Born: May 31, 1946;

Died: May 20, 2020.

MICHAEL TUMELTY, who has died aged 73, was an influential writer on classical music who served as The Herald’s critic on the subject for nearly 30 years. Passionate, popular and deeply knowledgeable, his weighty and witty insights attracted the loyalty and love of readers, the admiration of other writers, and the respect of musicians. It was a rare combination.

One of his great skills as a writer was to reveal his vast knowledge, experience and hinterland without ever showing off. He proved being learned is not the same as being snobbish. Performers also respected his writing even though he would criticise them when he thought he needed to. And he was passionate: his praise, or criticism, always came from the same source: his love of classical music.

That love had come to him early in life from his historian father, James (his mother, Isabelle, was a teacher), although it would take Michael a while to find his musical niche. He was born in Jarrow but moved with his family to Scotland when his father took a job at Glasgow University.

Michael was sent to St Aloysius’ College in Glasgow but it was not a happy time: known as “Titch” because of his size, the strict regime brought out the rebel in him. He would often bunk off to go to the pictures, and left school at 16 without any O-levels.

At first, he considered a career in the Merchant Navy and trained to be a radio operator at James Watt College before returning to education and studying for Highers at Langside College, then music at Aberdeen University. He later trained as a teacher, working at St Columba’s High, Clydebank. Former pupils remembered his popular style and patience – qualities that re-emerged when he was coaching his sons, Andrew and Adam, in the piano.

His first dip into journalism was writing music reviews for the Jewish Echo and the Daily Telegraph’s northern edition; he was then tipped off that The Glasgow Herald, as it was known then, was looking for a new classical writer. He arrived in 1983: he self-evidently had the knowledge needed for the job but his brief was to bring passion to it, too. He fulfilled the brief in style.

Often, his words were informal – performances were “gigs” and the orchestra was the “band” – and he was just as interested in the colour and atmosphere of a gig as in the minutiae of the music. If there was a heckler, it went into the review; if there was a technical problem, that would be in there too.

His aim was to tell “the story of the night” and, although promoters and public relations people were sometimes upset, readers loved it. They also relished the fact he was never intimidated by a musician’s fame or status. His review of a Glasgow concert by Pavarotti, for instance, was critical of the long delays between songs and the sound quality.

He also accused Sir Yehudi Menuhin of phoning in a performance, prompting a fan of the violinist’s to phone Michael and tell him, “I hope your next review will be your last!”

Mostly though, even when he was being critical, readers and performers respected his reviews, and the erudition wrapped up in an informal style. Daniel Pollitt, former press officer of the RSNO, sums it up well: “His intellectual acuity continually got the better of me and for that he will forever be known by me as the Columbo of arts journalism. He also had the coat.”

Michael’s charisma attracted the attention of the novelist Jilly Cooper, who turned him into a character in her novel, Appassionata. He had success as a presenter of pre-concert talks and public interviews and as a broadcaster; he was a weekly contributor to Mr Anderson’s Fine Tunes and Grace Notes on Radio Scotland for many years. But his reputation was founded on his stylish, colourful writing and his ability to sum up a performance and have fun with it, too. One review of a Dvorak Seventh Symphony compared it to a badger’s bottom – “pungent but messy”.

In recent years, after he stopped reviewing CDs, Michael didn’t listen to much music at home because he said he didn’t need to – most of it was, he said, without being pretentious and tapping his head, “in here” and there whenever he wanted to listen to it. He pruned his collection but did keep his CDs of Sibelius who, with Beethoven, was his favourite composer.

In later years, he endured a number of health problems, beginning with the diagnosis of a brain tumour in 2004 (when the twins were three months old) but he was straight back in action just days after surgery.

The tumour appeared to recur less than a year later when he became very ill and had to undergo surgery a second time. This time, he was in hospital for three months, during which he worked out new ways to write his column, composing the whole thing in his head before writing a single word. He retired from The Herald in 2011.

Away from music, Michael didn’t have many hobbies – work and his hobbies were the same thing – but he did love what he called “bad movies”, with lots of action and explosions. He loved movie music and once led a conga-line rendition of the theme from The Great Escape in The Herald’s smoking room.

Michael, who died of a heart attack at home, is survived by five children: Paul, Catherine and Anthony (from his marriage to Frances, from whom he separated in 1995), and twins Adam and Andrew (from his relationship with former long-term partner Alison Kerr) and two grandchildren.