Joe Caldwell was "mine host" at the Eglinton Arms Hotel for almost 50 years. But he was more than a publican or hotelier for his interest in people and music meant that the hotel became a magnet for musicians, singers and entertainers, as varied as Billy Connolly, Anne Lorne Gillies and Acker Bilk. He even managed to persuade the flamboyant American pianist Liberace to drop in for a late-night drink when in the area, a visit that caused problems for the local police who were unaccustomed to pink Cadillacs double-parking in Irvine’s High Street.
That visit was followed shortly afterwards by an appearance in "The Eg" of teenage singing sensation Helen Shapiro. In the "Golden Age of the Scottish Pub", the Eglinton Arms was at the heart of the Irvine community and, within an industry then full of characters, Joe Caldwell was much respected and liked by his peers across Scotland.
After arriving in Irvine in 1960, he soon formed the Eglinton Burns Club which staged the town's first mixed Burns Supper, a break from tradition that raised some eyebrows. but it's a tribute to Joe's vision and high standards that the Eglinton Burns Club is still thriving almost 60 years later.
In the 1960s, Irvine grew and Joe was behind an ambitious expansion of the historical Marymass Fair by introducing a 10-day Folk Festival. Despite local scepticism, Marymass Folk Festival was an instant success with often three or four packed concerts running simultaneously in different venues each night. Folk legends like Matt McGinn, Alex Campbell and Josh McCrae were joined by then youngsters such as Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty, Barbara Dickson, Archie Fisher, The McCalmans, Aly Bain, and Gallagher and Lyle, themselves destined to become legends. Marymass became the longest, and, at times, the largest folk festival in Scotland, with a style and format that others copied.
He became involved in the Irvine Burns Club, was its President in 1979 and continued afterwards as a director. In 2001, he was made an honorary member and in his acceptance letter, with typical modesty, admitted to being "absolutely flabbergasted but completely delighted".
Almost single-handedly, he revived the Irvine Incorporation of Skinners, eventually became its Deacon, and then Deacon Convener of the Irvine Incorporated Trades. But, not content with local involvement, he joined the Trades House of Glasgow, became Deacon of the Incorporation of Skinners and Glovers and served on its Master Court for over 20 years.
Along with his wife, Ann, Joe was also a massive fund-raiser for medical and other charities.
To paraphrase Robert Burns, he was "the social, friendly honest man who filled great nature's plan" and did so with a big grin, a twinkle in his eye, a laugh in his voice and a warm hand of friendship.
The photograph below shows Joe Caldwell photographed on his boat Clarag.
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