A MOMENT when the threat to music tuition in Scotland has brought discussion of its wider benefits, and when the possibility of a career in the arts for those born without a silver spoon in their mouths excites much debate, is an auspicious time for Glasgow composer Edward McGuire – known to all as Eddie – to be celebrating his 70th birthday.

His catalogue includes a sequence of “Preludes” for solo instrumentalists that began in 1976 with a work written for cellist James Cowan and reached number 24 with a 50th birthday present for Dame Evelyn Glennie. His ballet score Peter Pan was performed every two years by Scottish Ballet between 1988 and 1996, he wrote A Glasgow Symphony for the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland and an opera, The Loving of Etain, for Glasgow’s year’s European City of Culture. The Proms performance of his work Calcagus by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra featured on the 1997 disc The Very Best of the BBC Orchestras.

McGuire, who lives just off Byres Road in Glasgow’s West End, is toasted twice at this year’s West End Festival, with a recreation of his performance of the work of John Cage and then a concert of his own music organised by fiddler Al Savage, his colleague in folk group The Whistlebinkies, and also featuring Scott Dickinson with whom Savage plays in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, on June 16.

Not only is McGuire an example of how a talented young person can forge a career in music from origins in Glasgow’s industrial working class, he is someone whose own political beliefs were forged in that environment and have never varied over the half-century of his composing life. That life has included life-changing visits to Sweden and China, but home for McGuire has usually been in the same few square miles of the city.

“I was born in Possilpark and my first five years were in Saracen Street right beside the old Avon cinema. I used to nip in there to see the latest films day from the age of about five onwards.

“My grandfather was an engineering pattern maker at the Walter MacFarlane iron works at the end of the road. I still have some of his tools. My uncle was a tram driver so I was at the driving wheel of a tram before the age of five, as well as in the cab of a steam train because my cousin was a train driver. These were my formative experiences as well as seeing the great films of the day. My mother told me that I was always very excited by the music in the cinema and that could have been by Korngold, William Walton and Malcolm Arnold. Films like Robin Hood, The Cruel Sea, The African Queen and The Blob, and the radio programme Journey Into Space all had really dramatic contemporary music and big orchestral scores. So I got a real earful of exciting music at that time in the cinema.

And then at the age of 8 I went to see Rock Around the Clock, and I think I went on my own, because the cinema was right next door and I used to just dodge in.”

Rock’n’roll had competition for the attention of the young music enthusiast, however, who was already picking out tunes of his own invention on any handy guitar or piano. McGuire’s father sang in an amateur male voice choir who used to rehearse in the family home.

“They sang mainly the Orpheus choir repertoire with Hugh S Robertson arrangements of Gaelic and Scots songs as well as some Verdi and Palestrina which they did in the local church, St Theresa’s in Possilpark, where I used to try out the organ.

“I got a good knowledge of notation through seeing my father’s choir sheets. My first experience of writing a song was writing the letter names of notes below the words of a Shakespeare poem. It was something I felt compelled to do even before I knew how to notate properly.”

“My rock’n’roll experience lasted between the ages of eight and twelve. When Elvis Presley joined the army I gave up on it.”

By then McGuire had begun to learn the flute, his main instrument still, at St Augustine’s Secondary in Milton.

“ It was at that point that I started getting lessons. Music for me was a hobby, and composition took up a lot of my time. It wasn’t until fifth and sixth year at school that I took up A Level music in order to aim to get into music college. Up until that point I would do summer school for Glasgow Schools Orchestra at Castle Toward which taught me a lot about the basic sound of an orchestra. That’s why I was an avid campaigner, alongside the late John Geddes, to save Castle Toward, because it was such a great institution. As of course was the whole experience of getting free music lessons at school and the free use of an instrument.”

On the basis of a portfolio of his compositions, McGuire won a place at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where his teacher was James Iliff, and then a British Council scholarship to Sweden to study with composer Ingvar Lidholm. It speaks volumes of McGuire’s loyal character that he kept in touch with both men, and sought their advice, until their recent deaths, both in their mid-90s.

“My first commission on returning to Scotland, after five years away in London and Sweden, was from James Durrant, conductor of the orchestra of the Junior department at the RSAMD, where I’d played, for a solo viola piece in 1972. He played it at Glasgow University and it got an excellent review from Malcolm Rayment in The Herald. That led to the New Music Group commissioning me to write a piece for the Edinburgh Festival two years later.”

Durrant also commissioned a viola concerto from McGuire in 1998 and some of the music he composed for him will be played by Dickinson on June 16.

Back in the 1970s however, the young composer needed to find other ways to earn a living, and started playing flute with folk band The Whistlebinkies. It is another association to which he has been loyal ever since, from his first concert with the group at a Clan Maclean Association event in the Highlanders’ Institute at Glasgow’s Charing Cross, via recording with pop heart-throb David Essex, to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe appearance at the newly renovated St. Cecilia’s Hall.

“The Whistlebinkies went to China in 1991 on an exchange that arose out of a trip I made to Beijing while I was in Hong Kong for performances of Peter Pan with Scottish Ballet. There I met with the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, who sent the Goodwill Folk Group to Scotland and the Binkies toured China later that year.”

Behind that link-up lies McGuire’s political loyalty to the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) which dates from its formation in 1968, as an anti-revisionist breakaway from the Communist Party of Great Britain.

A veteran of the anti-Polaris demonstrations on the Clyde and the Aldermaston CND marches by his mid-teens, the young McGuire was a firebrand revolutionary who regarded hippies as political dilettantes. In more recent years his party’s opposition to Scottish independence and support for Brexit has seen him sharing platforms with unlikely allies like Nigel Farage and Liam Fox. McGuire measures his words very carefully when talking about his political activities, but admits that he didn’t get much work done in the early part of this decade because of the time he devoted to the Scottish and European referendums.

“I don’t feel compelled to put messages into music, like painting red flags on things, although I have marked events with music: a trio in 74 celebrated the end of the Vietnam War, a piece called Nocturnes is about the war in Yugoslavia and one of the Preludes, for solo trombone written for Paul Stone, is subtitled Peace in Syria. Music has enough subtlety about it to carry a message without the need to impose an ideology.

“But if you look at my entire output, you’d notice that I haven’t written anything religious and that is probably significant.”

On the drawing board at the moment is a cello concerto for Robert Irvine, and a long-standing project to make an orchestral suite of the music for Peter Pan. “Something I should have done years ago,” he says.

Red Note ensemble, co-founded by Irvine, made a Delphian disc of his chamber music three years ago and McGuire is looking forward to the release of a song-cycle celebrating the retirement of Principal John Wallace from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland entitled Songs of the North and featuring brass quintet The Wallace Collection and young soprano Julia Daramy-Williams.

While clearly appreciating the attention his 70th birthday has brought, the composer is ill-inclined to rest on his laurels.

“I would like to pursue more large-scale pieces, adding to the ballet, opera and symphony. Obviously I’d like to have written a whole series of ballets, operas and symphonies and gained from that experience and honed the craft. But there is still time: I had afternoon tea with 101 year old man recently!”

Eddie McGuire: 70th Birthday Celebration Concert is at St Silas Church, Park Road, Glasgow on Saturday June 16 as part of the West End Festival. Admission is free.