Tributes to and recollections of Keith Morris
Tributes to and recollections of Keith Morris
From Eileen George
Keith is a loss to our hearts and the world of music and theatre. Irreplaceable. I loved Keith-as a friend, as a lover and like a brother. I am overwhelmed by his sudden death. It is such a loss.
We kept up a good face for a while. Philip Clark would drive by to collect Keith, dashing out from his flat with a mug of tea in his hand and then they would both collect me from Manor House Road. Keith and I would greet each other with casual good mornings having just rushed away from each other minutes before.
I can't remember if Steve Button (top floor flat Manor House Road) knew before the rest of the co-operative but we eventurely quietly announced that some policies needing changing and could we suggest one! (We were all young then! "Cheap at the Price" and the Cooperage days).
Keith moved in to Manor House Road with me and filled the flat with his saxophone and bass guitar playing, world music and tapes gathered from all the corners of the earth, gathering strange and all kinds of instruments. I brought temple bells ( and a pair of bamboo chopsticks) back from Japan for him in 1979, as he had requested. He liked to play 'chopsticks' too.
Keith worked with Pit Prop Theatre Company on many shows- I remember Pit Brew Stir (is that the title?) about Pit Lasses, and a fantastic community show that began many more ensemble music and story making with professionals, amateurs and children. Keith was the composer and conductor and it was just stunning! (sorry- I've forgotten the title- Cora Williams will know) Keith made music and performed for Monstrous Regiment which played at Newcastle playhouse on tour. I remember the creative music theatre beginnings at Stamford for "The Lost Chord" and the London venues for "Jelly Roll Morton" and the collaborations with Tony Haynes and The Grand Union.
Keith was musical director for two shows at Perspectives Theatre Company which I performed in. He arranged the songs for "A Trouble Shared"- a show set in the 1940's in the Fens- and perfected us in a five part harmony singing group- just voices (we toured without instruments this time). He arranged "Apple Blossom Time", "Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer" (dubious lyrics here- but a good tune said Keith!) and "'Til Then".
"'Til then, My darling please wait for me, 'Til then, You know that it's meant to be, One day, When we will be back again, Please wait, 'Til then." This was one of his mother, Joyce's, favourite war time songs, I recall.
Dear Joyce and Fred, Thank you for bringing your son, Keith, into the world. He was so special, a great love of my life. I will miss his wonderful lyrics. The moment when Keith introduced a new
"Here in Baghdad, The heat drives you mad, The camels in the market place have habits which are bad!"
This was from a show for Perspectives Theatre company that had a residency at Birmingham Rep one Christmas called "At The Foot of the Mountain"- a story about a group of refugees travelling across the Hindu Kush Mountains- with Keith inspired music- and Central Asian instruments. Keith was also totally confident that I could learn to play soprano sax in the show! He had such skill to make us all, non-musicians and musicians, play with confidence and precision, and with the joy of music making for an audience.
There was a wonderful version of the Stone Soup Story he did which began:
"Once long ago in old Kyrgyzstan
The show finished with another Keith song:
"They head for the foot of the mountain, the mountains of darkness and rest
Keith would be kind and courteous to all ages. He called round once to my mother's house in Gateshead having brought round a bottle of wine and sat chatting with her and my grandmother ' for a good hour', they said. He really enjoyed the company of others and it would make their day!
I moved to London in 1984 and Keith and Ellen fell in love.
I remember when you made a special trip to meet me at the Sheffield Crucible to tell me that you and Ellen were having a child (It was Freddie) and you wanted me to know before I heard it on the grapevine! You were so happy and proud but tried not to be too much so, in typical Keith fashion, as you knew it would touch my heart too.
I remember the time you called by with your two boys, Johnnie about 4 and Freddie about 9, one Christmas Eve, to introduce them to me. They were the light of your life and you were a great father to them. You later became like an Honorory Uncle to my two girls.
I will miss you so much.
I remember when we split up, we thought that at least we weren't dead, and that somehow made it bearable, in a way. Now it seems unbearable. I had imagined the time when I would sit with you, our silver hair shining, the children grown up, and as elderly citizens ourselves, looking back at life and thinking, as you sometimes said, "It's a funny old world."
One of the last times I saw Keith- and we would meet a few times each year- was in the middle of the downpour on opening night of the outdoor show, The Canterbury Tales at Lancaster, last summer. (I am so sorry I missed "The Emperor and the Nightingale" Christmas show - music that Keith was really proud of and wanted me and the girls to see as he said I would have loved it- all with original Chinese instruments played by the cast. He said he hoped to get it on again somewhere else.)
My two daughters, Lili and Zhenzhen, had loved Keith's music in the Grimms Tales in 2003. It was hauntingly beautiful and they were transfixed. In the downpour of the Canterbury Tales, Keith met us taking refuge in the cafe, my 4 year old and my 8 year old delightfully drenched to the skin and myself, not quite so delighting in the rain and mud and wondering if we all, cast included, were going to catch pneumonia! "Don't worry," said Keith,"I may be doing next year's show, come and see that!" Oh Keith- how I wish you were still here.
You were one of the kindest, generous, loving and forgiving , sweetest man I knew. If only I'd known that the Heavens were pouring tears and crying- it is only now I know what crying's for. I am seeing the world in grief tinted spectacles and I will miss you 'til the seas run dry.
We all miss you so much Keith- your love- your music and work- just you. It was a gift to know you Keith and my heart goes out to your family in their grief and especially to Ellen, your wife and Freddie and Johnnie, your sons, who gave you the best of all your days.
In tribute and loving remembrance.
From Sidney Johan Clay Glastad
I met Keith during his stay in Bergen in the Artist in Residence program at Verftet.
As with Keith, I soon got to know him and cherish him – he actually only had to be in the same room to make me feel a whole lot better, say, on a Monday morning when I was late and hadn’t got any coffee yet. I remember one time. I was running, and sweating through the hallway, worried and pissed off at myself for being late again. It was summertime, so the hallways of Verftet were cool when I met Keith around a corner. ‘Hi Sidney.’, he said, and I stopped. He always used to say my name in a particular way. Now, maybe it’s because I’m part British, and rarely hear my name spoken in that way, but I think it’s not only that. It was the pure good vibes coming from Keith, and I can’t remember what words he said to me that morning in the hallway, only that they were like the sound of his sax in one of his smoother melodies leaving me with no reason to feel bad.
I’m eternally thankful for having had the pleasure of meeting Keith. He is a part of me, as he must be of everyone he meets, urging me to be more like him: modest, thoughtful, empathetic, sympathetic, wise – a wonderful man.
My deepest condolences to his family, that I met once – I promise I will see “Chinatown” .
From Katherine Zeserson
I loved Keith. He was my friend, mentor, collaborator and comrade. We made music together for 20 years, and the work I did with him transformed me. as a singer, a musician, an activist and a philosopher. His integrity and deep thought challenged and inspired my values, his detailed and delicate composition drew an entirely new voice from me and his constant uneasiness with all frameworks encouraged in me an honest questioning I would often not have otherwise had the courage to engage in. The songs he wrote for me are those of all that I sing that I joy in singing the most. When I started working with Northern Sinfonia as Education Advisor, and then later became Director of Learning and Participation at The Sage Gateshead, Keith agreed to stand beside me as my questioner, to critique the creative processes and decisions emerging in my new roles and to help ensure that the values upon which the endeavour was predicated would be held true. He fulfilled that trust with a kindness, humour and absolute rigour that I can hardly bear the loss of. I can now only commit myself to sustain the spirit of our friendship in my actions and aim to work as an artist and leader such as he would have honoured.
From Miles Watson
After the Jazz Band weekend at Gateshead in 2000 Keith started a fortnightly jazz workshop on a Saturday morning at the Cluny. I was the only one to turn up on the second Saturday, nevertheless Keith got out his guitar and played chords and tunes while I tried to follow him on trumpet, nodding his approval when I got it right and correcting me when I was wrong. This went on for about an hour and a half and talking afterwards he said he wanted to get away from the usual jazz repetoire. Over the weeks the band grew and Keith took phrases from the band members, combined them and fitted chords and printed them out.
Keith gave us our first gig opening the set at the Cluny for Byron Wallen & Indigo, they had headed for Newcastle under Lyme and were late so we had to play a longer set. One of the numbers was a ballad which we were playing when the band arrived and Keith left the stand to greet them, I was soloing on the A section but because I didn't feel confident on the B section Keith was to solo on that, panic was creeping in as I was nearing the end of the A but on the last bar he arrived back on the stand, picked up his soprano sax and played what sounded to us the sweetest music this side of paradise. What a man!
When Keith left to go to Norway we continued at the Cluny until the change of ownership and then moved to Jesmond. Without Keith's guiding hand we had to broaden the pad and do non original material but we still music play from the Schmazz pad.
The ballad we did is now called Ballad for Keith (below). As we now do not play only originals the band thought it better to change our name and we are now Cradlewell Jazz. Many thanks Keith.
From David Bradford - the tribute given at Keith’s humanist funeral ceremony on 27th June
Keith, whose life we celebrate here today, was known to us all as a man of many gifts and diverse talents who moved in several worlds and touched many lives. This becomes the more apparent from the great number of tributes to him which have poured in from every quarter. For many people he was a link and bridge to others.
I met him in 1977 or thereabouts when we worked together in the Bruvvers Theatre Company. Amongst other things we wrote a few little songs for a play for children, and began a friendship and collaboration which continued for nearly 30 years, and a rolling conversation about art and life of the kind which he had with so many, and which he was continuing with Joe Scurfield on the night when they met their death together. So out of his many gifts I choose to begin with his gift for friendship.
One of the few things Keith told me about his early life was that in his youth he developed a passion for mathematical logic and that this had been the raft on which he sailed through the stormy weathers of a very turbulent adolescence. This power of intellectual analysis and a feeling for logic and structure would come to serve his music – it is there to be heard; but he also never lost the vital energy of that turbulence – and that is in his music too.
Because music now moves centre stage in his life. The piano and violin were mastered and he began that deep absorbtion of the classical tradition of which he obtained an encyclopedic knowledge. But then his principal enthusiasm was for the modernist composers of the 20th Century – the more difficult and esoteric the better – and this was the Keith who came up to Newcastle to study music at the University. His personal tutor there has remembered him as a student of quite exceptional ability; and his fellow students have recalled his singular insistence on the creativity of all acts of real music-making and, hence, that all music is one thing irrespective of any categories which are imposed upon it.
Unsurprisingly therefore, given this philosophy, Keith is already moving on, and looking beyond the Academy. Whilst still a student he undertook music workshops for the nascent Bruvvers Theatre Company and worked as a musical director for the Repertory Company at the University Theatre .
On leaving University he opted to stay on in Newcastle – the city where he would make his home for the rest of his life. He now began to adopt the modes of popular music, jazz and ethnic music traditions and combine them in the service of community music groups and theatre companies, and the Red Umbrella Collective. He played on demonstrations and picket lines. He shirked nothing, and compromised nowhere.
At the same time Keith was forging his own composer's voice in the many bands he set up and ran – Shaking Hands, Hotpoints, Red Music, Ipso Facto, Kent Moped – the list goes on. As a band leader, introducing numbers from the stage his style was – well – laconic – but never terse, and modest without a trace of diffidence. Essentially, and manifestly, he had authority, and this was rooted in undertaken responsibility – and never moved from the ground which nourished it.
His theatre work continued, taking him from Bruvvers in Byker to Pit Prop in Lancashire to the Peterborough Perspectives – to Manchester, London, and elsewhere. He toured with the Monstrous Regiment Theatre Collective. His contribution to Live Theatre over the years so many and so various – and in recent years he had begun a fruitful collaboration with the Duke's Theatre in Lancaster. He was an actor. He was a singer. Also a gifted teacher – he was meticulous in his preparation, unflagging in patience, and empowering in his enthusiasm and confidence.
When the Grand Union Orchestra was formed in 1985 he signed up as its bass guitarist, and remained so for 20 years, forming close personal friendships and many exhilarating partnerships in music.
Keith was also a writer. And I think in this department his overriding concern was with what he felt people really ought to know. For a recent composition, a choral work, he assembled a set of statistics, culled from various newspapers, and set these to music. Needless to say the recipient choir were delighted with the result. Delight was Keith's hemisphere which he earned by night after night, and often through the night, writing honest music against the manifold dishonesties of the world.
To write for Keith was a joy. He was as scrupulous as he was inventive, a dramatist rather than an illustrator, and a perfect judge of intonation. Besides writing for Keith meant spending more time in his company – and what could be better, since this deeply serious man, who was the heart of gentleness, was also the soul of mirth.
In conclusion I will say again and with everyone here and the many others for who this book of memory now opens; and the millions who Keith searched out and to whom and on whose behalf he sought to speak, that this lovely and distinguished man - was a friend.
From Pete Sanders
I have not seen Keith for probably ten years, and have not been a part of his life for over thirty years, yet I have been flattened by the news of his death.
I met him in a bar in the student’s union at Newcastle University in 1971. He was sitting on his own, drinking a cup of tea and we were introduced to each other by a mutual friend as the only two people he knew who could play Roy Harper songs on guitar. For three years Keith and I played music together around the student’s union and a few other places in Newcastle, and once as far afield as a folk club in Birmingham.
When I first knew him, neither of us had ever played in public before and we had to get rat-arsed to go on stage. We sounded great to me, but Keith wasn’t so pissed as to have lost his critical faculties (he never did). I found him to be, as an eighteen year-old, a dependable, honest, straightforward, gentle, funny, authentic friend. We were, I suppose, best friends for a couple of years. At least, he was the best person I knew, and he rescued me from all kinds of stupidity in the time I knew him. He had, even then, such a dry and mischievous sense of humour. When he bought a pair of headphones (very new in 1971) he put a sign on his door saying ‘please knock hard, temporarily deaf’. He suggested that our stage name be ‘temporarily deaf’ (an appeal to the audience, we would joke), which we shortened to T.Deaf. We also played once, at his insistence, under the name ‘Electric Smegma’, even though (actually because) we were completely acoustic (and very clean young men). Most often though, we would call ourselves ‘Keith and Pete’, or just for the hell of it ‘Pete and Keith’.
I have some old photos of him and me playing at a student folk night somewhere or other with a bloke called Steve Moreham on fiddle (he was a student at the then Poly, I think. I don’t know what became of him, but he was an extremely talented violinist). Late on in his degree Keith directed an event in what was then the Gulbenkian studio theatre called ‘Five’s Five’ by students and a computer. It was a sequence of five musical phrases and five spoken phrases (written by Keith) which were repeated according to a random sequence generated by me on a computer in the psychology department. The phrases were faded in and out by Keith, one of the spoken phrases being ‘always the same, always the same’. On the same programme, Keith and the musicians performed Terry Riley’s ‘In C’ with a synthesizer hired from Northern Arts (which blew up halfway through – they were rather new then) bleeping a ‘C’ every second. Keith’s parents came up from Cardiff to see the show, and it was a great night.
I am writing this to add a bit of the picture of Keith’s life that hasn’t been touched on by anyone else. I was a crap guitarist and singer and wrote a few crap songs which we played, but I think I might be able to claim that I was the first to get him on stage.
I went off to teach, write books and now run a microscopic publishing company, although our lives did cross a few times. For example, I got a phone call one day in early eighties (approximately) at college in Wigan completely out of the blue from Keith. He said he was in Leigh (the next town along) to write and direct a community music/theatre project, and did I want to go out for a drink. He was there on and off for a few months, and we met up irregularly during that time. I last saw Keith when he played a gig in Manchester (maybe it was the Kent Moped Orchestra, I can’t be sure) in the early nineties and he stayed over with another band member. We reminisced and ranted about everything wrong that needed putting right.
I received the notice about his memorial the day after it had happened because I had moved house and hadn’t told him and the post took a while to catch up with me. I cried then and I’m crying now remembering all of this. I’ll still think of him as my best friend at University. After more than thirty years he is still very close to my heart. I feel a real sense of loss. Although I don’t actually understand how that can happen, or why I miss him now, I know it does take someone particularly brilliant to do that. And Keith was particularly brilliant.
From Stan Gamester
I knew Keith better in the 1970's early eightys when our lives crossed through music, me playing the drums and percussion to his (mainly) bass guitar in the Cheaps and Ipso Facto. He made those bands very special through his calm dedication and musical talent. Since then we have met on odd occasions, the last time being about a year ago when I heard him give a very ethereal talk on his residency for Cargo in Norway, in the Customs House... and then probably after that in the street where we muttered darkly about things general.
Keiths death moved me more than recent deaths e.g. in the family. Despite our non-contact over the years I realise now that I saw him as a peer and a kindred spirit, a reference point in my map of my little world. I respect him immensely, he ran a much tighter ship than I have in the ocean of ideas, the sea of creativity, the pond of politics.
From Peter Thomson - the tribute given at Keith’s humanist funeral ceremony on 27th June
If you are lucky a few people come along who are very special in your life. Keith was one of those people for me.
Keith was an astonishingly able and literate man who played many roles, all of them with distinction. I want to remember him here today first of all as a partner to Ellen and a father to Fred and John. I remember the private delight some of us had when he and Ellen became a pair, it did seem a wonderfully well made match. And I can attest to just how much the boys were his delight.
We came, Keith, I, and many others here today, through a turbulent time. A period where everything was up for question, where the interactions of race, class and gender on the potential and the boundaries of personal, political and creative behaviour were all there to be redefined. And we had a go at redefining them. And always there was Keith somewhere near the centre of these questions, his incisive analysis slicing through the cant and the rhetoric. A towering anger at the injustice, the pain and the suffering that Capitalism still brought to the world. I am so glad Fred chose 'The Dollar Sway' because it is my favourite too. In that song Keith named a real Satan, a real danger to global justice. 20 years after he wrote those words he bought me Noam Chomsky's 'Hegemony or Survival'; a plea for global action and unity to prevent the neo-cons from gaining world ascendancy. An idealist? Certainly, but a realist of great perception too. You know we really do live in 1984, he said to me a few years ago, only Orwell wrote it in black and white, we live it in colour.
He knew how the world stood and who can forget Keith in full flow, righteous anger radiating from every pore of his body, nailing the lickspittles and apologists with unswerving and unanswerable accuracy; and though his style may have mellowed he remained quite true to the principles acquired in those early years. People talk with some affection about Keith's rants and it is just the right word. The ranters of the English revolution believed their power to affect, intervene, and change the world came from within, from their own personal integrity.
There it is, the word that soars above all else you can say. A personal integrity of frankly frightening rigour. He could make life very difficult for other people – Ellen, what's this Marks and Spencers bag doing in the house? I don't think we can get away with that Tony. No kids, we are not going within 1000 miles of Burger King, McDonald's, the whole pack of them.
But it was in his work and in his personal dealings with the world that his integrity shone like a beacon, a beacon that attracted so much love, affection, and respect. I wanted to remember him first as a partner and a father; but as an actor and performer he possessed a quiet magnetism that made him a delight to watch; as a musician he was wonderfully accomplished; he could play almost any instrument. He used to keep a large collection of pipes and flutes in his flat, one day a friend picked up a particularly weird device with a gourd, a soft leather bag and a number of pipes attached. After blowing and sucking at the pipes with no sound emerging they turned and asked “How does this one work?” Ah said Keith, actually that is what I have been using to give myself an enema.
He was a teacher of great skill and patience, taking people from where they were and giving them confidence in achieving their goals. We learnt the saxophone together and he just made it easy. He was a promoter of new music, his own bands and other peoples; and he was a composer. With typical modesty he wrote this about himself recently:
“A more or less unknown composer based in Newcastle, writing music for all sorts of reasons, including theatre, literature, art and other kinds of events in the region. Writes also for youth and school circumstances, choirs, bands and ensembles. Also writes songs. Regards himself as actually quite good at setting words.” We all knew how Keith's wry, often self-deprecating humour would underplay his contribution to projects which then emerged to delight and transfix us.
I always wanted to be Keith's Manager. How was it that someone so talented, so innovative, so wise and knowledgeable, so inspirational to all who came into contact with him, was not double and triple booked every day he was available? Life is full of mysteries.
That he and his friend and comrade, Joe Scurfield should be taken from us is a mystery we will never fathom. We pay tribute here today to Joe who was such a part of our lives too. They were both extraordinary, wonderful human beings. We have lost great friends
For Ellen, Fred and John, Keith was their best friend, and I know Ellen would want me to thank the hundreds of people who have been in touch with her over the last fortnight with both cards and gifts. Keith loved his family very much; and he loved them because of what they are: a fine woman, and two young men, young lions, who will grow to be magnificent tributes to his memory.
Keith was very simply the best. I am so honoured to have known him, so proud to have been his friend. I speak these words for you, for everyone who was touched by him.
From David Fry
I cant really remember when I first knew Keith, but it must have been in the days after I finished college in the mid 70's and was pursuing my interest in photography(I now work as a potter) and Keith was involved in music at a workshop known as Spectro. He always had a friendly manner whenever we bumped into each other and asked how each other was doing.
I last saw him conduct/perform his music at a Schmazz event at the Cluny about 18 months ago: I was immensely impressed with the complexity, depth, breath, quality and scale of the piece of music and could feel the effort and energy that went into the composing.
My last remembrances of him were recently at the Cumberland Arms, where he often use to come in late on for a drink and chat about about problems he was having with the latest piece of music he was working on - I don't know what that piece of music was but hopefully I will hear it one day.
A great loss to the music world and to family and friends; A great composer cut down in his prime by a senseless act, it reminded me of George Butterworth another great composer cut down in his prime by another senseless event - Keith will live on in his music - It was a privilege to know him ...
From Catherine Haslam
Keith was my tutor on my very first Music degree course at Northumbria University back in 1997. I recall not quite understanding his wit and his humour until much later in the course, when I realised what a wonderful and gifted man he was. He soon became my idol.
From then on, I looked up to Keith and knew I would never be the musician he was, but he made me TRY...he taught me many things throughout those 3 years.
When I graduated and went on to do another degree, this time at Sunderland Uni, Keith 'popped up' again. He was employed as composer in residence and I was delighted to be getting the chance to work this man again.
I didn’t know too much about him, I just knew that his talent and ambition to find and promote real musicians will always be a constant loss on Tyneside and throughout the many places he worked.
I couldn’t make the Funeral service, as I am a Music teacher myself now, and could not get out of work in time. However, I make sure that throughout my teaching of Music to the next generation, Keith's method of improvising and performing is present. He was, after all, the man who taught me most of what I know to do with performance and creating music.
I made the memorial at the Cluny and stayed for only half an hour with my friend Louise. It felt right to be there and to say my own sad farewell to Keith.
I remember his wooly cardy, his strange hat and the way that he always seemed to be humble and un-assuming.
I wish his partner and children my sincere condolences on their loss, and hope that they find strength to continue knowing what a much loved and fantastic man Keith was.
Rest in peace Keith.
From Andrew Dixon Arts Council England North East
It was a great shock to hear of Keith and Joe's deaths. I think I first met Keith in the 1980s when I promoted Grand Union but got to know him here in Newcastle as one of the region's most prolific and respected musicians. I will remember him most for Graeme Rigby's Big People weekend and his gigs at the Cluny. His serious mission to take music further and try new collaborations was balanced by an obvious love of just playing live. I was delighted when he took the Northern Arts Bergen residency. I once joked with him as to whether there was a North East band he hadn't played in but his enduring quest for quality in all that he did meant that he only played with the best.
From Sue Gittins
I am writing this still in shock and disbelief. Keith has been in the background of my life for all my adult life - he was younger than me, though the same generation - and he has gone. Writing about him will help the process of acceptance, I hope, and release some grief. It will also remind me that shared experience and endeavour keep us all alive to each other.
The musical values and quirky tastes Keith and I shared can be attributed in some measure to the musical revolution which occurred in our generation. A quiet transformation had taken place of attitudes to the academic and classical repertoire and the context in which it was represented. Jazz and world musical influences met folk revival, clashing with classicists in retreat from the straitjacket of the concert hall. Because Keith was a trained and disciplined musician who had become impatient with traditional barriers and prejudices, and was fluent in a number of styles, he was a natural ally.
I met Keith in 1978 when I worked as a community artist. He recruited me to an ensemble called Cheap at the Price, which played to packed Friday night crowds at the old Wallsend Arts Centre in Charlotte Street. Cheap at The Price played a bizarre mix of standard soul - “Grapevine”, ”I Can See Clearly Now”, and original compositions from the pen of Keith and another band member, and community artist at Wallsend.
Following our dazzling success, with the Wallsend glitterati, Keith and I decided we were made of more esoteric stuff .We got together to construct a repertoire from the songs of Hans Eisler and Bertolt Brecht, mixed with standards of the forties and fifties. I concocted the programme, Keith worked arrangements, and together we recruited the band members. The Bakelite Band was quite short-lived, but an excellent example of Keith’s calibre as performer, arranger, and musical director. In this ensemble, as I am sure in all his many and varied projects, he demonstrated stylistic fluency, assured musicianship, a high standard of communication with his fellow musicians and watertight professionalism.
Soloists, and perhaps in particular singers, are at the mercy and behest of their accompanist/s. Keith’s arrangements of the material, and his musical direction of The Bakelite Band, were immaculate. The experience of singing with this ensemble was apparent effortlessness shot through with pure delight. A light sure arranger’s touch with tough material, and a cool disciplined approach to his musical task were Keith’s hallmarks. I feel lucky to have known and worked with him. Keith set himself high standards and was sometimes perhaps overwhelmed by his inner demon of self-doubt. That he was highly regarded by so many fellow artists perhaps failed to encourage him as it should.
It was a joy and a privilege to know Keith. Long live his memory.
From Carol McGuigan
From Paul Fletcher
Like so many I feel devastated at the tragic and needless loss of Keith and Joe.
One memory: He'd composed a piece called 'Keep Fit in Gateshead', one arrangement of which Tenth Avenue played while promenading the streets of Wrekenton, and another played by a brass band beneath an enormous illuminated red heart. I told Keith how much I enjoyed the thick chords
I was a participant at the last workshop he gave, on the Sunday before he died. It was a South African jazz session at the Sage. He had a large, very mixed group. As someone who is more often the other side of the 'baton' I really admired the way he ran the session, giving great support to the less able in the group while ensuring everybody was stretched and a lot of playing was done. He'd brought a wide range of styles and difficulties of music within South African jazz - and he got
He found the time for quite a long chat after the session, in spite of the number of instruments he had to put away. He talked of the difficulties of composing to order, at speed, with sometimes noisy neighbours. I suggested he set up more of what he'd just done - a full weekend or an evening class, as an extra little earner. I also asked him whether he had any plans to do more in the fashion of the 'metalworks' and 'metalsongs' gigs (original music played by some of the best local musicians at the Cluny in Dec 02 and Dec 03). I consider these to be two of the best gigs I have ever been to. Keith said that he'd promised himself not to do it again without proper funding so he could rehearse it properly and record it. I suggested he get some support for fund raising and do just that.
He has given us so much and yet had so much more to give.
From Chris Biscoe
I met Keith as a fellow member of Grand Union in the early 1980s. He was playing tenor sax on those first gigs; later I heard him perform on all the saxes, but recently he concentrated on electric bass in this band, where he made a fine rhythm section team, first with Dave Barry and then Brian Abrahams. I particularly enjoyed soloing with his seamlessly swinging jazz time, when so many electric bass players sound lumpy and unswinging. Of course, this being Grand Union, Keith was still called on to demonstrate his versatility, playing various string instruments, bass clarinet, and leading ensemble singing with a sure, true and unfussy voice.
It was thanks to Keith that I had the pleasure of working on two Big People projects, which also introduced me to his writing, in which I could appreciate his distinctive melodic and harmonic approach and care in setting lyrics.
Recently I’ve been one of a group (10 or more) musicians in London running a weekly gig in London. This has helped me appreciate his work and sacrifice of personal time in keeping the Schmazz evenings going over a period of 4 years while prime administrator. When playing the Cluny Keith always made us feel very welcome and every evening seemed like an event in which he had a personal interest. He was unfailingly generous with his time and continued to delight with his humour - dry, unemphatic and with just a little edge.
Finally, I saw Keith and Ellen together at The Corner House very recently, and, as always, knew I was with people of integrity - worn lightly, with grace.
From Catherine Mummery
I knew Keith mostly through his work with the Grand Union (GU) Orchestra. He was one of the most unassuming, undemanding and nicest musicians I had the pleasure of working for. Alongside the many memorable performances he gave with the Orchestra and the various Grand Union Bands I particularly recall how incredibly supportive he was to the many young musicians who took part in GU's participating projects. One project I have particularly strong memories was entitled Making Waves (1997/98). Keith led a team of GU musicians to work in 7 Birmingham and Warwickshire schools. Over a series of visits by the musicians the students created their own music inspired by the GU show The Rhythm of Tides. The project culminated with a performance of the student's work, supported by GU musicians, at the Symphony Hall Birmingham. It was the extraordinary care and attention to detail that Keith showed in the way that he put together the performance that was striking. He made the 7 disparate schools and their various ensembles gel and he crafted the many very varied contributions for the schools, together with numbers by Grand Union into an extraordinary seamless life-enhancing musical experience that I am certain will never be forgotten by the young participants. He really brought the best out of everyone. I have a wonderful photo of Keith caught mid air as he conductors the mass ensemble (over 150 on stage). It captures his passion and enthusiasm in a rare way. What still haunts me is that this performance was seen by a pathetically small handful of people in the vast symphony hall - the result of poor scheduling, practically no publicity and the poor value attached to the event from the organisers.
Again it was a sign of the dedication of Keith and the rest of the GU musicians that the failures of management did not prevent them giving their all and ensuring that the lucky few in the audience were given such as memorable treat. After the performance he made the time and trouble to edit and send separate recordings to the individual schools of the students' work. His work paved the way for future projects to be taken more seriously and given better support. I greatly admired the way he took the time, consideration and commitment to try and make a difference. Even if the wider world did not notice, it mattered to him. I am inspired by his dedication and quiet conviction and will greatly miss him.
From Wolfgang König in Berlin
It was with a great shock that I heard of the deaths of Keith Morris and Joe Scurfield. I met Keith in February 1987 when he performed at the Political Song Festival in East Berlin. We liked each other immediatly and stayed in touch across the Iron Curtain. He kept sending me his music which I always enjoyed, a wonderful combination of sophistication and accessibility.
More from Ieuan Goch ab Einion
I first met Keith and Ellen along with Tessa Green and Peter Thomson in 1979. I was invited to join a "music and ideology" discussion group with them. We were all very young - Keith a little older than the rest of us. We spent hours discussing Althusser's theory of the "History of Ideology" and then tried to apply it to music. (We had discussions around notions such as "Is 4/4 a fascist rhythm?!)
We sort of stopped this and got on to much more practical things when we heard that Althusser had murdered his wife and was in a lunatic asylum in Paris.
In 1983 a young West German Refusnik (military service dissenter) called Klaus was doing voluntary work with the homeless at St. Thomas' Church. It was his idea to hold a concert in the church to mark the centenary of the death of Karl Marx that year. We rose to the challenge and Keith, Joe Scurfield and I formed the band "Red Music" specifically to play at this event. Some disgruntled congregationalist informed the police about the event and it was raided big time and the illegal bar Klaus was running in the church closed down - I think he was prosecuted for it.
The band went from strength to strength (or from weakness to weakness, depending how you look at it). By 1987 we had achieved international recognition and that year played in East Germany, Denmark, Bulgaria and Greece (always at events organised by the Communist party and in the case of Greece to a live audience of 80,000 people). Keith hated Bulgaria and all it stood for but ironically his song "Walking in the Street" (calling for the release of Nelson Mandela) was broadcast live on television from the Red Poppy Festival in Blagoevgrad to an audience of 44 million people throughout the then socialist world. In a Kafkaesque experience, the band had apparently "won" the eastern European equivalent of the Eurovision Song Contest. Next day, back in Sofia, Keith was mobbed by happy people who had seen him perform on the telly the night before. Posters and programmes in Bulgaria were in the Cyrillic alphabet and Keith's name in Cyrillic looked exactly like "Kent Moped". I guess he still has the posters.
Red Music lasted for over 10 years and many great musicians played in the band. I will probably do many people an injustice by excluding them but for most of us this band was a seminal experience in both politics and music. (List of names of musicians in ‘Keith’s Work’ section - coming shortly)
In 1987 Red Music made an album (produced by Projects UK in Westgate Road). It was probably one of the last pieces of vinyl made in Britain as, six months later, digital technology became the rage and CDs replaced albums. We all have loads of the records in our attics. I am planning to get the album re-mastered onto digital and release a CD version soon as a tribute to Keith. It is on this album that he is credited with playing so many instruments. He would just turn up with them and know how they worked. This album contains many of Keith's best recorded solos (in my opinion).
I owe so much to Keith. He studied music at Newcastle University and had an opportunity I never had. I was an apprentice in a shipyard with a longing to play music. Keith was my main tutor in the "university of life" and the fact that I am a professional composer today is largely down to him. I was, admittedly, the main political driver in Red Music. I once accused Keith of deploying "trotskyite harmonies" in my attempts to regularise the band and to keep it (as I believed) accessible to the "masses". I now deploy harmonies far more bizarre and am thankful that it was Keith who taught me that it was not he nor the "masses" who were backward but me myself.
From Tim Archer
My favourite (!) memory is playing 'My Guy' with Keith - straightfaced – to the assembled and worthy company of the Standing Conference of Young People's Theatre on go-as-you-please night in Cardiff. I never heard Keith complain once.
On the other hand I did see him mystify Battle Hill playscheme by reciting the ballad of Reading Gaol dressed in a loin cloth and standing on a bucket.
From Adrian Swales and Janet Longbotham
As friends and neighbours of Keith we have many musical memories. Our earliest memory is of the Bakelite Band from the early 80's. As it is so long ago our memories cannot be relied upon, but it was definitely in the old Post Office Bar. The audience cannot have been more than 20 and we think that Alex Glasgow was the support act. The band played a selection of Kurt Weill and Hans Eisler, music that Keith always loved.
When we became neighbours we became a ware of his latest projects, his struggle to give birth to the music and the indifference of the Newcastle musical establishment. "Have you got a barcarolle? I've got to write one and I can't remember how the rhythm goes." " Can you lend me a music stand? I've got some of the Sinfonia coming to play a piece and I'm not sure whether they'll bring their own stands".
Noisy neighbours often plagued him while he was trying to work. The worst was a Greek student who lived above the bowling alley who played Europop at full volume with the window open!
In every piece Keith composed, whether for Andy Shepherd and John Harle or a local youth choir, it always had to be the best he could do and never took the easy option, even if it meant completing a commission late. Although the musical establishment irritated Keith, he loved musicians and was always prepared to help the young performers. He let our then 13-year old son and his band use, free of charge, his music room - even setting it up for them and offering to record their music.
Keith, always modest about his own performing skills, was always an intelligent and sensitive player. He and Lewis Watson played a stunning set for an art exhibition/poetry reading in Hexham. In the summer, when the door of his music room was open, we would often hear musicians rehearsing his latest piece. How lucky we were and now fully realise what we're missing.
And finally, we would like to thank him for Schmazz that brought some great jazz to the North East. How else would we have heard Indigo.
A friend said about the deaths of both Keith and Joe, " It is like two half finished stories."
From Harry Swales
One of the best things in my life has been Archie the rabbit. When we went on holiday Keith would look after our rabbit for us; he would come around every other day and feed him, give him some water and check how he was doing. 2 years ago Archie died whilst we were on holiday. Keith dug the hole for him and buried him when he could have just deposited of him in the bin! Keith also wrote a very kind note explaining how he had found him on the ground etc. I am glad someone like Keith looked after him and looked after him when we couldn’t. In fact Keith’s family’s rabbit and our rabbit produced 6 baby rabbits (this was really unexpected due to our lack of skill at determining the sex of rabbits!)
Keith also let my band use his practice room free of charge! He would help us set up, offer any other help and even give us tips on improving songs.
Thank you Keith, you could not have been a kinder man!
From Michael Mould
I love Keith and his wry, self deprecating sense of humour, I love the distortion of history and how stories grow and grow into mythic reality and I'll always remember him for that.
Bruvvers Theatre Co did a show in the early seventies in which Keith played the thinnest man in the world. He was so thin that he could fit between the nails on a bed of nails. It was a show about prejudice which sprang from our own stories. Keith and Stan Cowgill another very thin man, were sunning themselves in Jesmond Dene,stripped off. These Geordies went past and were heard to remark "are ye for real or what!" The way Keith told it, it was so funny!
The Grafton....Keith talked me into buying it, cos he fancied it, it never played but it was beautiful to look at! Years later I got it repaired and it still never played. Its true about the Kazoo.
We did a rock and roll show "ain't that a shame" the whole horn section was made up of instruments with kazoos in them. Keith did all the arrangements. Keith was the Musician and we all pretended, He must have despaired. But we all had immense fun! With Love and Affection!
From Paul Rubinstein Newcastle City Council
Keith Morris and Joe Scurfield
The arts world in Newcastle had been trying to cope with the loss of writer Julia Darling when two of the most influential musicians in the city were tragically taken from us. Coming soon after the awful death of Peter Sarah, Tom Hadaway and, not so long ago, the photographer Davey Pearson, it has been a difficult time for many.
Two friends, Joe Scurfield and Keith Morris were walking down Westgate Hill to go for a drink. The car that killed them killed a major part of the creative life of the city.
Joe Scurfield was a giant in many ways. Physically, musically, politically and personally, he was a big man who used his enormous talent and commitment to further the causes he believed in. Perhaps best known for his work with the Old Rope String Band (travelling the world with his comrades Pete Challonor and Tim Dalling), he was a personal, political and musical inspiration to thousands of people.
Joe was a committed socialist, and was for many years one of the key figures behind the May Day celebrations in Newcastle, and the annual Dance for Peace and Socialism (later Solidarity, when the S word became difficult to use, though Joe would have surely preferred to stick with the earlier title). He believed in the arts as a force for social and political change, and played many thousands of benefit gigs in many guises, and was a familiar presence on many a demonstration and picket line. The miner's strike of the mid 1980s saw Joe perform across the country in support of the miners, their families, and communities.
He lived in the Arthur's Hill area of Newcastle, and was a familiar figure and community activist in the West End for many years. Joe was a brilliant juggler, a wonderfully comic performer, and great clown. He was also a committed internationalist whose loss is a grievous blow to the arts across the world.
Keith Morris was a modest, quietly spoken, genius. He was one of our finest musicians, working across genres but perhaps most at home as a jazz performer, composer and promoter. Most recently, Keith had been the driving force behind Schmazz, the jazz series at the Cluny in the Ouseburn Valley. Keith brought some of the best jazz artists playing today to a venue far smaller than many were used to. Perhaps they came because in Keith, they knew this was someone promoting the gigs through his love of the music and the musicians, not the huff and puff which often surrounds the arts.
But Keith was much more than a promoter. He played for many years with the Grand Union Orchestra, as well as a huge range of bands of his own (the Kent Mopeds, among many others). His work with poet Sean O'Brien on the Big River project was a particularly rich collaboration. He was a familiar figure in almost all the best bands the North East has produced, and his appearance at the Archie Brown and the Young Bucks Christmas Party was always a treat.
He was one of the very first Bruvvers, Mike Mould's troupe of touring actors ands musicians who have been taking theatre to community venues across Tyneside for over 25 years. He had been artist in residence from Gateshead to Bergen, and was a brilliant Music Director for some of Live Theatre's best shows, most recently the play with Ella Fitzgerald as a central character, Lush Life.
I saw Keith with his great mate the sax player Lewis Watson a few weeks before he died. They were having a pint in the Crown Posada. We were talking about the brilliant piano player in Lush Life, Naadia Sherriff (about whom Keith was typically generous) and Keith and Lewis were comparing how long it took them to recognise the Ella songs - it usually took Lewis about three notes, and Keith wasn't far behind.
Keith had high standards, of musicians, of arts venues, of schools and of Newcastle, standards many struggled to meet leaving Keith disappointed and critical. But he was never forlorn. He was always on to the next project, the results of which continued to amaze and inspire the rest of us. He never recognised himself as this source of inspiration, and was always surprised when people expressed interest in, and support for, his work. It was this modesty and humility that made Keith one of the most gentle and impressive figures in the arts in Newcastle.
At the City Council, we know that our city is fortunate to be home to a range of heroic, often unacknowledged, cultural figures young and old. Such people do more for the arts in the city than any policy, strategy or glitzy "grand project". The city of Newcastle is an immeasurably poorer place for the death of Joe Scurfield and Keith Morris.
But perhaps we need to force ourselves to take something positive from these awful losses. I have no idea what financial provision Keith, Joe, or any one else in the arts has made for their families in the advent of their deaths. Since another tragic death, that of sculptor Pete Auty five years ago, the writer Steve Chambers has been advocating that the Arts Council should help establish an artists pension scheme. Many self employed artists, particularly those who through passionate social commitment are not likely to make huge money, struggle to find pension provision of any kind leaving them and their families vulnerable. Steve has been promoting a model based on a scheme run by the Writer Guild of Great Britain, whereby writers and their commissioning employers contribute to a scheme when the contract is agreed. Steve wants the Arts Council to support the extension of this principle to the full range of artists, and support it with their funds when required.
And if any good can come out of such awful loss, such a scheme might just get close to an important silver lining.
From Adrin Neatrour
From Lucy Milton/Fairley
I have known Keith Morris for 20 years, since he undertook a residency as musician at Aycliffe Hospital (for people with learning disabilities) in 1985. Keith was dedicated to bringing out the creative potential and self expression of everyone with whom he worked: spending days on finding a way of reaching particular individuals (such as a person with very limited mobility) and encouraging people to listen to each other and share their music-making. His effect on the lives of the residents was incalculable - and their music was joyous.
Over the years I have followed Keith's development as a musician and composer with admiration - being inspired by imaginative collaborations such as Grand Union Orchestra. I also attended a number of Schmazz events, which offered people in the region the opportunity to hear outstanding jazz in a congenial environment.
Over the last year, I followed with excitement the creation of his two cantatas for Helix Arts' Cargo project (two more were still to be written). I also attended an improvisation workshop, where Keith actively encouraged even the most diffident member of the group to take the risk of creating their own music.
Most of all, I remember Keith for his gentleness and his warmth. Nothing was too much for him, and he was tireless in sharing his creativity with others. In spite of being a creative giant, he was so humble and unassuming. His untimely death has cut short a wonderful life - he had so much more to offer to those who knew and loved him, to the region and to music as a whole - we will miss him and remember him.
From Esther Salomon
I developed a live art work for the Platform North East event in October 2004 and commissioned Keith to compose music for it. He produced an exquisite sound montage that was absolutely perfect for the performance. He was a pleasure to work with - very supportive, very intuitive, very creative and very generous....an excellent artist and collaborator!
From Shelly Moore Auckland NZ
'I don't do jazz'
From Andrew Dawson Manchester
From Clare Satow
They have built, inspired and delighted audiences and artists on Tyneside, across the UK and abroad. Joe, with Pete Challoner and Tim Dalling as the Old Rope String band have been ambassadors for the region to venues great and small. Keith brought his great skills as a musician and composer to developing and promoting highly original music and its performance in the community as well as halls of excellence.
The cultural regeneration for which Tyneside is applauded owes much to such unsung heroes as Keith Morris and Joe Scurfield.
By Peter Thomson (Lord Mayor of Newcastle upon Tyne 2000-2001).
Keith and Joe dedicated their lives and careers to others
Letter in The Journal Jun 13 2005
Your articles on the tragic deaths of Keith Morris and Joe Scurfield last Wednesday night, hardly do justice to two extraordinary Newcastle artists.
Having known both for more than 25 years, most of their professional lives, I am compelled to write in praise of those lives and their work.
There is insufficient space to give anything like a full appreciation of what was achieved in two diverse yet interlinked careers but, at root, both were dedicated to the communities in which they lived and worked.
Both were hugely talented performers and creators who could, had they so chosen, have enjoyed highly successful and lucrative careers.
They chose instead to live in the unfashionable west end of the city and dedicate much of their energies and creativity to the service of communities and people less well advantaged than themselves.
Both recognised the power of music and drama to uplift and transform lives; to give a voice to the voiceless and a sense of purpose and achievement to people whose lives and opportunities were limited.
Joe was a lifelong socialist activist who will be remembered for many years for his direct support for struggles against inequality and injustice, here and in the wider world.
Keith was arguably the most important community musician of his generation.
His groundwork, from the late 1970s onwards, in engaging people directly in music-making paved the way for today's focus on wider engagement, as exemplified by The Sage Gateshead.
Yet both men also created and played compelling original music in their respective fields, fully deserving of recognition in its own right.
The sense of loss experienced, not just among the music and creative community on Tyneside, but by many more, is unparalleled in our lifetimes. These were two very fine human beings deserving of great praise.
An honest, decent man
Text of an obituary for Keith published in the Morning Star Saturday 18 June
IEUAN GOCH AB EINION remembers Keith Morris, the outstanding Cardiff jazz musican and composer.
The eminent jazz musician and composer Keith Morris was killed late last Wednesday night along with fellow musician and socialist Joe Scurfield when they were tragically mown down by a speeding car in a hit and run incident in Newcastle's West End.
My compatriot and comrade will be sorely missed. Keith was a shy and retiring man in many ways and was not one to boast about his talents. He did not suffer fools gladly and often turned his back on safe opportunities to make money in favour of taking risks and maintaining innovation in his musical life.
He came to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1971 to study music at Newcastle University. In a rich and fulfilling career thereafter, he worked first as a musician and community artist and later became widely known as an innovative jazz composer whose style defied categorisation.
He played on picket lines and at demonstrations in The Stumbling Band and at benefits for strikers, solidarity movements and other progressive causes as a founder member of the band Red Music.
A widening network of collaborators thereafter included Andy Shepherd, Annie Whitehead, Katherine Tickell, Karen Tweed, John Warren, Paul Jayasinha, Lewis Watson, John Harle, Steve Lodder and Carol Grimes.
In 2000-2001, he was resident composer at Kulturhuset USF in Bergen, Norway, where he wrote the jazz musical Down River - settings of texts by poet Sean O'Brien.
Saxophonist Lewis Watson put it in a nutshell when he said of Keith: "He was one of the nicest guys, honest, decent and without any musical prejudices."
I shall remember him as much for his dry Cardiff wit and his healthy scepticism about the high and mighty as for his outstanding musical talents.
Keith leaves behind his partner, the poet Ellen Phethean and two sons Fred and John.
Extracts from emails to Paul Bream from musicians who have played at Schmazz
From Jan Kopinski
From Theo Travis
From Chris Biscoe
From Blake Wilner
From Ingrid Laubrock
Oh no!...Paul! That is so sad, man!!!! Keith was a wonderful man! I won’t forget that - and one of the best promoters I've worked with! He definitely set up one of the most amazing music venues in the country!! What can I say - it is so sad...life is so unpredictable... I'm so sorry to hear that man!
From Bob Giddings
Thank you for inviting memories of Keith. I have thought of him so much in the last days, and I am sure that others share the feelings of frustration and helplessness.
I came to Newcastle in September 1975, as a student at Newcastle University. Within days I was searching for some musical activity. I think Keith had only just graduated because I remember him saying that he was the only student to choose composition for his final year; and how could you be a music graduate by just writing an essay. He had just started an experimental music group at Wallsend Arts Centre (Charlotte Street I think, but no longer there). I went along and found this amazing bunch of crazy people, with this thin quiet guy in the middle - gently saying 'yeh, yeh - we need to start and end with total silence'. Surprisingly, we made some rudimentary
I would see Keith around the city from time to time but he increasingly worked away on various projects. One time when I met him, he gave me a tape of some tunes from a Jelly Roll Morton production that they were doing. It is great - especially the totally vocal version of Dr Jazz. Then, by surprise, we found ourselves living in the same street in Jesmond. For a while, we saw quite a lot of each other. When I went to his flat for the first time, I discovered that the bass and piano player now had a full set of saxophones. He showed me how to play the soprano, which I had never even held before. However, I really liked the alto. One day he found an alto for sale in the Evening Chronicle and asked me if I wanted it. We went along to see it. Keith was very low key and matter of fact - but he played some amazing tune on it and then terrified the vendor even more, by taking out a set of tuning forks and checking each note. We left with a great little instrument and the vendor was relieved to see us walk out the door with it.
I played with one or two small local bands but they all seemed short-lived. I was becoming very frustrated by this - so, as you do, gave Keith a call to seek advice. He said 'you should join the Tenth Avenue Band' and I have been with them ever since.
In recent times I was fascinated by his work with the Bergen Kommune. I am sure it was called 'Jazz on the Tyne' at the Playhouse, although the CD says 'Downriver'. Anyway it was stunningly wonderful, and so good to see familiar local musicians - along with some greats from London, like Gerry. Recently I went along to the production at Live Theatre - hoping Keith would
Keith was always quiet and unassuming. He also had very strong principles. I remember in the late 1970s, he was offered a lot of money to join a popular band at the time but it required compromises that he could not accept. After performances at the Playhouse and the Cluny, we would talk to the musicians involved. They would say 'Genius Keith you know' - and he was.
From Mike Jamieson
Very rare are jazz musicians who combine the talent and energy for organising musical events with a publicity-conscious awareness of the need to provide the media with advance information about them. The fact that Keith Morris was such a rarity is only one reason his death leaves a huge gap on the North-East music scene and beyond. When I was jazz-blues-roots columnist for the Evening Chronicle, Newcastle, he was assiduous in informing me about his up-coming gigs showcasing some of the best of local and non-local musicians – particularly important before web sites made it easier for music journalists to keep abreast of events. His modesty made him more reticent about publicising the astonishing breadth of his own talents as multi-instrumentalist, bandleader and composer. Personally I enjoyed his off-beat, slightly cynical, somewhat self-deprecating sense of humour.
From Sue Hurrell
From Graham Robinson
From John Corcoran Co. Kerry, Ireland - a former Newcastle upon Tyne resident.
Absolutely shocked and saddened to hear of the needless deaths of Joe and Keith, guys i spent many a happy hour with in the Globe and elsewhere at various solidarity gigs. Joe and Keith worked tirelessly supporting the striking miners in 1984 and 1985, and unlike so many others, never faltered or compromised their principles. A sad sad loss, my condolences to both mens families-we shall not see their like again.
I would say that I first met Keith as so many of us did, in that Left social circle, quite vibrant and active in Newcastle in the early 1980s. I was an active member of the Communist Party, and it was noticeable that Keith had a lot of respect for the fact that we at least were not interested in proselytising (too much anyway) and were trying to be involved in building the broadest possible movement to resist the onslaught on the welfare state and the state owned industries which at that time were so central to life in the North East.
This meant that Keith and others, such as Joe, and many others in that circle, were perfectly able to have intelligent and constructive discussions about how to revive a fight against the ideological and political hegemony the Tories had created.
We were both equally convinced that somehow we had to reassert an alternative left culture, and for Keith and many others around the Red Umbrella grouping this involved the use of powerful music and drama. We were also agreed that "doing something" was the only really courageous response, at a time when so many were beginning to revamp and "rethink" their basic socialist values in a way, unforeseen then; but which would eventually "morph" into a "Labour" government joining in the bombing of an oil rich third world country just 20 years later.
At least two recent "Labour" cabinet ministers drank around those tables in those days, neither Keith nor I would have dreamed where they would eventually shift to politically.
Happily some people, such as Keith, largely eschewed the increasingly strident siren calls of pragmatic "compromises" to be followed by yet more castor oil like doses of pragmatic "realism", and stayed true to a semblance of what socialism was, and still is all about.
We may have "failed" in so many regards, but I think some others who joined in those debates 20 years ago "failed" in a much more profoundly personal and moral sense. That is something neither Keith nor Joe can ever have laid at their door, and I know they would have been proud of that.
Keith loved me to tell him about the details from the interviews I was doing with Spanish civil war veterans from Tyneside, and he was pleased when the book was eventually published under the title "An Inspiring Example".
To me Keith was a thinker, an impressive and reasoned non-dogmatic socialist, of a sort that was all too rare. He also impressed me because not only was he a musician but was also a composer, which to me as a non-musician was a pretty big deal!
My most abiding musically connected memory was that he was very keen to get hold of a book that I had acquired in the GDR -"Hans Eisler-A Rebel in Music" - apparently not easy to get hold of. Characteristically, he returned it to me in perfect condition, and in a most reasonable time frame. -In those days, lending books to mates in pubs was often tantamount to kissing them goodbye for good-there was a sort of collectivity about books-and I was certainly a culprit in this respect on numerous occasions!
No, Keith returned it, and he had clearly read it and said he had taken some notes from it. I was at the time listening to the music of Weill and Brecht, and Keith successfully explained to me why the disjointed tones I in my musically illiterate way had noticed in so many of the tunes. Patiently and convincingly he explained to me that this "disjointedness" was in his opinion, quite deliberate attempts by Weill to represent the conflicts and disharmonies prevalent in the society in which he was writing, Weimar Germany. Sort of jazzy, catchy, and decadent but with an ominous timbre present.
I liked him enormously, my two sons Kieran and Andrew Corcoran, are contemporaries of Keith’s boys at Heaton Manor, and I know they too were deeply saddened by the tragic news.
Quiet, self effacing, intelligent, reliable and honourable are the terms which spring to mind when I recall him. I do not pretend to have been one of his best friends or anything as significant as that. He was just a man I met, liked, respected, and shall remember with sustained affection.
From Sean O’Brien
Keith and I worked together on Songs from the Drowned Book, together with W.N. Herbert and Linda France. The songs were performed at BigFest in 1999(?) by a band including Annie Whitehead and Paul Jayasinha. Out of this collaboration came the jazz musical Downriver, which we staged in a concert version at Newcastle Playhouse in 2001, with Annie, Brian Abrahams, Lewis Watson and Colin Steele among the musicians in a quite extraordinary band. The singing roles were taken by Brian, Libby Davison, Katherine Zeserson, Walter James and Richard Scott – a remarkably diverse cast, expertly hand-picked by Keith.
Keith wrote the music for the radio version of my play Laughter When We’re Dead and for the RSC / Live Theatre production of Keepers of the Flame. We also wrote an elegy for the poet Andrew Waterhouse, ‘Song for the Crossing’.
Those are facts. What they can’t convey is what a privilege it was to work with a composer as gifted as Keith, and what an encouragement and a deep pleasure it was to find a genuine collaborator for theatrical work. Keith was a great melodist and an astonishingly subtle and powerful arranger. He also cared about language, which is pretty unusual.
In his theatre writing Keith had a very fine sense of mood. Keepers of the Flame, a play about Fascism, was immensely enriched by the haunted Englishness of the orchestral music he wrote, and in Downriver he created an entire world – a jazz version of Newcastle’s quayside, romantic, erotic, comic, a momentary Eden doomed to violence. To say that it’s a pity we weren’t able to carry Downriver on to a full theatrical staging is a very large understatement.
The day Keith died we’d been on the phone at teatime talking about arrangements for a gig at Newcastle Lit and Phil in the autumn. He kept a number of Downriver songs in the repertoire of his various jazz lineups, which I found a great honour. It was always spine-tingling for me to hear Katherine Zeserson singing ‘Take Me to the Bridge’ with Lewis and Adrian Tilbrook blazing away. Keith’s music was a reminder that we were alive, in three dimensions, here and now.
We had a couple of other projects in mind. One was a choral setting of ‘Proposal for a Monument to the Third International’, a long poem written after I’d been to Moscow. The other was completely mad – an opera based on a Mickey Spillane crime novel. Keith could have done that, no problem.
Trying to describe Keith as a colleague and a friend, I find I have to call him a gentleman. He was kind, witty, utterly professional, impeccably decent in his politics and his dealings with people. Musicians and others who worked with him know that Keith was one of the most significant artists of the time. The North East was lucky to have him. His loss is one we can’t afford.
Taken from Sid Smith’s online diary
Friday, June 10 2005
Yesterday, I took a phone call from a friend late in the afternoon. He told me Keith Morris and Joe Scurfield had been killed in a hit and run accident the day before. I had known Keith since 1975 when he ran Experimental Music Workshops in the old Wallsend Arts Centre. We horsed around making a Stockhausen noise here and there but also learnt a lot about how to listen to music from Keith. Confronted by a bunch of long-haired working class Geordie lads Keith showed no signs of being phased in the slightest and treated us with a respect and interest that we weren’t really used to. He had such a light touch during those sessions and he got the best out of people by putting them into challenging situations without ever being precious or pushy about it. I had us some badges made at the end of our twelve week course with him. “Keith Morris is God” we all wore them. His face was bright red as we cracked up with laughter. He taught me to play jazz bass. He introduced me to the music of Messian. In all sorts of ways Keith opened my eyes and ears to other musics and lifestyles.
I used to live in a shared house with Keith in Jesmond’s Cavendish Place. Sometimes we’d chat in the kitchen as he fried a piece of liver. Although a vegetarian by inclination and general practice, this was his one concession to meat because of its high vitamin content. Keith was as thin as a stick and the liver always looked like it might do him some good. He didn’t eat the thing as much as endure it.
I loved Keith’s bass playing and learned a lot watching him playing in groups like Pylon (with Juan Surfboard on guitar and voice and Archie Brown on sax and brown phlegm) and the nascent big band, Cheap At The Price or The Cheaps as they were known.
I felt honoured and more than a little out of my league when Keith agreed to join a jazz rock fusion group I’d put together called Ipso Facto. Here Keith played sax (for the first time in public perhaps?) but also helped me improve on the arthritic stumbling that passed for my bass playing at that time. Come to think of it, he taught me how to play swing. And Keith could always swing like the clappers when he wanted to.
A little later I joined The Hotpoints which included such luminaries as John Cooper (later to be featured on This Is Your Life for his work on the soap, Emmerdale) and future Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Peter Thomson. A great little pop group playing some fab songs written mostly by Tessa Green, it was Keith who taught me the bass lines by rote as we played a series of packed gigs on the north east circuit until our farewell sometime in 1980.
During that time our musical association continued with a variety of uneven although for me at least entertaining settings; The More or Less Quartete and Sextet and a trio with Gev Pringle called Shaking Hands. Playing a brash brand of avant-jazz noise terror we’d lull people into a false sense of security by playing a jaunty bossa nova version of Fly Me to the Moon. As far as I remember, this was Keith’s idea. He would also bring with him some beautiful haunting compositions; one of his best was a piece called Turk which he’d adapted from a traditional Armenian melody.
Whether it was with pop, rock, jazz or freeform, making a jazz noise here or there, Keith’s company was always enriching, interesting and above all, fun.
After putting the phone down I spent the rest of the afternoon in a daze. “Devastated” I told a friend. In times of crisis we reach for cliché because our sensibility has been so derailed by the shock of bad news. Words we don’t need to think about creep out on automatic pilot. When Debbie got in I told her the news. She’d heard about it even though she’d never met Keith and didn’t know Joe. “How?” I asked her. And there it was on the front page of the Evening Chronicle - TWO KILLED IN HIT AND RUN ran the headline and an old pic of a younger Keith playing his baritone sax.
More calls. More cliché. More grief. You try to make sense of it. Your mind fills in the gaps. Keith and Joe standing on the pavement on Westgate Hill. There used to be a rehearsal room around there. Maybe they were chatting about the gig he was going to play the next night – a gig to celebrate the life of their friend Julia Darling who died recently of cancer.
They might have been talking about the weather or perhaps Keith was telling Joe something about his sons. Or maybe a story about how his partner, Ellen and something she was working on. Perhaps he was telling Joe about his time as composer in residence in Bergen. The pair of them chatting; Keith, small and thin. Joe, tall and wide.
Someway back up the hill, a white BMW is being driven by a 17 year old lad. For reasons we don’t yet know the car, which is travelling at speed, mounts the pavement and ploughs into them. They are both sent flying into the air. 30 yards says one person. 40 says another. Someone heard the thump. The car leaves the pavement, rejoining the road and continues its journey.
By the time Keith and Joe hit the ground one of them is dead. The other will die later that night, the same night that the crowd gathering at the Buddle Arts Centre in Wallsend for the Julia Darling celebration is told that the event has been cancelled.
The kid in the BMW is arrested. Today he appears in court to be charged with two counts of causing death by dangerous driving and other driving offences, police said.
Until recently Keith used to organise a series of jazz-based concerts called Schmazz. I saw Keith and Julie Tippett at a Schmazz concert back in 2000. Newcastle’s only publicly owned concert grand piano was hired in for the occasion. Getting it in and tuned up for Tippett was a nightmare and cost more than the Tippetts’ fee put together and he probably lost money on the gig but said to me that Keith and Julie’s music was the real deal and thus well worth it.
Whether it was under the Schmazz banner or his old alias A(I)M productions or even the self-deprecating Kent Moped as he sometimes called himself, Keith was committed to bringing good music to the region and had been doing so since the early seventies having moved up North from his native Cardiff.
More recently, he’d taken a bit of a back seat with Schmazz in order to concentrate on his writing, working with ensembles like Grand Union and people like John Harle and Andy Sheppard. Keith used to introduce the acts at gigs. He always said the right thing and made the audience laugh. His advice was “be generous and keep it short.”
Somewhere in Newcastle today a seventeen year old kid will be waking up saying he’s sorry. And this morning in Elswick, Ellen and her sons, will be waking up; she now without a partner and her children without a loving dad. And for the rest of us, well, we just have to get on with it.
Tuesday, June 14 2005
I found myself re-reading the press reports of Keith and Joe’s death the other day as though reading the words again and again would reveal some meaning as to what happened or how it came to be. It doesn’t of course. The event is one of those horrific random collisions; wrong place, wrong time. There’s no meaning or reason for it.
There are no conspiracy theories to shine a light and glean meaning from something that is so dark and unfathomable. It just is what it is. Plain and simple. And there’s something terrifying about that. And that’s part of what’s been dogging me over the weekend; the absence of meaning to what happened, the unthinking chaos of loss unleashed in a savage arbitrary moment. The thought that lives with so much potential can be snuffed out so carelessly, so thoughtlessly.
That fleeting violence can so comprehensively remove individuals from the lives of those around them is with us everyday. We see it in the news; we hear it on the radio. But none of that makes it any better or easier to deal with. And if someone like me, who is realistically far outside from the immediate circle of friends and confidants is struggling to come to terms with this loss, then what must it be like for the families of Keith and Joe?
From Chris Taberham
I’d known Keith since meeting him in 1975 at the old Wallsend Arts Centre in Charlotte Street where Keith was running a course in experimental music sessions.
On one occasion we were sat in the main theatre doing vocal exercises that Keith had brought along. The session was interrupted by a woman who’d come in off the street after hearing the eerie, otherworldly sounds we were producing that day.
She was convinced we were a bunch of devil worshippers and was about to go and get the police. It took Keith’s ages to persuade her that we weren’t doing anything wrong. For a while it looked like we might get carted off but Keith’s quiet but insistent diplomacy won out in the end and she left us in peace.
Keith was a great admirer of the sound of Jan Garbarek’s sax – I recall chatting to him when we saw Garbarek and the Hilliard Ensemble play at Durham Cathedral a couple of years ago. In the last few days I was playing Garbarek’s album, In Praise of Dreams recently and wondering what Keith might have thought about it.
In those sessions back in Wallsend, Keith would sometimes have us cutting up found text from newspapers or books and we’d do on the spot improvisations with them. With this in mind I’ve composed the following poem taken from the titles of the Jan Garbarek album by way of a small tribute to Keith and his life.
In praise of dreams
From Ian Boddy
updated 11th September 2005