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She wouldnae come to the opening because she'd become the sole focus if she were around.

She'll come in her own good time." Byrne may have a rebellious streak, but it's a soft one, and he presents himself lightly.

Pierrot's the sad clown or naïve fool, which seems a decision worth considering, but Byrne says that ideas just come to him, he doesn't think them through consciously.

He says the Pierrot outfit came to Swinton from the fashion designer Christian Lacroix.

He's handsome at 74, with a thick smoker's voice, strongly accented. He's a well-known figure in Scotland even though, as he points out, "I have no Scottish forebears." His family's Irish Catholic.

He considers himself an outsider, someone who defies fashion and taste.

Throughout this time, he continued to paint and his life is reflected in some of the famous names on show in his exhibition of portraits at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

Artists don't always look like artists these days but Byrne presents himself impeccably – a dark suit and cravat, with clipped white hair, a full white beard and moustache.He agrees that their intellectual energy united them."It does not matter what background you come from," he says.I kind of do what I want and continue to do what I want." His paintings, whether of famous friends, self portraits (of which there are many) family or scenes from his imagination, are executed with rigorous skill, but an old fashioned approach.He paints moody portraits and surrealist scenes, which don't follow current taste.He's the kid from Paisley who made it from the notorious Ferguslie Park housing estate to a life of fame as an artist and writer – it's a remarkable achievement.