Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Johnny Keating

Johnny Keating, composer, big band arranger and trombonist, has died, aged 87.  For over 40 years, his version of the Z-Cars tune has played Everton FC onto the pitch at Goodison Park.

It was a smart move to pick up on the theme. Fritz Speigel and his wife Bridget Fry lighted upon the folksong Johnny Todd for the emerging police soap; harpsichordist Bridget gets a composer credit, and her middle section, as recorded by the Norrie Paramor Orchestra, was decidedly classical. It reached number 33 in the pop charts in March 1962. Keating added a choogling guitar, replaced the middle with a meaty, beaty sax section from the "Z-Men", (probably mates from the Ted Heath Orchestra), topped it off with a wailing soprano sax solo with a quasi-bagpipe feel, and his version rose to number 5 the following month. He tried a follow-up in the same vein, with Highland Wedding, but it flopped.

Johnny was a self-taught musician from Edinburgh. He first learned the accordion, auditioned for the Bertini Orchestra, and was told to learn a brass instrument. Within a year, he was back - but Bertini (real name Bert Gutsell) had moved on, and National Service beckoned. Johnny and his trombone moved through the Squadronaires, Tommy Sampson Band, Geraldo and Ted Heath. When he demonstrated his arranging skills, there was a bidding war between Geraldo and Ted Heath for his services. The band demanded four or five new pieces a week, and after three years, Johnny was nearly burned out.

He came back, and enjoyed arranging recording sessions in stereo, both for Ted Heath and under his own name at Decca, on the "Phase 2" and "Phase 4" labels, using the "ping-pong" switching of sounds across channels pioneered by Enoch Light. Some of Keating's sessions at the West Hampstead studio feature a live audience.

He also found time to write and arrange pop hits for Eden Kane, Adam Faith and Petula Clark. He wrote film scores for Hotel and Robbery, and in the 70s, recorded space themes, some commissioned by Patrick Moore.

One little jazzy gem - Drinka Lita Roza Day - came when Johnny was at a loose end in London:

"I was strolling down Edgware Road when I had the good fortune to meet ex-Ted Heath trumpeter Ronnie Hughes who told me that Lita Roza, Ted Heath’s ex-vocalist and now a big star in her own right, was about to make an album for which the Musical Director had not yet been chosen. Bingo! We recorded the live album together at The Prospect of Whitby, a famous pub down by the River Thames. The 8-piece jazz ensemble for which I was Musical Director, Arranger and Trombonist, included several of London’s top guys: Ronnie Hughes, Trumpet; Ronnie Chamberlain, Duncan Lamont and Ronnie Ross, Saxes; Dave Lee, Piano; Kenny Napper, Bass and Andy White, Drums. "

The sound is terrific, though you can hear the pub's cash register on the odd track, and the recording ends when the landlord calls time.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this piece from al of us who have the "Z-Cars Theme" etched on their brains courtesy of the Beeb... and for those who have it pressed into vinyl - one of the first 45s I bought (cost 6s 4d)


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