briefly at Riverside School, Parkhead, he was head of music at Jordanhill College School with two choirs, a recorder group, a brass group and an orchestra, inspiring a remarkable number of students to pursue a professional career in music.

In 1968, he was appointed to the theory staff of the RSAMD, recording that “there was flexibility; the focus was on the students”; and happily his own focus was later to fall particularly on Janet, a gifted pianist/trombonist who became his wife.

The RSAMD’s move in 1987 to purpose-built premises in Renfrew Street brought what Thomson saw as “a new direction based on business models”, and he was content to opt for early retirement three years later. After the rude interruption of heart bypass surgery he returned as a part-time senior lecturer (1991-1997), developing the practical musicianship component of the new degree course.

In his middle years his programme of work was phenomenal. There were his full-time RSAMD job, Sunday duties as an organist plus weddings and funerals, and four or five evening rehearsals weekly with bands or choirs.

From 1970 he assisted the renowned Norman del Mar in conducting the Northern Junior Philharmonic Orchestra. For 36 years from 1972 he was conductor of celebrated bands, including Clydebank, Newmains & Johnstone.

In 1973 he became organist of Trinity Church Cambuslang, returning in 1990 to the historic Govan Old, where he introduced vocal soloists and enjoyed lively collaboration and debate with the inimitable minister, the Reverend Tom Davidson Kelly.

On the closure of Govan in 2007 he went to Glasgow Evangelical Church in Cathedral Square, which has a historic organ. Here he encountered, in the Orange connection, some of the doctrinal stance he had found uncongenial in the Salvation Army; but it says much for his broad sympathies and urbanity that he warmed to the life of the church and especially relished the whole-hearted hymn singing.

He remained sceptical about Christian belief in general but without a shred of antagonism.

At an interview for another church post he had been told, “we want a committed Christian”. Perceiving a tautology here, he asked how a committed Christian differed from a Christian. This disconcerted them; they had shown no interest anyway in his musical gifts and experience. He was not offered the post.

He made about 200 arrangements for the organ and played them at recitals in Kelvingrove Art Galleries.

Stanley was much loved by his extended family and many friends, generously sharing his skills and passing on his knowledge.

All who enjoyed his irrepressible sense of the humorous and comedic had also to recognise a serious, bold and insistent quest for “the meaning of life”. He came to believe there could be hope for the world in a closer association between the sciences and the humanities.

It might be added that even greater hope would spring from universal emulation of his own capacity to hold passionate disagreement in tandem with cordiality.

He is survived by Janet, his sister Kathleen, three children of his first marriage – Anne, Beverly and Moira – five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.