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Keyboard player Keith Emerson is dead at 71

One of the giants of prog rock has gone when we lost the keyboard maestro from Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Keith Emerson. Like many prog rock acts, they had a massive following but UK chart-wise, never massively successful. If you’re old enough and were a regular listener to Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman, whether it be his Pick of the Pops or his legendary rock show, you’ll remember one of his regular audio drops in’s he often opened a show with and that was the one that went: ‘Welcome back, my friends to the show that never ends, we’re so glad you could attend! Come inside! Come inside!’ He used those to tremendous effect and that was Emerson Lake and Palmer.

Keith was born in November 1944 in West Yorkshire but grew up on the south coast town of Goring-by-Sea after being evacuated during the War. As a child his family never own their own record player so it was from the radio that Keith learned about music and seemed to favour jazz and contemporary keyboard players of the fifties including Russ Conway, Winifred Atwell and Dudley Moore. He was also attracted to the flamboyance of both Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and so a keyboard career he was to pursue.

Oft classed, quite accurately, as a supergroup, they formed in 1970 and all three were accomplished and experienced musicians. Keith had been a member of The Nice who were originally formed as a backing band for P.P. Arnold. Greg Lake – bass and vocalist – along with his school friend Robert Fripp had been a founding member of King Crimson and drummer Carl Palmer had used his sticks with both the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster and then, in the eighties, Asia.

After a breakout performance at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970, the trio signed with Island Records and released their self-titled debut album the same year. Their second album, Tarkus would be their most successful when it topped the UK album chart. The sleeve of that album featured an armadillo which began as a doodle after the commissioned designer William Neal. Neal recalled, “I had produced a gun belt made up of piano keys, which somehow led to WW1 armoury, nobody liked the idea. I also had an armadillo on the pad and had added tank tracks to it. Keith spotted it and loved the idea, so we developed him further.” The armadillo later became a manticore and that became the name and logo of their own record label they launched in 1973.

Much of ELP’s early works were rocked up covers of classical works and following media criticism citing they had to rely of covers classics, Keith composed his first Piano Concerto No. 1 which he recorded it with the help of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. He hit back with, “I wanted people to say, look, I’m a composer, I do write my own music, and what greater challenge than to write a piano concerto.”

Their only UK hit was a cover of Aron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man which was released on Atlantic records and reached number two on the UK singles chart behind Hot Chocolate’s So You Win Again.

Their shows became very theatrical and included many stunts with one of the most famous being Keith sitting at a piano being suspended approximately 20 feet up in the air and then rotated. It was so amazing that every interview any member of the trio did they were continually asked how they did it. One will never quite know as Greg Lake maintained it was a fake piano whereas Keith explained in much detail how he learned it after being taken to a show where as ex-circus performer performed special stunts for TV shows. He claimed he was invited on stage to have a go. Keith got a bit fed up being asked the same question as he wanted people to recognise his musical talent instead of the theatrics. The legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck was also curious and Keith recalled in an interview with Classic Rock magazine, “When I had the honour of meeting the great jazz pianist just before he died, he said, Keith you’ve got to tell me how do you spin around on that piano? Dave Brubeck was 90 years old then and I said, ‘Dave, don’t try it!'”

In 1993, Keith had his share of problems. He went through divorce, lost his house when it burnt down and cost him a fortune and developed a condition which he likened to writer’s cramp. He took a year off during which was wrote his biography and in his spare time customised a motor bike. He made a full recovery in 2002, but in 2010 he had another setback where he announced that a colonoscopy revealed a rather dangerous polyp in my lower colon and had to cancel a tour.

In March 2016 it was announced that Keith had died. It transpired it was caused by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. His long term girlfriend Mari Kawaguchi said he had been “tormented with worry” about an upcoming tour. She told the Mail on Sunday, “His right hand and arm had given him problems for years. He had an operation a few years ago to take out a bad muscle but the pain and nerve issues in his right hand were getting worse. It affected his playing and was worried about letting down his fans.” She added, “He hadn’t been feeling well the previous evening, so I tucked him up in bed and was sleeping when I left and I thought he was sleeping when I got back, but then I realised what had happened. He was gone. I am still in total shock.”

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George Martin dies at 90.

I have read so many articles over the years where many scribes have declared numerous people who have ever had anything to do with the Beatles, to be the fifth Beatles. Indeed, many of them are self-professed too. Anyone, a roadie, a driver, a guest musician, probably even a tea-maker have called themselves the fifth Beatle. There really are very few who can claim that title, Pete Best, Stuart Sutcliffe perhaps, and maybe, just maybe, at a little stretch of imagination, Billy Preston, but no one, no one, can claim that title more than the man, who, on the back of a phone call in 1962 from Sid Coleman at the music publishing company Ardmore & Beechwood and agreeing to listen to a tape of a group who had already been turned down by, among others, Decca records. He wasn’t overly impressed with the sound, but like John and Paul’s vocal sound so agreed to sign them, and stuck with them to the end. That man, is George Martin.

George was born in north London in 1926, and it was after his family bought a piano when George was only six that his interest in music began. This experience was enhanced when the BBC Symphony Orchestra, complete with conductor Sir Adrian Boult, gave a concert from George’s school and he was hooked. His love for classical music grew and after joining the Royal Navy in 1943 he took up piano and oboe. His first tenuous link to the Beatles started here, because his oboe teacher was Margaret Eliot who was Jane Asher’s mother. Jane Asher was an early girlfriend of Paul McCartney. George left the service in 1947 and enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for three years.

He graduated in 1950 and briefly joined the BBC in their classical music department before moving on the join EMI records as an assistant to Oscar Preuss who was running their Parlophone imprint. The label was used to record the more insignificant artists as well as the novelty material, which, back then, was plentiful. George got his first chance of a say when he asked Oscar if he can record a track with the actor Peter Ustinov performing Mock Mozart. EMI weren’t keen but Oscar insisted they give George a chance.

The first chart record to credit George was the 1953, number three hit Theme from Limelight as performed by Ron Goodwin and his Orchestra. A couple of years later he scored with Jimmy Shand’s Bluebell Polka and Eve Boswell’s Pickin’ A Chicken and then in 1956 more hits followed in the shape of Dick James’ version of Robin Hood and Humphrey Lyttelton’s Bad Penny Blues. If you’re not familiar with the latter, have a listen and see if you can spot which Beatles song was probably influenced by it.

In 1955 Oscar retired and George took over the running which involved many classical works and the occasional soundtrack. Then in 1957 came an influx of comedy actors and entertainers and George did the lot. He recorded with Peter Sellers initially then Jim Dale, Bernard Cribbins, Charlie Drake and Lance Percival who all made the chart and some of the ones that didn’t were; Bruce Forsyth, Sid James, Terry Scott, Flanders and Swann (although they made the EP chart) and Joan Sims. George was, if nothing else, experimental and even released an early electronic dance single under the pseudonym Ray Cathode. His first chart topping single, as a producer, came in 1961 when the Temperance seven reached the summit with You’re Driving Me Crazy.

Don’t be disillusioned, there were also serious acts and serious hits, Matt Monro, Jerry Lordan and Shane Fenton (later Alvin Stardust) all served well, but George wanted to take the label to a different level and that’s when the chance phone call came from Sid Coleman who put him in touch with Brian Epstein who played him that tape of the Beatles. After a second meeting and being impressed by Eppe’s enthusiasm, he signed them.

George said in an interview in 1987, “In those early days they weren’t very good performers, they were raw and uninhibited and certainly weren’t glossy and polished in any way whatsoever. The guitar work was fairly primitive and the drum sound wasn’t very good at all, but of course, we didn’t have Ringo at the beginning.” But he sorted them out musically and with Epstein helping with their image and haircuts they became, shall we say, a bit more successful.

George worked tirelessly particularly with John and Paul throughout the Beatles’ career and they all wanted to experiment and John was forever bringing ideas to the table for George to implement. A famous one is on the single Strawberry Fields Forever which George spliced two different takes together. John like the first half of one mix and George preferred the second half of another, but because they were recorded at slightly different tempos, George had to speed one up and slow the other down so they matched. Virtually every Beatles song has a story involving something George did to make it the way we know it.

George never stopped, as well as working full on with the Beatles, he also worked with and produced hits in the sixties and seventies with Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, Cilla Black and the Fourmost, then in the eighties with U.F.O. and Ultravox. In 1997 when the news broke of the death of Princess Diana and with Bernie Taupin’s hastily re-written lyrics, Elton re-recorded Candle In The Wind as a tribute to her with George producing and went on to become the biggest selling single of all time ahead of any song by the Beatles. It was released as a double A-side with Something About The Way You Look Tonight which was, by far, the better song, but under the tragic circumstances it lost out on the airplay. George, in total produced 129 UK hit singles.

He suffered a hearing loss and, in 2006, brought in his son Giles to Abbey Road to help out, and eventually oversee, all remastering of all further material. George was as appointed a CBE in 1988 for his services to music and in 1996 received a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Two years later he was named as the BPI’s (British Phonographic Industry) Man of the Year and in 1999 he was inducted in to the American Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for his outstanding contribution to music.

The news of George’s death was first announced by Ringo Starr on Twitter who said, “God bless George Martin peace and love to Judy and his family, love Ringo and Barbara. George will be missed xxx” His cause of death was not announced at the time, but George, who had just turned 90 nine weeks previous, received thousands of tributes on social media from friends, family, colleagues, actors and musicians worldwide. The most touching came from his son Giles who posted, “RIP dad. I love you. I’m so proud to have been your son. I’ll miss you more than words can say. Thank you for the all times we had together.”

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Maurice White, Earth Wind & Fire’s funk master, dies

One of the greatest ever concert I went to was in 1981 at the Hammersmith Odeon to see the wonderful Earth Wind and Fire. There were nearly as many people on stage as there were in the audience and Fred White’s 15 minute drum solo was just heaven. Beginning as a jazz outfit in 1969, they became one of the greatest funk/soul/disco bands of all time and now we’ve lost its founder, singer, producer, arranger and primary songwriter Maurice White.

Maurice was born in 1941 in Memphis, Tennessee where he grew up in an area called the Foote Homes Projects with his life-long friend Booker T. Jones. As a kid he had a fascination for percussion and took drum lessons. As a teenager he moved to Chicago and offered his services to Leonard Chess, the head of Chess records. He began as a session drummer before becoming a fulltime member of the label’s Ramsey Lewis Trio. He can be heard on various songs including Fontella Bass’ 1965 hit Rescue Me and Billy Stewart’s Summertime the following year.

He began writing his own songs and learned there was more money in songwriting and so, in 1969, quit Chess records and teamed up Don Whitehead and Wade Flemons to become a songwriting trio. Within weeks they’d landed themselves a contract with EMI’s subsidiary label Capitol records and the three of them decided to become a group and write their own material and called themselves the Salty Peppers.

It was short-lived, but later the same year he formed Earth Wind and Fire, a name that came from Maurice’s love of Egyptology and mysticism and all three words are the names of the elements that feature in his astrological chart.

He became the guiding force and recruited his brothers Verdine on bass, Fred on drums, percussionist Ralph Johnson, guitarist Al McKay, keyboard player Larry Dunn and the falsetto-voiced Philip Bailey. Many others have come and gone over the years, but this was the classic line-up. Maurice knew what he wanted, he said in a 2007 interview with Songwriter Universe, “I always envisioned a band which was self-contained, which could play many styles of music, and which could still create its own sound. It was also great to feature a big horn section in the band.”

It wasn’t only their sound that made them memorable, it was their lavish use of colour and graphics. Their stage show was always well lit often with bright summer colours – red, orange and yellow particularly. Their album sleeves were also colourful and often unusual, again reflecting Maurice’s fascination with ancient Egypt – All ‘N’ All (1977), I Am (1979) and Raise (1981) all being good examples.

Their commercial wasn’t instant; it took eight years until their breakthrough single, Saturday Nite made any impact where it peaked at number 17 in February 1977. Fantasy, arguably their best known track came exactly a year later and reached number 14. In October 1978, the Radio 1 top 20 show, which was then presented by Simon Bates, was extended to a top 40 and their cover of the Beatles’ Got to get you Into My Life opened that show as it was at number 40 that week. Then came their biggest hits, the regular floor-fillers September which reached number three followed by Boogie Wonderland (a duet with White’s protégé group The Emotions) and the heart-breaking ballad After the Love Has Gone which both reached number four. Their only other visit to the top 10 was in 1981 when another disco favourite, Let’s Groove made number three.

By 1982 their momentum began to wane and the following year White disbanded the group following the release of the album Electric Universe. Four years passed when Philip Bailey reunited with the White brothers for 10 years during which they released a further four albums including Millennium, their 16th album, from which the single Sunday Morning earned them a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.

In 2000, at the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, nine members of the band were inducted and played together for the first time in over 20 years. Later that year President Clinton was hosting a dinner at the White House where his special guests were the king of Morocco, Mohammed VI and his wife, Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Meryem. The King was so impressed that he invited the band to Morocco later that year to perform at his own 37th birthday party.

In the late eighties, White was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but he continued, writing, performing and touring until 1994. After that he effectively retired by retained exclusive control of his group.

It was Verdine who broke the news via his Facebook page, “My brother, hero and best friend Maurice White passed away peacefully last night in his sleep,” read his post. “While the world has lost another great musician and legend, our family asks that our privacy is respected as we start what will be a very difficult and life changing transition in our lives. Thank you for your prayers and well wishes.” it continued. Another great tribute came from a friend Quincy Jones who added, via Twitter, “Your contributions to music will be kept in our hearts and souls forever.”

The band will be honoured at the Grammy Awards next week and Maurice’s autobiography Keep Your Head to the Sky: My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire, is due for release this September and contains an afterword by David Foster the legendary songwriter who co-wrote Earth Wind and Fire’s hit’s After the Love Has Gone and In the Stone.

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Veteran broadcaster Terry Wogan dies.

Less than two weeks after we lost an original and much loved member of BBC radio, Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, we lose another original veteran, Terry Wogan.

Just a quick glance of the classic picture of the original line-up of Radio 1 on the steps of All Souls church – opposite Broadcasting House – look at the front row, second from the left you’ll see Ed and right behind him – Terry.

I first met Terry when I joined Radio 1 in 1979, Terry was doing the breakfast show on Radio 2 and even though the station’s offices were in entirely different buildings – Radio 1 was in Egton House and Radio 2 was in Charlotte Street – the continuity studios (for Radio’s 1, 2, 3 & 4) was all in the same area on the first floor of Broadcasting House and I would see Terry every morning as I swanned to and from the studios and very often Terry would invite me in for a coffee. Terry was the most gentle and generous man I had the pleasure to work with and know.

Years before I joined the BBC, I would listen to Terry and even Ray Moore, who preceded him, when I used to be in the car with my mother on the way to our family baker’s shop, and, like everyone has said, you felt part of his family.

Terry was born in Limerick City on 3rd August 1938 and educated at a Jesuit school called Crescent College from the age of eight and experienced a strong religious upbringing. At the age of 15 he moved to Dublin where he attended Belvedere College which is where he discovered his love for music. His original career path took him into the banking world where he worked as a bank clerk at the Royal Bank of Ireland in 1956.

It wasn’t long before he realised that his heart wasn’t really in it and so gave it all up to join the Irish radio network, RTE, as an announcer and newsreader.

He was never a part of the pirate radio fraternity where so many the original DJ’s came from, and in 1965, the same year he married Helen, and he was invited to move into daytime radio where he hosted RTE’s top rated quiz show Jackpot. In 1967 he was invited to join Radio 1 which he did but didn’t move to London, instead he commuted from Dublin ever weekend.

In 1972, he and fellow broadcaster Jimmy Young, who incidentally will be 95 later this year, moved over to Radio 2 with Terry hosting breakfast followed by Jimmy in the mid-morning slot. The pair, with their individual broadcasting qualities, soon amassed audiences of over seven million and their handovers at 9.30 became legendary with neither knowing what the other was going to say or do. Even listeners who couldn’t listen to the whole programme used to tune in just for the handover.

With Terry you got what in real life what you saw or heard on television or radio which was a genuinely friendly man who had or made time for everyone. Very often builders of roofs would shout out to him and he always looked up and acknowledged and replied. I personally remember walking along Langham Street by Broadcasting House with a friend of mine and Terry and Humphrey Lyttelton were walking towards me and Terry still took the time to say “Morning Jon,” and my friend was so taken aback and said, “What a lovely bloke,” and that for sure he was.

Terry also had a brief pop career when in 1978 he recorded a vocal version of the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band’s Floral Dance, which reached number 21 and made an appearance on Top of the Pops. His follow up, a respectable cover of Gene Cotton’s Me and the Elephant, failed to chart and so he decided to stick to broadcasting.

In 1980 Terry got involved with television, initially as the host of the Eurovision Song Contest which he did every single year from 1980 until 2008. The same year the BBC’s own charity, Children in Need, was launched and annually broadcast a telethon headed by Terry which he continued with until 2014. Had sadly had to pull out of the 2015 broadcast at the last minute due to ill health.

In 1982 he left his Radio 1 breakfast show to pursue his own BBC 1 chat show which he hosted for 10 years before returning to his beloved breakfast show on Radio 2 where his heart really was.

He built a certain rapport and banter with both his listeners – he used to call T.O.G’s (Terry’s Old geezers and girls) as well as all his colleagues. I think among the hundreds of thousands of tributes that flooded in when the news broke, Richard Osman, from Pointless and Two Tribes, expressed it best, he said, “What a wonderful, clever and funny man. Did nothing but make the world a happier place.”

In 2005 Terry was knighted by the Queen and when he met her, the Queen asked him how long he’d worked for the BBC, Terry replied; “Your Majesty, I’ve never worked here.” In another interview when he was asked how many listeners he had, he replied, “Just the one.”

In December 2009 Terry announced his retirement from the breakfast show and thus made an emotional two minutes and nine second farewell speech which was recorded and remembered with great fondness. He started it with, “This is it then, this is the day I’ve been dreading, it’s never a good morning when you and I come to the parting of the waves” and concluded with, “So, I’m gonna miss you, till we’re together again in February, have a happy Christmas and thank you, thank you for being my friend.”

Terry did return to host Weekend Wogan for five years when Richard Madely began standing in. No reason was given except there were regular mentions that Terry would be back soon, but sadly he never did.

Very much like David Bowie earlier in the month, Terry suffered from cancer and it was kept as a complete secret. Even when one of his best friend’s, Ken Bruce, was interviewed on Radio 2, he said, “I knew he was unwell and the last I heard he was making good progress and due to come off the painkillers.”

Terry discovered my many singers and bands and was happy to introduce them to the world via his radio show. Naturally he was a fan of the Irish acts including Foster And Allen, James Galway and right through to the likes of Westlife and Boyzone, but one singer who no one had heard of on these shores until Terry made her a star was Eva Cassidy, who sadly never lived to realise her success because she died in 1996 at the young age of 33.

Terry died on the 31st January with his ever-loving family by his side.

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Black singer Colin Vearncombe dies

So soon after David Bowie and Glenn Frey we hear of another pop star’s death. Less than a week ago we heard that Colin Vearncombe, aka Black, was injured in a serious car crash in Ireland and the next day the Irish Examiner ran the headline ‘Singer Colin Vearncombe ‘needs a miracle’ to pull out of coma after crash’, sadly that miracle next happened.

Colin was born in Liverpool in May 1962 and learned guitar as a child. His pop career began back in 1981 when he formed a group with two school friends and used the moniker Black and released their first single Human Features on the local Rox record label.

In 1982 he supported the Mighty Wah! and the Thompson Twins on their respective tours. By 1984 Black was now just Vearncombe on his own and in 1985 he wrote the song Wonderful Life which, with its minor key, seemingly appealed to radio stations when it was released on the minor independent label Ugly Man. Despite airplay it spent just one solitary week on the chart at number 72. But thankfully the A&R department at A&M records noticed him and immediately signed hit to their label. The first song they released was Sweetest Smile in the summer of ’87 and it brought Colin international success when it reached number eight in the UK. Not a month after Sweetest Smile dropped out of the chart, Colin re-recorded Wonderful Life for re-issue and that also peaked at number eight.

Over the next three years Black charted five more singles the highest being Paradise which peaked at number 38. In the late eighties Colin married the Swedish former One 2 Many vocalist Camilla Griehsel. He became disillusioned with the record industry and formed his own Nero Schwarz label – Nero being black in Italian and Schwarz being black in German and released one album, Are We Having Fun Yet? in 1993.

After a six year absence, Colin returned and dropped the name Black and so released a number of singles and albums under his own name. In 2005 he reinstated the Black moniker and released the 2011 album Any Colour You Like exclusively through his own website.

He moved to Ireland living in a small village near Cork, he hated London calling it, “such a bad-tempered, miserable city.” He had taken up art painting women, or as he called it “wobbly women.” He held a few exhibitions which also included poetry-writing and enjoys his family life. He said, “Conversations are never a problem and can inspire a song. Songs basically get written. In Ireland you’re never short of someone willing to talk. Shutting them up is more of a problem.”

On Sunday 10th January 2016 he was involved in a serious car crash and had a swelling on his brain after sustaining a serious head injury in the crash near Cork Airport. Camilla and their three son were by his bedside constantly. His management issued a statement which read, ‘Scans have revealed that the injuries to his brain are worse than we feared and that he has only a slim chance of pulling through.” Sadly he didn’t and Colin passed away on 26th January aged just 53.

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