Meeting Jackie Dennis, Scotland's first pop star

What an honour to receive Jackie Dennis at the Festival Theatre after he topped the bill at the Empire Palace in the late 1950s.

Jackie, now 75, was a teenage sensation back in the late 1950s, ahead of Elvis Presley in the hit parade and the first British artist to perform on US television. Performing in his trademark kilt before millions of viewers on Perry Como’s TV show, the tartan rocker made his name as the ‘£50,000 kid’ because of the contract the 15-year old singing star was reputed to have signed.

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While it’s been some years since he was a household name, Jackie Dennis was celebrated in the first instalment of BBC2’s Rip It Up 3-part programme (broadcast on Tuesday 17 July) to coincide with the staging of a major exhibition on the history of Scottish pop and rock at the National Museum of Scotland.

At the height of his fame in the late 1950s, Jackie topped the bill at the Empire Palace now the Festival Theatre, performing his hit single ‘La Dee Dah!’. Between variety shows where he shared the bill with up and coming acts like Des O’Connor, Jackie performed in the Empire panto Babes in the Wood in 1958 with Jack Radcliffe and Sally Logan, while Ricky Fulton and Jack Milroy were performing down the road in the King’s panto.

During his visit, Jackie posed with the signed photograph of him on display in the foyer of the Festival Theatre and remembered the moment when he signed the picture ahead of a performance of Babes in the Wood in late 1958.

‘I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time’ said the boy from Brunswick Road, who still lives locally in Pilton, about his young fame and subsequent 20-year career in music.

Propelled into the limelight two weeks into an apprenticeship as a plumber, Jackie went from fixing pipes to recording hit songs, touring the world and living two doors up from John Lennon in Maida Vale in the early 1960s (John once came up to his flat to borrow some milk). He was invited to perform on the Buddy Holly tour with Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper but had to decline because he was starring in the Edinburgh panto and so he escaped the tragic plane crash that killed the famous rock n rollers at Clear Lake Iowa in February 1959.

An absolute gentleman and a great raconteur, Jackie regaled us with tales of partying with Alma Cogan and Shirley Bassey, meeting Frank Sinatra in Vegas when he was performing at the Desert Inn, and living life in the fast lane as a teenage rock n roll star and one of Scotland first ever pop stars. His performing career came to an end in the late 1970s and he returned to live in Edinburgh working first as postman and then a helper and senior carer based at Lennox House in Granton. He describes his years working there as the happiest of his life, looking after the residents and bringing his old musician pals in to entertain them.

We’ve invited Jackie back in to visit us to help identify some of the names and faces on the old playbills we have in our archive and we hope that Jackie and his wife Irene will be our regular guests at the Festival Theatre.

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