Allan Ross, Musician, Sculptor, Painter
Born, September 13th 1940; died September 5th 2011.
Without Allan Ross, who has died after a long illness aged 70, this
newspaper's Herald Angel awards, which are given weekly throughout
Edinburgh's August festival season, would be infinitely less colourful.
Because the numerous winged statuettes, lovingly created by Ross in all
their fragile, sepulchral glory alongside the Archangel, Little Devil
and Wee Cherub Awards, are works of art in themselves which have become
treasured by those gifted them, even if they might not always be aware
of the modest, gentle giant of a man who created them.
It's unlikely too, that they would make the connection with Ross as the
fiddler extraordinaire in the 7:84 company's original 1973 production
of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, John McGrath's
legendary ceilidh-play, which told Scotland's real story through an
array of loose-knit popular theatrical forms, and which more or less
reinvented modern Scottish drama as we know it. Anyone who saw the
television version of the show, filmed on location for the BBC's Monday
night Play For Today strand in 1974 while touring Highland village
halls, will recognise Ross as a charismatic, red-bearded figure, whose
playing was emotive and expressive, both during the play's incidental
music, and when leading the dance band, The Force Ten Gaels, who played
after every performance.
Music wasn't Ross' only contribution to this seminal work. He built the
famous pop-up book set painted by John Byrne, and even drove the
company transit van, that quintessential symbol of small-scale touring
theatre in the 1970s. Like many of the Cheviot cast, including John
Bett and Bill Paterson, Ross had appeared in The Great Northern Welly
Boot Show, a similarly styled piece of grassroots popular theatre that
retained a radical edge, and which made Billy Connolly a star.
Be it as a performer, designer or builder, Ross' presence in both shows
marked a career that would see him transverse several generations of
theatre and spectacle that mixed the popular and the radical, from work
with David MacLennan's 7:84 breakaway pop music theatre company,
Wildcat, through to Communicado's Gerry Mulgrew and Angus Farquhar's
pre NVA percussive provocateurs Test Department. Ross also built the
first set of swings for site-specific experts Grid Iron's original
production of their adventure playground set hit, Decky Does A Bronco.
While born in London, Ross was of Ayrshire descent, and his mother was
a violin virtuoso who exposed her two sons to Celtic folk music from an
early age. Ross studied at Central School of Art before setting up an
interior design business. Moving to Scotland in the early 1970s in
search of his roots, Ross quickly became involved with 7:84, and the
Beyond more formal theatre, Ross built the Viking longboats that led
Edinburgh's Hogmanay procession to Calton Hill, where they were burnt.
The elemental nature of the event appealed to Ross, who so much
resembled an actual Viking he could have been captain of all those
boats. Which, in a way, he was. Ross also built the giant clock-tower
for Libera Me, Gerry Mulgrew's outdoor spectacular that saw in the new
millennium on the capital's George Street with a feat of human
engineering that saw the clock operated by a troupe of aerialists.
One of Ross' most recent projects was a gypsy caravan, which he built
from scratch using the chassis' of two cars he found in a scrapyard.
This wasn't done for anything specific, but purely for fun and to
exercise the full extent of his inventiveness and craftsmanship, which,
as with everything he touched, he put his heart and soul into.
Beyond his work, family was at the heart of Ross' life. Two daughters,
Emily and Aeola, and a son, Barney, from his first marriage to Paddy
Graham, survive him, as do five grand-children, his brother, Jim, and
his step-son Oli. Ross' second marriage, to film producer Penny
Thomson, ended after thirty years when she died in 2007. In 2008 Ross
met Sally Freedman, who he married in 2009 in what was to be a brief
but blissfully happy union.
Ross' art and family came together in what turned out to be his final
performance when he played alongside Freedland at the 3 Harbours Arts
Festival at Cockenzie House, Cockenzie, in June of this year. Extending
his legacy even further, Ross worked closely with Oli making this
year's collection of Herald Angels, passing the baton to a younger
generation of makers, who can be eternally inspired by Ross' celestial
A memorial service for Allan Ross will be held at 4pm today at
Warriston Crematorium, Edinburgh, and afterwards at Victoria Park House
Hotel, 221 Ferry Road, Edinburgh.
The Herald, September 12th 2011