Linlathen High School


Linlathen High School had been a Junior Secondary School which opened in 1958.  Situated on the right side of Forfar Road to the north of Kingsway, it had been opened to meet the needs of a growing perimeter estate.  Initially it had boasted six secondary classes and a small staff.  By its second year, all Heads of Department had been appointed.

 It was the custom, I believe, for each Head of Department to closely scrutinize students sent for teaching practice and demand, "When you are adding to staff next session, get So-and-So for my department."  The then Rector, John L. Ness, reported that in this way a hand-picked staff of first-rate teachers had been acquired.  By 1973, Linlathen had become a High School, growing to a school roll of some 1250 pupils which drew pupils from Mill o' Mains, Fintry and Linlathen estates.

Music had always played an important role - the first intake of pupils had brought 6 girls who had already received two years' tuition in brass instruments, giving the school a brass band from the very start.  And it was upon this foundation that the tradition of a brass band, not orchestra, was established.

Fortunately for the school, our instructors in my time had been Alex. Barrie for brass - a musician and teacher of great ability who had come through the Marine's Central Band and had played with the swing orchestras of the time and Jim Doig, another bandsman from 'the colours' who had trained at Kneller Hall, playing every woodwind instrument from piccolo to bassoon and all the saxes.  Much later we were to add percussion to the curriculum.

With the band in full strength, we must have had some thirty plus musicians, adding at times woodwind to the full ensemble.  The band's accumulation of prizes for festival playing was immense and the Linlathen musicians were in constant demand to appear in public throughout each year - from outdoor concerts to accompanying various services such as Armistice Sunday in city churches.

I do remember a period of about 10 to 12 years when, at the Dundee Schools' Festivals, the 1st and 2nd places for senior brass band instruments, intermediate brass band instruments, senior orchestral brass, intermediate orchestral brass and senior woodwind were all held by Linlathen musicians, festival after festival.  This was in addition to soloists who featured in the top three places in Scottish brass championships.

Some festival performances will always be sweet memories.  First the Dundee Schools Festival when Ruth, who had played clarinet and had been winning competitions since primary school was now seventeen and competing in the Senior Woodwind class, played last in the afternoon.  We had worked on her piece for some 15 hours in preparation and went, not just to enter a festival, but to give a performance.  She played the Stanford Sonata for clarinet, an L.T.C.L. performer's diploma piece, and stunned the audience.  Needless to say she ended her school career by winning yet again.

Then, at the Arbroath Festival which was open to all comers, Diane, our flugal horn player, entered the recorder class playing "Sound an alarm" from Handel's 'Judas Maccabaeus' and was first to play in her section.  This was a tour de force, completely overwhelming the opposition that followed with her sparkling, impeccable roulades and faultless intonation.

By the eighties, when modern technology had been inbuilt to the Music Department, we saw the full band at prize giving ceremonies augmented by not only percussion and timpani but by electric bass and polysynthesizers - a jolly sound indeed!

The senior 5th and 6th Formers 'lived' in the Music Department during free periods, intervals, lunchtimes and sometimes until after 5 p.m., having their own cupboard for their stock of Pepsi Max and other goodies.  These musicians guaranteed a semi-professional ensemble performance on their appearances, performing their own polished arrangements for Korg, digital & vector synths and electric bass of such numbers as "Star Trek TNG," & "Battlestar Gallactica (complete with sound effects and 'phaser fire') and novelty arrangements, e.g. "Handel Goes to Harlem," which was a swing version of the "Suite for the Royal Fireworks!"

These performances and especially the students will always remain in the forefront of my memory - they were all characters in their own right.  Just before starting one of the above pieces at a prizegiving ceremony, one boy, on switching on his synth, paraphrased Captain Piccard in Star Trek and whispered to us all, "We have just engaged the Korg!"**

(** for the uninitiated, "The Borg" was an alien race which plagued The Federation.)

Mel in the Music Department
In the days when we had non-certificate classes containing the less able who could never seem to develop any ability to read music, I fell upon a ploy I had used some twenty years before - placing coloured tabs on the keys of all keyboards.  So they found every 'C' was purple, each 'D' was blue, each 'E' was green and so on.  The written arrangements were in notation of similar colours.  This was the counterpart of 'painting by numbers' -  they 'played by colours.'

After one period of this each pupil could hardly believe it!  They could actually achieve something.  About the third or fourth week of this, we attempted ensemble work and they took to it immediately.

And so one pupil would take charge, counting the others in at the start of a piece (usually pop numbers which they knew well) and off they would go.  When coming to grief , someone would shout "Stop!" and they would begin again.  They were determined to get things right that first day and eventually I had to say, "I think it's time to stop for the day."  "Why?" said they.  "Because it's twenty past five!" I retorted - well over one hour since the final bell had rung!  Their reply was, "Please, sir, can we stay late every Thursday?"  This from pupils who were the bane of many a department because of their disinterest and lack of self application.  But they had now learned to believe in themselves and the fact that achievement was NOT an impossibility.

Another pupil who turned out to be musically talented, highly artistic and a junior member of a city football team could be trouble with a capital T and this from his first year in school.  However, he went on to complete successfully a certificate course in music and would do anything for me.  This was the result of an event in his 1st year.  Let me explain...........

First year classes, in addition to studying academic or serious music, were exposed also to a practical and theoretical block of history - History of Popular Music from 1900 to 1950.  When we were dealing with Jazz and Swing and the fact that so-called black musicians seemed to give over 100% in performance, I always corrected the 'black' statement and said that they should really be referred to as Afro-Americans, explaining why.

Now - this boy was the son of a Scottish mother and an African father and, of course, coloured with the frizzy hair of his father's lineage.  This, perhaps, had been one factor in the root of his alienation.

When he heard someone actually extol the abilities of the coloured races, he visibly brightened.  I asked the class at this point, to reinforce the social content of the lesson, if anyone had seen a 'black man.'  All the hands went up and a few turned to look at their classmate.  I said. "Oh?  I've never seen one."  I asked the boy to come out beside me and he duly did so.  I held a piece of black card up beside his face and said, "Is so-and-so black?"  All could do none other than shout out, "No!"  I then held a white card up to my face, a slightly tanned pink, and said, "Am I white?"  Again came the reply, "No!"

"Ah, you see, then, that we are ALL coloured," said I, with my arm around the boy's shoulder, "The only difference being that so-and-so's colour is much richer than mine."  There and then good race relations and a unique rapport with the boy were established.

On a lighter note was the Christmas discos in the 1980s for all pupils in certificate courses - third to sixth years.  One entire afternoon before the Christmas recess was set aside for festivities.  One room of my department was rearranged with pairs of desks positioned around the room and covered with red table cloths upon which were holly and a lighted candle as decorations.  Two record decks and disco lights were positioned at the front of the room to balance the tables of quiches, pizzas, sandwiches, sausage rolls and all manner of sweets and fruit which surrounded the Christmas tree at the rear. 

Of course, to reflect a popular programme of the time on television, the classroom door bore a large notice for all to see:- "MEL'S DINER".  And all staff from the rector down took up the invitation to drop in for food and drink even if for a few minutes.  The classes of that period seemed to possess a unique maturity and mannerability which made them a joy to work with.

So there we leave Linlathen with its great positivity and pupils who went on to become honours graduates at Scottish universities and also the few more negative pupils who achieved little but who, as characters or rogues, added to the school's unique identity.

So here, as I ended my speech at my retiral presentation, when talking of these things,

 "I've said it so many times before and I'll say it again this last time - But Goddam, that's what makes Linlathen LINLATHEN!"

Within a few months of that speech and on account of the local council's policy on school closures and amalgamations, Linlathen at 3.45 p.m. haemorrhaged its role of pupils, closed its doors for the last time and died!  The corpse was duly dismembered and in pieces taken to land-fills, recycling yards as usable building materials or whatever is done with old departed almae matres.  I am told that a Morrison's supermarket now occupies the site which was sold for "a few million bucks" to top up the city's coffers but, having never seen it, I cannot possibly believe it!    

Happily there is a counteractant to this morbid finality as a great many ex-Linlathen pupils have banded themselves into a "Linlathen Group" on Facebook and maintain the cohesion of former camaraderie, forming without realising their creation, a Linlathen group-mind which is ever vibrant.  Ergo Linlathen, albeit in a non-corporeal existence, lives on!   Of course I am a cell within that group-mind and have daily messages, retaining old contacts and conversing again with my pupils, now in their early 50s with children, yes - and grandchildren!

Note:- the following email arrived 22:04:04 and made me realise all our work was not in vain.  Indeed the young man, now in his late 20s, actually quoted from a 2nd year lesson as the subject of the posting.  Now that's a memory for you!!

"Mr Young

Not sure I could actually ever call you Mel - how disrespectful indeed.

Im pretty sure you would have a time remembering me as I was not one of the ragamuffins that, I have no doubt, currently reside in Perth Prison!

Anyway just thought Id drop you a line to say that I for one thoroughly enjoyed your classes and always thought them informative. You and a handful of your colleagues at Linlathen did have an impact on the young minds you tended and were a credit to your chosen profession.

Good work fella.

Best regards,


Thanks for the kind words, Andy, they're very much appreciated.

The Ghost of Linlathen High