Acknowledgements:This tribute to Will Starr has been prepared by a son of Kilsyth. It has been done with the unstinting support of, and in collaboration with, Will Starr's surviving family members.
Many friends, acquaintances and fans of Will Starr have also contributed in various other ways.
Without the valuable assistance of all these people, this tribute would not have been possible. A huge debt of gratitude is due to all of them.
Care has been taken, wherever possible, to verify the accuracy of the content. However, if anything should appear incorrect or incomplete, please contact me with details.
Introduction:Will Starr is still acknowledged as Scotland's best virtuoso accordion player of all time. He absorbed and learned much about music by listening to Kilsyth Salvation Army Band and the local Croy Silver Band with whom he often played. He taught himself to read and write music, to play the piano and the cornet.
He was a very successful composer, arranger, stage, radio and TV performer and recording artist. His musical range extended across the full spectrum, from traditional Scottish song, dance and pipe music, to the expressive French Musette music (see a list of some of the musette pieces he recorded), to classical music (it was not widely known how good he was in classical mode).
His stage presence, showmanship and sense of fun during live performances was infectious and at times hilarious, yet his virtuosity on the accordion was truly astounding. To demonstrate this sense of fun and his rasping baritone voice, he actually made a record for Parlophone singing a song called 'Croy Hill' - once heard, this is a 'singing performance' not ever to be forgotten.
During his performances, Will Starr usually played standing-up. However, due to the lower spine injury he had sustained in a car crash, he later developed cancer of the spine. It was during remission at a performance with 'The Royal Clansmen' in St Andrews, Scotland, that he was finally compelled to play sitting on a high stool.
Will Starr, to this day, has continued to be a real inspiration to generations of accordion players and his playing excellence on the 3-row button accordion is still considered among aficionados to be unsurpassed.
Some of the accolades bestowed on Will Starr by his fans, his peers and many respected commentators included:
- so said Ronnie Coburn MBE, Will's fellow performer, manager and long-time friend.
- Accolade by Jimmy Logan
- this was perhaps the greatest accolade paid to him during his whole life and was paid by Sir Jimmy Shand MBE MA, the famous Scottish Dance Band leader, show business contemporary, and long-time friend.
Will Starr was greatly influenced throughout his life by Toralf Tollefsen (1914-1994), the world famous Norwegian concert accordionist. The Scottish tenor, Robert Wilson, with whom he often performed, also greatly inspired him and remained his firm friend throughout life. As a mark of their long-standing friendship and very successful working relationship, Will Starr wrote a song, 'The Robert Wilson Waltz' in his name.
For all his fame, Will Starr remained a humble man who loved to walk in the country around his home town of Croy, or to sit quietly at home watching television with his family. In deference to his neighbours, Will rarely practised the accordion at home - preferring to practice while on tour.
Throughout his life he continued to live with his family among his friends in the mining community of Croy where he was born. The local children in Croy recognised him, not only as a celebrity, but as someone who loved children. Whenever they spotted him in the street they would run after him and walk beside him, just to be close to the great man.
In 1952 he was presented at a civic dinner with the freedom of Chilliwack and was made Honorary Mayor of Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.
Will lived in an era when it was fashionable to smoke and he became a very heavy smoker, his preference in cigarettes being 'Capstan Full Strength' or 'Woodbine'. He also was a heavy drinker and later became an alcoholic. Neither he nor his family concealed his alcoholism from the public, but on the death of his mother in 1970, Will stopped drinking and remained teetotal for the last six years of his life.
A song entitled, 'The Old Button Box', was written in tribute to Will. The verses and chorus are interspersed with music drawn from his most famous composition, 'The Jacqueline Waltz'. The words of this song are thought by his family to be an accurate reflection of Will's life. The song was first recorded by the 'Alexander Brothers' and later was featured on a video produced by the Irish singing duo, 'Foster and Allen'
Another composition in his name, 'LAMENT FOR WILL STARR', a Slow Air in C Minor, was written by Angus Fitchet, the Dundee born Scottish country dance band leader and highly accomplished fiddler.
In 1978, Jim Gibson, an exiled Scot in Leicester set-up 'THE WILL STARR SOCIETY OF GREAT BRITAIN' as a memorial to Will. As well as honouring Will Starr, the Society's objectives were to promote a wider interest in the accordion and to encourage aspiring young accordion players. Branches of the Society were established in Scotland and England.
The Starrs FamilyWilliam Starrs was born on 27 April 1922, the oldest son of a family of eight (5 girls and 3 boys), at Smithstone Row in the mining village of Croy, North Lanarkshire in Central Scotland.
He was a coal miner who contracted asthma as a result of his work in the pits. Joseph died at Croy in 1953 while Will was on a boat sailing to Canada, where he was booked for another performance tour. Will knew before that trip that his father was going to die, but his father understood that Will's touring commitments in Canada had to be honoured, so he set sail for Canada with his dad's blessing.
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