John Byrne betrayed his 71 years by taking to the main stage at the book festival with a degree of panache and confidence only ever found in young, spritely men. But is it any wonder? Hailing from a modest background in Paisley, he is a man who appears never to have forgotten his routes, let alone have allowed himself to ever become anything less than grounded.
Most famous in Scotland as being the man behind Tutti Frutti, only recently just been released after 22 years of its first showing “because of paperwork,” he is also known worldwide as the man who penned the West End spectacular, The Slab Boys Trilogy.
Slouched in his seat with hands in his pockets and silk scarf tied around his neck, he occasionally twiddled his trademark moustache as he remembered his early days growing up in Paisley, how he got into art and literature, and with his deep rustic voice, delighted the audience with confirmation of new works to come.
He had us entertained through a professional reading by a local actor (apologies, I missed his name), from his new children’s book, and by moving into a discussion of his life in art and writing. Which one holds the stronger call? “They both offer just as much and mean just as much to me,” he said.
Byrne still paints every day, “from morning until night; it’s just what I do,” and it is through this compulsion and genuine love of art that Scotland has been fortunate enough to have produced such a diamond.
On why there aren’t any more like him coming through, Byrne said: “It’s a disgrace that there are no small independent play companies in Scotland. There’s no investment like in Ireland, they have loads over there, but here, nothing. Maybe in the new Scotland—the one that’s coming up.”