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The traditional music of Scotland was preserved in the 1960s and '70s by the Corries, a duo featuring multi-instrumentalists, songwriters, and vocalists Roy Williamson and Ronnie Browne. Although they primarily focused on traditional folk songs, the Corries are best remembered for their original songs, "Flower of Scotland" by Williamson -- which has gone on to become Scotland's unofficial anthem -- and Browne's "The Roses of Prince Charles."
The Corries originated with a trio that Williamson and Browne formed with Bill Smith at Edinburgh College of Art in 1962. The group was expanded the following year with the addition of female singer Paddie Bell. Although they released three albums -- The Corrie Folk Trio with Paddie Bell, The Promise of the Day, and In Retrospect -- the quartet format was short-lived. Bell left the group to have a child in 1965 and Smith followed a year later. With the departure of Bell and Smith the following year, Browne and Williamson continued to perform as a duo and the group's name was shortened to the Corries.
Beginning in 1970, the Corries began using the cambolim, a pair of instruments designed and built by Williamson. While Williamson's instrument featured a basic guitar fingerboard with a bandurria attached and sympathetic resonating strings, Browne's model added a mandolin and four bass strings to a a basic guitar.
Browne and Williamson became regular performers on Scottish television shows and movies. In 1983, they received an International Film and Television Festival gold award for their STV series, The Corries & Other Folk. The duo reached its their peak with the film, The Bruce, which featured Browne's rendition of "Flower of Scotland" at the end of the movie. Browne appeared in the film in the role of Maxwell the Minstrel.
Williamson and Browne's collaboration ended with Williamson's death of a brain tumor in 1990. Browne has continued to perform and record as a soloist.
The Corries were a Scottish folk group that emerged from the Scottish folk revival of the early 1960s. Although the group was a trio in the early days, it was as the partnership of Roy Williamson and Ronnie Browne that it is best known. Since then, they have gone on to a level of stardom that few folk duos have ever reached.
Early years 
Roy Williamson was born in 1936 in Edinburgh, Lothian. His mother played the piano. At school he learned to play the recorder by ear, pretending to read music. The teacher found out and banned him from music lessons. He went to Wester Elchies School, then Aberlour House and Gordonstoun in Moray. He taught seamanship and navigation at Burghead before going to Edinburgh College of Art. It was there that he met Ronnie Browne in 1955. The partnership lasted over thirty years.
Williamson teamed up with Bill Smith (born William Smith, in 1936, in Edinburgh) and Ron Cruikshank to form the "Corrie Folk Trio" in 1962. Their first performance was in the Waverley Bar in St Mary's Street, Edinburgh. After a few weeks Cruikshank left. They had already accepted an engagement at the Edinburgh Festival so Williamson suggested that Ronnie Browne should be brought in to make up numbers. They also added female Irish singer Paddie Bell to become the "Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell". The audience was only eight people for the debut of this line-up but by the end of the festival it was house full at every performance. A corrie is a deep bowl in the high Scottish mountains familiar to lovers of the Highlands. They chose it to evoke the Scottish landscape.
Television success 
Within a year they appeared on television. Williamson and Browne were art teachers, Smith was an architect and Bell was a secretary. In 1964 they topped the bill at a show with The Dubliners at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. The BBC began a television series set in a folk club. The resident group on the Hoot'nanny Show was the Corrie Folk Trio. This meant they became full-time professionals. Two years later, Paddie Bell and Bill Smith departed. In the duo left behind, Williamson was a talented multi-instrumentalist while Browne handled lead vocals. The two cancelled all engagements for a few months to practise intensively and, emerging under the new name, "The Corries", they performed at the Jubilee Arms Hotel in Cortachy, Angus. The response from the audience encouraged them to continue.
Another BBC series, The White Heather Club, began in 1958. It featured Andy Stewart, Jimmy Shand and his Band, Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor, and the Corries. While the rest of the show was set in a studio, the Corries were filmed in location: sea songs were sung in a harbour, and "Braes o' Killiecrankie" was sung at the Pass of Killiecrankie. Thus they effectively were among the early pioneers of the music video.
The Combolins 
Main Article: Combolin
Williamson was a skilled woodworker. In the summer of 1969 he invented the "combolins", two complementary instruments that combined several into one single instrument. One combined a mandolin and a guitar (along with four bass strings operated with slides), the other combining guitar and the Spanish bandurria. The latter was an instrument Williamson had played since the early days of the Corrie Folk Trio.
Originally conceived as a way to combine several of the many instruments they carried around on tour — the Corries' long row of chairs behind them on stage bearing instruments is legendary — the combolins in fact became an additional two instruments for the tour van. Most often, Browne played the guitar/mandolin instrument with bass strings, and Williamson the other, which also had 13 sympathetic strings designed to resonate like the Indian sitar. The wood for the instruments was obtained from antique hardwood furniture as well as premium grade Tyrolean spruce, and featured Williamson's artistic embellishments in silver and mother of pearl.
The Corries' next album, Strings and Things (1970), was specifically designed to showcase the new instruments and featured detailed descriptions of them on the rear sleeve. Many consider it to be their best album. On stage, when the combolins were played, the Corries would swap their seating position around from the conventional Williamson to Browne's right. Usually the combolins were played to accompany long ballads such as "The Silkie of Sule Skerry" and "The Gartan Mother's Lullaby", as well as a number of the compositions of Peebles baker George Weir, including "Lord Yester" and "Weep ye Weel by Atholl". Roy also composed "The River", a tune using both Combolins to evoke the sounds of a river in full run from bubbling out of the earth to the sea.
The immense strain on the instruments caused by the multitude of strings meant they needed regular maintenance later in their life, and one of Williamson's best friends, instrument repairer David Sinton, maintained them. After Williamson's death, Sinton was bequeathed the two combolins. He has since issued a CD of tunes played on them, Caledonian Sunset, although it took many years to perfect the playing of these complex instruments, as well as deal with the undoubted emotional difficulty in playing them.
Commercial success 
The early 1970s saw the Corries reach their peak of popularity. They had several albums in the top 50 album charts in Scotland, and in 1974 released their single, "Flower of Scotland", backed with "Roses of Prince Charlie". The song was quickly adopted by world lightweight boxing champion Ken Buchanan, whose fans sang it on his entering the ring. It was then taken up by supporters of rugby football as the unofficial national anthem and is still used at Scotland's rugby internationals. "Flower of Scotland" has since been adopted as the national anthem at international football matches.
The Corries' concerts frequently had the audience joining in spontaneously in the chorus of songs. The duo became closely identified with Jacobite songs, celebrating the final years of clan loyalty and military courage. The 1977 album, Peat Fire Flame, saw the group move towards love songs and celebrations of the landscape.
As a young man, Roy Williamson played rugby for Edinburgh Wanderers. However, he suffered from asthma and before a series of concerts he would deliberately cease treatment in order to provoke attacks and gain temporary immunity. During the Corries' 1989 tour, Williamson's health went into decline and he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He spent his last years living in Forres, close to where he spent his school years. He died on 12 August 1990.
Ronnie Browne continued recording and moved into acting, as well as expanding his career as a noted painter, which included commissions for the 1990 Scottish Rugby Union team's Grand Slam victory. He toured as a soloist for a few years after Williamson's death, and even released a solo album, but never reached the same level of success that he achieved as part of the duo. He has now retired from performing, but occasionally sings "Flower of Scotland" along with the crowd at Scottish rugby matches
Paddie Bell made some solo albums following her departure from the trio, most notably with Irish musicians Finbar and Eddie Furey, but withdrew from the folk scene followed by a period of dependency on alcohol and anti-depressant medication. In the 1990s Bell, with the help of several friends and fans on the folk scene in Edinburgh, revived her singing career with a couple of new recordings and became something of a celebrity again. She died in 2005 aged 74.
In December 2007, The Corries were inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame at the Scottish Trad Music Awards in Fort William, promoted by concertina virtuoso Simon Thoumire's Hands Up for Trad organisation.
Discography (original studio/live recordings) The Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell (1964)The Promise Of The Day (1965)Those Wild Corries (1966)Bonnet, Belt and Sword (1967)Kishmul's Galley (1968)Scottish Love Songs (1969)Strings and Things (1970)In Retrospect (1970)Sound The Pibroch (1972)A Little Of What You Fancy (1973)Live from Scotland Volume 1 (1974)Live from Scotland Volume 2 (1975)Live from Scotland Volume 3 (1975)Live from Scotland Volume 4 (1977)Peat Fire Flame (1977)Spotlight On The Corries (1977)Stovies (album) (1980) (live)A Man's A Man (1980)The Dawning of the Day (1982) (live)Love From Scotland (1983) (compilation)Scotland Will Flourish (1985) (live)Barrett's Privateers (1987) (live)The Bonnie Blue (1988) (live)Flower of Scotland (1990) (new live recording on BBC Records)
Many of The Corries recordings have now been re-issued on CD by Moidart Music, a company set up originally to release Williamson's posthumous Long Journey South solo album. The recordings are now overseen by Browne's son Gavin, who runs the official Corries website along with original recording engineer, Allan Spence, and David Sinton.