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Jake Thackray

John Philip Thackray was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, in 1938 – the son of Ernest Thackray, a policeman, and Ivy May Thackray.

He was educated at the Jesuit-run St. Michael’s College in Leeds and a Jesuit boarding school in Dolgellau, north-west Wales before studying modern languages at Durham University.

jakethackrayThackray fell under the stylistic influence of French chansonniers Jacques Brel and George Brassens while he was teaching in France for four years.

Returning to England he took up the guitar and composed songs for his pupils to sing. Ex curriculum he adopted a Gallic vocal style, but with the clipped phrasing of Noel Coward.

Local radio appearances led to the recording of the first of six albums for EMI, called, with characteristic black humour, The Last Will And Testament Of Jake Thackray, released in 1967.

His dark, gypsy good looks made him seem more like a romantic European balladeer than a dry Yorkshireman, but it is the voice that’s most remarkable – a foggy hoot with a Yorkshire inflexion and a pin-sharp annunciation.

He found a national audience on The David Frost Show and Braden Beat, which eventually became That’s Life where he wrote topical songs to order each week.

John Lennon was a fan – which was hardly surprising as Thackray’s gift was for irreverent, risqué and romantic wordplay. It was humour regularly played out on satirical television and, at best, accompanied simply by his own jazz-folk guitar.

Despite the quality of his work – musical sophistication matched with a pungent love of wordplay – Jake’s devout Catholicism moved him to look down on his more ribald material, and he considered much of what he wrote to be “absolutely bloody duff”.

He became a regular on Radio 4’s Start The Week in the early 60s but, plagued by personal demons, became increasingly reclusive. By the late 70s Thackray’s income was chiefly from live work.

At the more poorly attended events he would invite everyone down the front, ditch the sound system, pull up a chair, take requests and join you for an interval pint. At the turn of the millennium he was declared bankrupt and retired to Monmouth.

In May 2002, a 100-strong group of fans calling themselves The Jake Thackray Project worked with EMI to compile a limited-edition Thackray double CD, with funds going directly to Jake and his family.

He died of heart failure on 26 December 2002, at the age of 64.

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