Friday, February 17, 2017

Peter Skellern

Peter Skellern was born in Bury, Lancashire on 14th March 1947. He said he felt a calling to the priesthood at 9, but did nowt about it. At 11 he went to Derby School in Bury - in Peter's time it was a combination of a grammar and a technical school. He also joined St Paul's Church in the town as a chorister. By 16, he was organist and choirmaster. And played the trombone in the school orchestra.

It was his keyboard skills that took him to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, from which he graduated in 1968. He then joined a band called March Hare, which had a couple of singles on the Deram label, and earned some money backing Billy Fury on tour. March Hare renamed itself Harlan County in 1970, with an album on the (British) Nashville label. Peter played piano and organ, and contributed to the writing of four songs. But the group split the same year.

In 1972, Terry Wogan took over at breakfast on Radio 2, and picked up on Peter Skellern's first solo single, "You're A Lady". With Tel's support it got to number 3 in the UK Charts. Andrew Pryce-Jackman arranged and conducted on the track; the producer was Peter Sames; and the brass came from the Hanwell Band (with euphonium intro from Johnny Luckett), later to work with Wogan on his version of the Floral Dance.

Subsequent singles didn't fare so well - but there was other stuff to do, like work on theme tunes - Radio 4's Stop the Week, from 1972. Peter also contributed weekly topical songs for the early years, and made occasional appearances through to the late 1980s. In 1975, Peter worked with John Burrows, John Harding and Mark Wing-Davey on a series of revues at the Royal Court Upstairs, called Loud Reports. There followed a full musical, Dirty Giant, starring Geraldine James, which ran at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry.

In 1975, Peter got back into the charts with Hold On To Love, which became an unlikely favourite of John Peel - he rated it at 15 in his Festive Fifty for the year. The single, and album, were produced by one Meyer Shagaloff, a pseudonym for Geoff Haslam, probably on holiday from a contract with Atlantic Records.

In 1980, there were six autobiographical shows for BBC tv, half-hours with musical illustrations recorded in front of a live audience around the UK.  Then came the distinctly odd Happy Endings, again with songs - five playlets featuring Peter in roles ranging from country vicar Septimus Meek to Harold the Handbell Ringer.

1984 saw the formation of Oasis [not that one - Ed] - an easly listening super-group with Julian Lloyd Webber, Mary Hopkin and guitarist Bill Lovelady, but the records didn't sell.

Skellern had become friends with Richard Stilgoe; they found themselves both on the bill of the Royal Variety Show in 1982, and watched pianos being pushed on and off stage for them; the solution seemed obvious. Three years later they formally joined forces for Stilgoe And Skellern: Stompin’ At The Savoy, a show in aid of The Lords Taverners. This led to successful tours over 18 years and a two-man revue, Who Plays Wins, which ran both in the West End and on Broadway.

There was also plenty of solo work on tv and radio variety shows, a series on piano greats for tv, and regular record shows on Radio 2. In 1990, he was cast as Carter Brandon, in the radio version of Peter Tinniswood's Uncle Mort's North Country.

In more recent years, the Skellern family lived in Waterside House, in the heart of Polruan. At one time a shipyard (which inspired Daphe Du Maurier) it had a spell as a bistro, before conversion to a family home. In 2000, they moved inland, to a converted corn mill. Peter enjoyed sailing, sometimes with performing partner Richard Stilgoe, and was the owner of a Fowey River class dinghy. Peter's music moved on from nostalgia and pastiche nostalgia through to choir arrangements and (back to) full-blown hymns. In the local community, he also helped with the Polruan Theatre Club.

In 2005, Peter and Richard Stilgoe were together again for the Queen's 80th birthday party at Windsor. Richard says "We did our notorious line-dancing demonstration, which made the Queen laugh a gratifying amount".

Just over three years ago, Peter begain to train for the priesthood - and his local Bishop fast-tracked everything when the diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumour came through. He was ordained as a deacon and a priest on the same day last October, under a special dispensation from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

1 comment:

  1. Peter Skellern: Love is the sweetest thing


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