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Danny Kyle was the irrepressible funny man of folk who also maintained a strong commitment to nurturing the grassroots of the music, encouraging fresh talent and bringing his own brand of zany lunacy to many a festival. His memory is preserved in the most fitting manner – by the Danny Kyle Open Stage at Celtic Connections, which provides a showcase for emerging singers and musicians.
An exuberantly teddy-bearish presence, inevitably sporting a loud tie and topped by a tourie or Balmoral bunnet, Danny was a familiar and much welcomed character at festivals from Ballyshannon in Ireland to Tønder in Denmark. Despite his rovings, he remained a dedicated Paisley Buddy, living there all his days and involved in reviving the town’s traditional Sma’ Shot celebrations
Born in the town’s McKerral Street in 1939, Danny was one of four children and had a strict Roman Catholic upbringing. He attended St Mirren Academy, where he became friendly with the painter and playwright John Byrne. On leaving school, he served an apprenticeship as a panel beater with the engineering company Babcocks in Renfrew, but, having finished his time, he decided, much to his mother’s dismay, that wanted to pursue a life in folk music.
While his mother and three sisters emigrated to the United States, the 1960s saw the errant son embark on his folk music career – as well as marrying his wife, Helen, with whom, along with Davie and Myra Spiers and Helen Guilderson, he established Paisley’s Attic Folk Club. One of his earliest songs commemorated Paisley’s Glen Cinema disaster of 1929, the worst cinema fire in British history, when 69 children died. It featured on a live album recorded at the Attic during the early Sixties.
It was during these initial years on the folk scene that he met two then unknown performers who would become lifelong friends – Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty. Connolly became godfather to Danny’s son, Rikki, and also provided a sleeve-note dedication for the first of his two albums, Ah’ll Get Ye, released on Pan Audio in 1975. “”One night ten years ago,” Connolly recalled in his notes, “I was an Italian-suited welder going out for a pint. Purely by chance I stumbled or staggered into a folk song club in Clydebank. The guest was Danny Kyle and I must state here and now that I have never been the same since.”
The album featured a characteristic mixture of humorous and serious songs, some delivered solo, others with accompaniments by the duo who made a name for themselves as Gallagher and Lyle, while elsewhere he was joined by the zany skiffle band he was playing in, the Vindscreen Vipers, with bluesman Mike Whellans, Tich Frier and Bill Nolan.
Danny wouldn’t make another album for 23 years – Heroes & Soft Targets, on Iona Records, which sadly didn’t come out until just after his death in 1998.
During the interval between the two recordings, Danny became a weel-kent figure at folk festivals, his favourites being Marymass in Irvine, which he played faithfully for more than 30 years, Stonehaven and, furth of Scotland, Ballyshannon in Donegal and Denmark’s Tønder. When his health started to deteriorate in the Nineties, he became involved in organising some festivals, including Killin and Isle of Bute.
Performers and punters alike remember the many, often surreal Kyle ploys at these events, not least Dick Gaughan who, on his website, recalls: “The stories … are legion. Every year at Irvine Festival, Danny pulled a stunt, stunts of superb creativity and deviousness, beautifully planned and executed. Everyone knew he would be pulling something and everyone stayed alert to spot it coming and everyone always missed it until it happened.”
Gaughan stresses, however, that “there was so much more to him than the comedian and spreader of mayhem, as any of the singers and musicians who benefited from his support and encouragement can testify. He is irreplaceable.”
Danny was also a well known voice on BBC Radio Scotland, assisting Archie Fisher for many years on Travelling Folk, sometimes sabotaging the proceedings with a well-aimed pun. He was also heavily involved in reviving Paisley’s traditional Sma’ Shot Day celebrations in 1986. The event’s origins lie in a 19th century victory won by Paisley’s weavers over employers, who were refusing to reimburse them for the fine cotton thread – the “sma’ shot” – used in making the famous Paisley shawls.
At festivals, Danny frequently established what he called Geezabreak clubs, to encourage emerging performers. During the early years of Glasgow’s mighty Celtic Connections festival, he continued this with his Open Stage spot. Since his death, the Danny Kyle Open Stage has continued yearly at the festival, providing a fittingly commemorative platform for fresh talent and helping launch the careers of such notables as singer-songwriter Karine Polwart, fiddler Adam Sutherland and Orcadian band The Chair.
Danny’s health took a turn for the worse in 1998 while he was in Canada attending a Folk Alliance conference. He died in Paisley on 5 July that year, just four weeks after his son, Rikki, had taken him to his final folk festival, at Killin. His funeral was suitably flamboyant, with the coffin being preceded by a jazz band, New Orleans-style.
Ten years later, the anniversary of his passing was marked by a memorial concert in Paisley town Hall – appropriately at the end of the Sma’ Shot celebrations he’d help revive, when a videoed message from Billy Connolly, unable to attend in person, was played. Three of the acts performing at the concert had collected “Dannys” at Celtic Connections, perpetuating the wee man’s unquenchable enthusiasm for bringing on the next generation.
Text kindly borrowed from https://projects.handsupfortrad.scot/hall-of-fame/danny-kyle/
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