Jack Alexander: Singer and pianist who with his brother Tom formed one of the best-loved Scottish musical acts of the last 50 years


Jack Alexander was the singer and pianist with the Alexander Brothers, the duo he formed with his elder brother Tom. They were two of Scotland’s best-loved entertainers, and during a career lasting five decades they toured the world with their versions of traditional Scottish songs, releasing more than 50 albums.

Alexander was born in Cambusnethan, North Lanarkshire, in 1935. The boys’ love of music came from their mother Helen, who sang and played piano. Their father Jimmy worked at the local steelworks and was determined to encourage his sons musical abilities. Jack started playing piano at the age of 11 and together with his sister Betty and brother Tom performed at church concerts and parties. Tom remembered evening performances at local working men’s clubs: “These clubs were always tough to crack and if they didn’t like you, they’d waste no time in letting you know. These were hard men who worked even harder for their money and if they felt you weren’t giving them value for their money, there was no mercy.”

The brothers’ first and only experience of working together outside music had been as apprentices with a painting and decorating company in Motherwell. However, in 1958 when Alexander returned from national service with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, the pair decided to try their luck as full-time musicians and secured a season at the Webster Theatre in Arbroath, in June of that year.

They had initially appeared on stage in suits, playing rock and roll, until a comic on the same bill suggested that with a change of style and sound they might find their own niche. Playing traditional Scottish music on piano and accordion, and dressed in kilts, the pair became a hit in clubs across Scotland.

Their big break came in 1962, when the songwriter and producer Tony Hatch saw them perform at the Metropolitan Theatre in London's Edgware Road, and suggested that they record an album. Hatch, who had begun his career working with Petula Clark, immediately understood the potential for an act playing traditional Scottish tunes.

He told The Independent: “Their manager Ross Bowie called the MD of Pye, Louis Benjamin, and said they had this great singing act. I was very happy to work with these Scottish boys. We could only work on a Sunday because they were so busy the rest of the time. They were so easy to work with and so well-rehearsed. They would come into the studio and we would record 16 tracks in just four hours.” Their first album, Highland Fling, was recorded in London, and included favourites such as “A Scottish Soldier” and “Scotland the Brave”, becoming an enormous success.

The brothers’ considerable experience working live was a boon to these sessions. “The great thing was they had a natural feel for what was good,” said Hatch. A lot of the songs we had been recording had already been tried out on stage. They had a huge following in London as well, so when we later recorded a live album we invited London Scottish fans along.” Hatch added with a smile that the largest expense for that session was the bar bill.

They followed the success of Highland Fling with the single “Nobody’s Child”, which topped the charts in Scotland in 1964, outselling the Beatles that year. The song, written by Cy Coben and Mel Foree, tells the story of a young orphan: “Just like a flower I’m growing wild / No mommy’s kisses and no daddy’s smiles / Nobody wants me, I’m nobody’s child”.

The following year, inspired by the reception of the single, Andy Stewart invited the brothers to tour with him in Canada and the US. By now they had their own show on STV and had become a mainstay of The White Heather Club, the yearly televised Hogmanay celebrations. Their music took them on tour worldwide over the next 40 years, including what they considered the high point of their career, performing at the Sydney Opera House.

To celebrate the Alexander Brothers’ 50th anniversary in 2008, they released an album and toured worldwide. Leslie Melville, the Provost of Arbroath, where they had first played professionally half a century before, said at a special presentation, “As well as proving superb entertainment to many generations of Scottish people, in the intervening half-century, brothers Tom and Jack have taken their act to most points on the globe and have been fantastic ambassadors for Scotland and Scottish music across the world.”

When the pair retired last year, Tom said, “People had started asking us if we were a tribute act to ourselves.” Jack said at the time, “We have been lucky enough to have a tremendous career and we want to go out on top. There are so many of our old friends that have gone now, such as Rikki Fulton and Jack Milroy, and you just want to have some time to slow down and spend with family. “  

Jack Alexander, musician: born Cambusnethan, North Lanarkshire 11 November 1935; MBE 2005; married firstly (two daughters), secondly Lilian Welsh; died Ayr 2 November 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
election 2015
Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates his goal for Real Madrid against Juventus
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
voicesArmando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Fans take a selfie with Ed Miliband in Kempston, near Bedford, on Tuesday
election 2015
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Guru Careers: Project Manager / Business Analyst

£40-50k + Benefits.: Guru Careers: A Project Manager / Business Analyst is nee...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power