logo Keith Summers
memorial page

An Obituary, by Paul Marsh, is now online in these pages.

Memories, stories, appreciations and comments from people who knew the man who started Musical Traditions.
Please feel free to e-mail me your own contribution.  Photos welcome.

I was privileged to have been Keith's partner for ten years from 1981 and also lucky in being able to keep his friendship after we split up.  Despite Keith's 'good old boy' image, the fag and can of lager, the T-shirt and jeans, Keith was a gentleman and had a generous spirit.  He courted me by sending tapes of the music he loved soul music, blues, white gospel, calypso, English traditional ... and his enthusiasm carried me into places I'd never have gone to on my own.  Keith in a Suffolk pub, early 1980s. Photo courtesy Peta WebbAt a concert at the Commonwealth Institute Keith went out for a fag and fell in conversation with the doorman.  He of course turned out to be Joe MacLawrence, a fiddle player from St Lucia - typical of Keith's strike-it-lucky collecting technique!  We went to record him and discovered a whole London subculture of music brought over by people from the West Indies in the 1950s.  We went to see the Caribbean Sunshine Band recreating St Lucia in a church hall in Brick Lane - there was an Irish session in the bar!  Keith enjoyed the great melting-pot of ethnic groups that is London.

People on the traditional music scene often forget that Keith was an accountant; did his exams from age 16 while doing job after job; worked as a cost accountant at a series of Southend and nearby firms; taking a lot of responsibility; taking it seriously; working meticulously and reliably in his work clothes - though he threw them off for T-shirt and jeans while wholeheartedly enjoying himself at weekends or on collecting trips.  He was wholehearted about both work and play.

His final issue of the 1970s Fermanagh recordings in March 2004, The Hardy Sons of Dan, illustrated his great dedication to the task and attention to detail, as well as his amazing memory.  Emaciated and weakened by the effects of cancer, he was unable to write at length so he dictated his notes from memory to me or to the tape recorder.  He had apparently total recall of the days 30 years ago in the Fermanagh pubs where he drank with the singers, ordinary working people who shared his love and respect for the songs.  For several weeks he was able to mentally escape back into those halcyon days.

Keith's approach to illness and dying was as meticulous and exemplary as his work, his editing of Musical Traditions and his publishing of his collecting.  Every stage was faced without histrionics or tears but with the attitude "Well, if I can't do this I can still do that, and how can it best be managed and organised without inconveniencing others ..."

I was with him in the period when his father and brother and mother died and was impressed by the loving care he gave them and the dignity of their funerals.  For his own send-off at the crematorium, knowing that he was not a religious man, a group of close friends put together a programme of reminiscences and tracks of the various musics he loved.  I was pleased when the mother of Keith's close friend at Primary School (he had kept so many friends from way back) said she had thought, "That's Keith!" as she listened to the stories we told.  Keith's only directions were for "his music friends and his football friends to get together and have a good piss-up"!  This we managed admirably.  Keith would have enjoyed it.

In all the tributes, there has been little mention of Keith the performer; a great raconteur and MC, he could also reduce us to tears of laughter by renditions of The Trusty Lariat ("He killed three thousand passengers but, by God, he saved the child!"), or Why Am I Always the Bridesmaid? - often at the most inappropriate moments.  It's hard to take in that Keith is no longer with us.

If anyone has recordings of Keith singing, please let me know.  I would love to get them together on a CD.

Peta Webb - petawebken@aol.com

I think the pages MT devoted to the late Keith Summers are a fitting tribute to a wonderful man.  Keith and I not only saw each other at quite a few gigs but also attended many of the same parties in London during the '80s and early '90s.  He was always a witty and warm raconteur.  I have a fond memory of him at one of our parties in North London, late in the evening and many drinks later, sat in a corner rapturously listening to my old O V Wright and Solomon Burke 45rpm singles, extolling their virtues to all who would listen.  He was knowledgeable about the most surprising things and it's still hard to believe he's no longer with us.

John Crosby

I first got to know Keith via his excellent and fascinating articles on the Suffolk tradition in Traditional Music.  On the strength of these, I rang him at his then home in Thundersley (near Southend) and we began to talk about his trips and the people he'd met.  Those who have read the articles will remember that Keith hitch-hiked up to Suffolk, and was rewarded for his efforts by meeting Bob Scarce, Cyril Poacher and co.  My phone calls to Keith invariably lasted 3 or 4 hours, as we rambled around various topics, included our mutual enthusiasm for the English tradition, calypso, rembetika and so on.  I wasn't aware of his fishing interest, but his support for Southend United was always a feature - he told me how at some away games, he and a bunch of mates piled into a van were the sole contingent representing his team.

I never got round to visiting Keith at his Southend home (despite living only about 20 miles away) which I now regret - but the reason for this was my conviction that we were bound to go out drinking, and given Keith's reputation for being a 'fearsome drinker', I thought I might never make it home or possibly end up in the cells!  Getting to Southend from Chelmsford by public transport isn't easy, so my meetings with him were confined to various get togethers at Cecil Sharp House - in fact the last time I saw him there he was 'well lit up', and in a very genial mood.  There was an excellent turn-out at his funeral last week, and we will all miss him.

Chris Heppa

Keith with Ken and Peta at the 2001 ECMW, Stowmarket. Photo courtesy Peta WebbI would like to thank all those responsible for bringing out The Hardy Sons Of Dan - an absolutely wonderful collection.  How typical of Keith that he would include songs like the Wild Side Of Life and The Town I Loved So Well, thereby giving us an accurate representation not only of the singer's repetoire, but of what you might expect to hear in a singing session in a Fermanagh pub.  Keith as always managed to capture much more than the song in his recording.

How wonderful it is also to have a recording of Rosie Stewart's father Packie McKeaney (though now in his nineties, still willing to entertain the company with an occasional song) of whom Rosie always speaks with such obvious pride and affection.

Ken Hall

I only learned today about Keith's passing.  Sad and shocking news.  I shall never forget his kind compliments on my tenure as director of the Loughborough Festival in the 1970s, nor the helpful suggestions he made regarding possible guests for that festival.  I was much impressed by his enthusiasm for the music and the people who made it.  Sad, sad news indeed.

Roy Harris

Like a few of the others who have sent in their tributes, I shared a drink or two with Keith on several occasions over the years - and lost.  But what always drew me to him was his completely unpretentious attitude towards the music he loved and the people who produced it.  Traditional music is seen by some as a precious jewel which must be nurtured and honed.  Keith loved the rough edges which defined its human dimension.  Like no other person I have met in this field, his work and his attitude made it all so real.  Whether you agreed with him or not (and there were one or two football issues which were in constant dispute), Keith had a generosity of spirit which would invariably lead to another round - or a contribution to the next project.  He shall be much missed.

Malcolm Taylor - Librarian, EFDSS

Now that the shock of Keith's death has passed a little, I thought that I would try to recall one of the times that we were together in Suffolk.  I think, in fact, that it was the first time that we met.

Keith had been recording in Suffolk and Tony Engle asked me to go with Keith to photograph some of the singers and musicians, so that their pictures could be included on the back of a set of proposed Topic LPs.  At the time Keith was unable to drive, so I picked him up at a convenient railway station somewhere en route to East Anglia.  We headed up to a pub for lunch, a pub which just happened to be used by singers, of course, having called at a few homes on the way.  I remember that Keith would suddenly interrupt our conversation with a cry of "Pull up", or some such phrase, and, having stopped the car, he would then sprint into a nearby house, returning a few minutes later with an ancient picture of some long deceased singer or musician.  Occasionally I would be invited into the house to take photographs.  Lunch, as I said, was taken in the pub (where more pictures were taken) and then off we went again to find more people in their homes.  No wonder, I thought, that I had been asked along.  There was no way that Keith could have done so much without a car.

Most of the evening, a Saturday by the way, was spent in a pub in Framlingham, where, again, there was singing and music.  By about a quarter to midnight I was beginning to wonder where we were going to spend the night.  I asked Keith, who promptly went to the phone to make a call.  "Right", he said.  "There's a pub that can put us up.  But we've only got 15 minutes before they close."  "Where is it?" I asked.  "Er, about fifteen miles away", he said.  So, off we set at breakneck speeds down a series of narrow, unlit, country road.  At one point the car began to shake violently.  We stopped and discovered that I had missed a sharp left turning and had unwittingly driven through a (luckily open) gate, into a ploughed field.  Don't ask me how, but we somehow arrived at the pub before the landlord decided to lock the door for the night.

By this time my nerves were a bit shot, and a sleep seemed very much in order.  But no, Keith had other ideas.  We were sharing a room and Keith started to pull out a number of beer bottles from his pockets.  A couple of sleepless hours later revealed us contemplating the world in general, and the folkmusic world in particular.  We had both heard of a singer in Derbyshire, called George Fradley.  He had been discovered recently and his songs were being recorded, not by George himself, but by some revival singers who had learnt the songs from George.  This, Keith felt, was not on.  And so, once the weekend's pictures had been taken we would immediately set off to Derbyshire, where we would find George, record his songs and persuade Tony Engle to issue an album by the man himself.  Of course, this didn't happen.  Things somehow seemed different the following morning as, nursing a couple of hangovers, we resumed visiting yet more singers and musicians.

Sunday lunchtime was spent at Blaxhall's Ship Inn, where we heard more excellent singing.  Having then decided to call it a day, Keith offered Cyril Poacher a lift home, and I began to talk to Cyril about some of the older singers who were no longer living.  Suddenly, and without prompting, Cyril began to sing his fragment of Captain Ward and the Rainbow.  What a joy to hear such a rare piece.  I turned round to see what Keith thought - only to find him fast asleep on the back seat!  Luckily for us all, Keith stayed awake for most of his all too short life, and his legacy is there for all to see.

Mike Yates

Quite apart from his activities collecting songs and editing magazines, Keith was simply a great bloke.  He was friendly, open, good to talk to and spend time with and, let's face it, good value.  Entertaining enough sober, his post-several-pints-of-lager antics were hilarious, if occasionally a little disruptive.  It is a shame that some only saw the drinking and smoking Keith.  I was pleased he counted me among his friends and was more than pleased when he chose to come to my fiftieth birthday (see Peter Greig's picture below).  And I was even more pleased when he finally admitted to me in 2000, some twenty years afterwards, what really happened that night in Leiston.  I'm not telling you.  Long may his memory live on.

Dan Quinn

Having known Keith only through brief correspondence, I mourn the loss of a chance to have had a pint with him in person and talk some good music talk.  To me he was one of those rare people in life whose enthusiasm translated to being a genuine catalyst for inspiration ... and I would add that even a mad enthusiasm is a pale description!  Thanks for too much to rightly measure, Keith.

Pat Conte - USA

This is very sad news.  Keith and I were only sporadically in touch in recent years, but it was always a pleasure to hear from him.  Our last contact was in October 2003 he was planning to write a stroppy letter to Yazoo about the need to include discographical details with their CDs, and he also wanted to know where a track I'd sent him years ago came from, because he was about to play it on the radio.

That Keith was asking questions and planning activities like those when seriously ill (which he said nothing about to me) says all there is to know about the man and his priorities!  Keith opened my ears to a vast range of sounds that I'd probably never have heard without him.  He was, as others have said, 'a good old boy'.  Here's to him.

Chris Smith - Shetland

On a sadder note, I never knew Keith Summers, but had obviously benefited from his work over many years.  My sympathies to you and all of his friends - it's too early a loss.

Georgina Boyes

I've been trying to work out when I first met Keith Summers, and think that it must have been at the Loughborough Festival in 1976.  I have somewhere a photo of Keith talking excitedly and enthusiastically to Jimmy Cooper the hammer dulcimer player, just after Jimmy came off stage at a concert.  Keith giving one of his many memorable talks, probably in Suffolk, early 1984. Photo courtesy Peta WebbIt was that year, or the year after, that I remember talking to Mike Yates and Keith at the festival, and enjoying their enthusiasm for the music and the singers.

I can't remember Keith doing any talks at Loughborough then, even though he had been recording in Suffolk and some of his recordings were being released on Topic.  He was also writing and reviewing for Traditional Music magazine.  I was fascinated in what he was doing.  From the eighties, he presented talks on a huge range of musical traditions the range of his interest and knowledge was amazing.

Over the years I met him in different locations around the country: a Sheffield pub for the carols; a folk festival in London (he arrived in his Capri, which was a bit of a statement car in the '70s); Loughborough (and then the National); some of the EFDSS/CECTAL conferences in Sheffield; and Bampton on Whit Monday.  I remember him telling me the story of getting blind drunk in Bampton and waking up in a flat in London.  He had no idea who had driven him back to London and they had gone to work by the time he woke up on Tuesday morning.  He let himself out of the house and walked until he could find out where he was.  Did he ever find out who had taken him back to London?

There was also his story of selling copies of Traditional Music magazine - the issue with his detailed study of Suffolk music, Sing, Say or Play - around the pubs of Suffolk.  He then lost all the money in a game of cards in one of the pubs.

He once came and stayed with me and my then wife Tess Buckland in Cheshire when he wanted to see the Antrobus Soulcakers, who perform the Cheshire version of the mummers play.  The Antrobus gang were notoriously difficult to track down and follow.  You had to be at the meeting pub and then just follow them through the lanes of Cheshire.  Alas, we lost them on the Friday night and in spite of chasing around the likely pubs, we never got to see them.  But there was always Saturday night ...

I dropped him at Gresty Road, home of Crewe Alexandra Football Club, on Saturday afternoon (in time for him to have a few pints of lager before kick off), and collected him again afterwards (perhaps they were playing Southend?) and on Saturday night we headed off again in search of the Soulcakers.  Fortunately, we found them, and watched the play several times.  He enjoyed it immensely, but one got the impression that, even if we had missed them again on Saturday, he would not have minded.  He enjoyed the chase.

I think Keith had the same approach to recording people singing songs (he was never a song collector, always a recorder of people singing songs).  He enjoyed the chase.  I'll miss him hugely.

Derek Schofield

Knowing people like Keith is what makes life worth living which is why his death is so hard to bear.

Here is a photo of Keith, Dan Quinn and myself at the Ram at Firle about 4Ĺ years ago, showing Keith in an appropriately typical pose.

Peter Greig

Keith had an expression, loaded with layers of subtle meaning, which he applied to those people he admired, and for me it sums up all the creativity, the passion and the wonderful vernacular edge of the man himself - "Good old boy!"

Reg Hall

Keith Summers.  A man who enriched and enlightened the world of folk music and whom it could ill afford to lose.  Please convey our best thoughts and love to Keith's family and friends as they mourn his loss.

The Copper Family

Iíve just read the news about Keith and it has left me reeling, so I hope youíll forgive me if this is a bit incoherent.  I first encountered Keith at the first Waterside Festival of Traditional Singing in the late 1970s, where he was giving a talk about his work collecting songs and tunes in Suffolk.  The Canadian folklorist Edith Fowke was there and was lamenting the fact that it was almost impossible to find authentic traditional music in North America any more.  Keith demurred, and as evidence played a snatch of a recording he had made himself of some religious singers on the streets of a city somewhere in the Deep South a year or two before.  It was rough and raucous, even a bit discordant, but infused with soul and bursting with energy.  In my ears it was unmistakeably the genuine article, and I knew immediately that I had found a kindred spirit.

I met him again shortly before the first issue of Musical Traditions appeared and I remember us talking excitedly about the prospects for a magazine with a really broad and adventurous take on traditional music.  This was reflected from the start - I K Dairo rubbing shoulders with Seamus Ennis in the first issue.  We would see each other frequently after that - Keith pointed me in the direction of musicians as diverse as Markos Vamvakaris and Rufus Guinchard, and I'd like to think that I returned the compliment in a few cases.  He also encouraged me to write, and I have much cause to be grateful that he published my first review in MT No.2.  He took the music seriously, in the sense that he knew that it mattered and that the people who made it were important, but never in the sense that it was a matter for dry, po-faced contemplation - a night listening to and talking about music with Keith was always a night of laughter and sheer pleasure (and a pint or two).  I'll miss him.

Ray Templeton

Thanks for the very sad news about Keith.  Please pass on my sympathy to the relevant parties.

Barry Taylor

Whatever Keith turned his mind to he seemed to be very good at.  He gave a number of superb talks about various aspects of popular music at festivals up and down the country.  On one particular occasion he did a 90 minute talk devoted entirely to songs dealing with the sinking of the Titanic.

Later on in his life Keith became a keen fisherman, (see the photo in Latest News) and even later, a photographer of (in my opinion) considerable skill.  The subjects of most of his photos were musicians and were taken at musical events throughout the world ranging from Blues festivals in New Orleans to an Irish music session at the Old Triangle in Highbury, North London.  (Some of these photos will appear in the magazine at a later date - Ed.)

Ken Hall

I was very sorry to read of the death of Keith Summers in your news section.  I remember the early days of the paper-based magazine when it was the only folk magazine worth reading.  I hope that the continuing success of the web-based version will stand as a tribute to Keith's commitment to an honest appreciation of traditional music.

Ken Ricketts

I learned today of the death of Keith Summers and the news prompted me to check again the excellent Musical Traditions site.  It stands as a credit to you and also to Keith.  Fair play to him.

My first meeting with Keith was in Claddagh Records, where I worked through the 1980s and most of the '90s.  It was a pleasure to be able to stock quantities of the print version of MT, and dealing with him was no hardship.  There is a small irony in the fact that today I received notification from Claddagh to tell me my copy of The Hardy Sons of Dan was in stock and, judging from the good reports I'm hearing, it should stand as a further important legacy of Keith Summers.

Tom Sherlock - Co Dublin

I never met Keith, but felt I got to know him in a roundabout way via The Hardy Sons of Dan and, as a result, am saddened that I never did have the chance to meet him.  I'll certainly think of him each time I'm in the vicinity of Upper Lough Erne.

Geoff Wallis

I never knew Keith Summers, but I am so grateful that he produced these CDs and the other wonderful work that he did in East Suffok, too.  What a wonderful legacy!

Marge Steiner - USA

I'm sorry; I admired Keith, especially his work on starting Musical Traditions as a paper magazine.  I knew him a bit from his visits to Ireland and enjoyed his company.  He had style, even if one disagreed with him.

John Moulden - Co Antrim

I met Keith at Chagford in 2002 and we had a long chat about all sorts of things ...  He struck me as 100% genuine ... and will be sorely missed by many who didn't know the extent of his work and enthusiasms.

Geoff Woolfe

Terribly sorry to hear about Keith.  But I'll always remember him for the time I spent in his company, usually in some bar or other.  As Frank Weston once said, "Two swallows don't make a Summers".  I liked Keith a lot and the world will be a little sadder without him.

Mike Yates

You will doubtless be inundated with e-mails concerning Keith and Bob, so please don't feel there's any need to reply to this one.  I was just wanting to say how cut up I am about the pair of them.  For our small circle to lose two fantastic (and seminal) individuals in the one day is too much to bear.

Fred McCormick


Rod Stradling - e-mail: rod@mustrad.org.uk    Tel: 01453 759475
snail-mail: 1 Castle Street, Stroud, Glos GL5 2HP, UK

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