Bob Heatlie

Born: July 20, 1946;

Died: April 8, 2023

Bob Heatlie, who has died aged 76, was a songwriter and producer whose works topped the charts several times over. His first number one came in 1981 with Japanese Boy, an oriental-tinged one-hit wonder by the kimono-clad Aneka, who in actuality was Edinburgh folk singer Mary Sandeman. Heatlie went on to score the 1985 Christmas number one for Shakin’ Stevens with the Dave Edmunds-produced Merry Christmas Everyone.

Japanese Boy came about after Heatlie had recorded several folk albums with Sandeman, who declared her desire to sing a pop song, and encouraged Heatlie to write one for her. Heatlie resisted this, putting off writing anything despite several reminders. When Sandeman booked studio time, Heatlie’s hand was forced, and he stitched several lyrics from previous works around the chorus of what became Japanese Boy.

With Sandeman recast as Aneka, her recording of the song was eventually released on the German Hansa label, which had released Boney M's early records. In August 1981, Japanese Boy went to number 1 in the UK, and became a hit all over Europe and beyond, topping the charts in Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland.

Merry Christmas Everyone had originally been recorded in 1984, with its release put back a year to make way for Band Aid’s charity single Do They Know It’s Christmas? The gesture paid off, and the record went triple platinum, becoming a Christmas staple.

Robert Raymond Heatlie was born at Elsie Inglis Maternity Hospital, Edinburgh, to Thomas Heatlie and Elizabeth Brossel. The couple had met in Brossel’s native Belgium when Heatlie was stationed there with the Army during World War II. Thomas returned to Scotland with Elizabeth at the end of the war, and lived in Craigmillar.

Heatlie grew up in Wauchope Place, and attended Craigmillar Primary School and Niddrie Marischal High School. His father was a saxophone player, and Heatlie began learning to play from the age of seven. Aged 15, he took up the drums, and started doing gigs around town with his father and an accordion player, Tommy Cassidy.

He went on to learn keyboards and flute, and during the 1960s and 1970s played in numerous bands. These included This N That, The Prezure, Rockin Chair, The Memphis Roadshow, The Odd Couple (with David Valentine) and, at Tiffany’s on St Stephen Street in Edinburgh, The Band of Gold. Around 1975, he started to do session work around three Edinburgh recording studios, REL Studios, Hart Street Studios & Palladium Studios. In 1977 he turned professional, and signed to EMI Music Publishing.

In 1979 Heatlie joined Scottish power pop band, The Headboys. Originally known as Badger, by the time Heatlie joined on keyboards and sax, the band had released two singles before being picked up by Robert Stigwood’s RSO label. With future record producer Calum Malcolm also in the band, The Headboys toured the UK and Europe with Wishbone Ash, and reached the lower edges of the charts with The Shape of Things to Come / The Mood I’m In (1979). This saw them appear on Top of the Pops. A self-titled album, produced by Peter Ker, followed. Lack of chart success with four follow-up singles saw the band split the following year.

In 2013, interest in The Headboys was sparked by the appearance of The Lost Album. Released by the American Pop Detective label, the record featured ten tracks recorded for what was supposed to be the second Headboys album, but which had remained unreleased. The Lost Album was dedicated to the band’s drummer, Davy Ross, who had died in 2010.

With Japanese Boy selling more than four and a half million copies, the song’s success opened doors for Heatlie. For Cliff Richard, he wrote Locked Inside Your Prison (1983), opening side two of Richard’s 25th anniversary Silver album. Heatlie’s working relationship with Shakin’ Stevens began with Cry Just a Little Bit (1983), which went to number three. Two years later the song was covered in America by Country singer Sylvia on her album, One Step Closer. Released as the album’s second single, it reached number nine in the American Country charts, and number eight in Canada’s equivalent.

Heatlie continued to write for Stevens, with Breaking Up My Heart (1985) reaching number 14 in the charts, while Woman (What have You Done to Me?) (1988) appeared on Stevens’ A Whole Lotta Shaky album. In 1992, Stevens went to number 37 with Radio, co-written by Heatlie with Gordon Campbell.

From 1967 to 1999, Heatlie was married to Mary Davie, and they had two sons, Bobby junior and Michael. Heatlie had a third son, David, with Hungarian singer Eva Csepregi.

Heatlie went on to compose for television, beginning with children’s animation, The Trap Door (1986). With David Pringle, he composed the theme tunes for This Morning (1988), Wheel of Fortune (1988), Scotsport (1990) and children’s game show, Fun House (1994). He composed for many more children’s animations, including Percy The Park Keeper (1996), and Kipper (1997). He also did the music for the original pilot episode of Bob the Builder (1997). Other theme tunes included Professor Bubble (2000), Little Robots (2003-2005) and Sheeep (2001-2001).

Later songwriting credits include Do You Wanna Party (1994) a club hit by DJ Scott featuring Lorna B, and Talk to Me (2020), a co-write with KT Tunstall, recorded by Finnish symphonic metal band, Apocalyptica, featuring Lzzy Hale of American band, Halestorm.

Merry Christmas Everyone was re-recorded by Stevens in 2015 in a folk and bluegrass style for a charity single in collaboration with the Salvation Army. Closer to home, five years earlier, Heatlie joined Edinburgh baroque pop band Aberfeldy at their Liquid Rooms show on saxophone and backing vocals for a seasonal cover of the song. What has become a Christmas classic sounded as fresh as when it first topped the charts.

Heatlie is survived by his three sons, Bobby and Michael, with his first wife, Mary, and David, with Eva Csepregi. He is also survived by his granddaughter, Charlie, his sisters, Mary Anne and Lilian, a half-brother, Cosmo, and half-sister, Tina, and nine nieces and nephews.