Not content with his own prodigious talent as an illustrator and cartoonist, Harry also found time to indulge his exceptional banjo-picking skills by forming a band.
It was Edinburgh in 1987 when the eight-strong ensemble took to the stage performing as the foot-stomping, bluegrass playing Swamptrash.
All galloping banjos, crazy fiddles and Harry’s distinctive lead vocals – together with a few well-timed yee-haws! - Swamptrash wasted no time in becoming a live phenomenon. At the heart of the hilariously anarchic shows was the pseudo-American persona Harry created for the band.
One of the posters they had printed described the band as “The Miseries from Missouri” – featuring a blend of Cajun & Hillbilly fused with Bluegrass as played only in the Swamplands of the Deep South.
Not bad for a motley crew most of whom had never been further South than Harry’s home town of Coventry.
Beyond the light-hearted comedy of their Bluegrass-Cajun-Rockabilly routine, though, Swamptrash were credited with being hugely influential in the development of experimental Scottish acoustic music. No fewer than four members of Swamptrash went on to form the internationally acclaimed Shooglenifty Celtic fusion band, who still tour today as one of the Scotland’s most unique and successful exports.
Harry, though, longed to return to his children’s books and political cartoons. But not before his musical adventure had one last twist in store for him. Towards the end of Swaptrash’s final tour – in which they took the Shetland Islands by storm – Harry met 22-year-old Mandy Williamson. The pair were married a year later in Bridge End, Burra.
“Swamptrash were a ramshackle and thoroughly enjoyable faux-punk string/bluegrass band who attacked new and old tunes with verve and self-evident pleasure.”
After failing to secure any gigs by just being themselves, Harry re-invented Swamptrash as a band of down-on-their-luck American brothers and cousins from Oskaloosa, Promise City, Missouri “in the USofA” flat broke and stranded in Scotland. Masquerading under his new alter ego Billy-Joe Scritton, he spun tall tales about them trying to scrape just enough together to afford their tickets home.
Audiences quickly fell under the spell of the hapless musicians.
True to form, Harry embellished the sob story by inventing a daddy whose leg was bitten off by a ‘gator and a mamma who sunk in a swamp. One of the fiddle players - who failed miserably in his attempts to pull off an American accent - was told not to utter a word, with Harry gleefully explaining how “Dexter” had seen something untoward in the Wood Shed and “that’s why he don’t speak no more”.
Cue the hat being passed round for the bamboozled audience to cough up their loose change.
Whether anyone really believed Harry’s infectious nonsense or not, Scotland loved Swamptrash and the Scrittons.
Swamptrash’s first and only album, “It Makes No Never Mind”, included two covers - Earl Scruggs ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’ and Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ - plus a collection of originals including ‘Fisherman’s Last Song’, ‘Pay Me, ‘Mama’s In The Kitchen’ and ‘The Hex Barndance’. The band also released a six track EP entitled “Bone” based on their Janice Long session.