Friday, 26 March 2021

Keith Jennings

Lovely Jazzers,

with heavy heart we must advise the passing of Keith Jennings, one of JATP's original attendees and a regular visitor ever since, albeit with decreasing frequency latterly owing to Keith's advancing years. Keith was a staunch supporter of many aspects of life in Bradford and beyond, politics and the arts being grateful recipients of his efforts which extended to The Priestley Theatre in Little Germany, so when JATP started out there in 2000 on Saturday nights, it might be no surprise to see Keith with his shoulder behind all efforts. I say "might" since I have since learned that "jazz" was not Keith's favourite form of music. Nonetheless, support JATP he did throughout our various venue turmoils over the years, dragging our tables, chairs and piano behind us. Ah! Yes! the piano. JATP members, Patrons, Punters and Musicians produced an unbelievable effort in raising funds for it's purchase, however we would not have that beautiful instrument today, were it not for Keith, who, generous of effort and funds, wrote a cheque for the difference between sums raised and the price of the piano, and this on top of a significant sum paid as deposit to the rapidly collapsing Woods Music Shop, hence the brass plaque on the piano reading "The Keith Jennings Piano". I hope by that, Keith's manifest benevolence and excellent humour throughout, we will ever remember him. Farewell Keith.

We include hereafter the eulogy Steve Arloff read at Keith's funeral

I have spent a long time trying to come up with a narrative to sum up Keith’s life and it’s tricky for how can you sum up such a full and varied one?  I shall try. 

Keith was born in Bradford on the second of July 1927 or as he liked to say it: 2 7 27; nice and neat which is why we selected it as the security code for a safe he once bought. 

Keith made friends easily and had dozens including the Faireys and Wrights who he knew for over 60 years.  Keith had met Ian Fairey through Ian’s book and record shop on Manchester Road or the Left Book Club and went on many holidays with both families down the years.  Music is often an interest that encourages friendships as it’s so nice to be able to share such a passion with others who love it as much.  It is another interest we shared and we have enjoyed going to St George’s Hall for concerts for which Keith always had a season ticket or to Bradford Cathedral for the organ recitals or comparing notes about what music we have heard on Radio3.  

Another passion of his was photography and he spent a couple of years studying it at Hull Art College.  He always bought the best he could afford and in camera terms owned a Rolleiflex which he would use to take people’s photos and Adrian Fairey recalls the many times he and his siblings were obliged to remain motionless until Keith, ever the perfectionist, was satisfied that everything was right to ensure the best result.  This has been very beneficial to the family who have 100s of photos to remind them of happy times. Equally he was fond of showing black & white films which ‘Uncle Keith’ would show at the Fairey’s house each Christmas. 

Before Ian Fairey got a car for himself Keith would cram the whole family into his VW beetle for trips to Filey, one of Keith’s favourite places.

He loved the town of his birth and often as we drove around he’d say “I used to live there” or “Me and me Dad used to buy such and such in a shop that used to stand there”.  Keith loved telling stories about his past and what a phenomenal memory he had; I have never known anyone who was able to pinpoint dates or minutiae more accurately as did Keith.  He could recall with precision specific months if not days he had been to places 70 or more years before.  I remember an example he was fond of recalling about a stay in Cape Wrath in 1946 when he stayed at a tiny B&B and where after being there a week asked how much he owed to which the landlady replied 10/6 and he said what including all the meals? Yes, she said that’ll be fine.

There were many places he enjoyed recalling including Mallaig where he remembered having “the best fish ‘n’ chips I’ve ever had, never mind Harry Ramsden’s!”  He used to go there quite regularly with a good friend Geoff Allonby and others, staying in “a very nice hotel in Fort William where they do everything for us.  It’s expensive mind you but so what” before catching the train to Mallaig.  He would often head off to stay with Adrian in Grange-over- Sands or down to see his only living close relative, cousin Molly down in Somerton.  When he became too old to drive he’d use the train quite happily despite the extortionate cost of the fares about which he bitterly and quite rightly complained.  Locally he would use the bus and would often head off on long, circuitous routes to places like Otley to get his favourite cereal, Force Flakes until the product was axed in 2013.  He’d still go though as he liked the pork pies he could buy at one of Otley’s butcher’s shops.  It didn’t bother him if it took up most of the day as he’d have lunch and a pint while he was there.  When we were together and one of the beers on offer was a Jennings he was fond of quipping “I’d better have one of them as it’s one of my family’s” though as far as he knew that wasn’t true.

When he stopped drinking beer he’d have a gin and tonic and enjoyed calling for “gin and tonic with ice, and don’t forget the lemon” at the pub he and I met in for years even after first John Parkinson then Brian Bicât died.  Initially, we had all met for many years in The Midland Hotel for a coffee before repairing to The Shoulder of Mutton until the brewers decided to take over the meals provision and insisting on higher prices for inferior choices.  We then changed our allegiance to The Fighting Cock.  There as I said he’d enjoy calling for a G&T with ice and lemon despite the fact that he knew full well they didn’t have any lemons and eventually he got the rejoinder from the Sikh barmaid (Bradford really is a special place) “What do you think this is, a cocktail bar?!”  In the end he provided his own lemon just as Brian had provided his own English mustard in a jar because those bloody sachets are so hard to open.  

Keith was a people person who loved being amongst them and went on many holidays with Adrian Fairey and Geoff and another friend to Italy here he’d happily plunge into the pool even in his 80s.  Keith was always the life and soul of the party and loved his food and drink while being able to talk about any subject.  

He was conscripted into the army where he spent time in Egypt where he made another life-long friend Peter. Peter lived in Cornwall and he and his wife loved the Lakes where Keith would meet them for holidays.  He also went to New York with another friend of many decades, Diana Batchelor who sadly passed last October when sod’s law in the shape of a fall and hospitalisation on the very day of the funeral prevented him from being at it. 

He enjoyed telling me about his visit to Czechoslovakia not long after the war when he visited Marianske Lazne and Karlovy Vary and was interested to learn that my wife and I had also been there. As a then member of the CPGB he was fascinated with what the country had achieved by the early 1950s just as he was on a later visit to the GDR where friend Brian Bicât was teaching at the time.  In 2005 I led a group of tourists to Prague and Keith came along during which he and I went swimming where, again, despite his age he dived into the pool.  He also became separated from the group on another day but somehow found his way back to the hotel.

Politics was another of Keith’s, Brian’s and my points of common interest; we all had been members of the CPGB and Keith, like me, had been eager to join the Labour Party as soon as Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader and, like me, left it in disgust the moment Sir Keir Starmer captured the position.  Keith was always a man of unflinching principle and stood by what he believed in right to the end.  Examples of this included his total opposition to war and Britain’s possession of nuclear weapons, his hatred of and opposition to the apartheid system in South Africa, his opposition to the American war on Vietnam, his support of Cuba and his delight in its successes, his support for the miners during their 1984 year-long strike, his support for the Morning Star and Daily Worker before it backed by generous donations of up £1000 on more than one occasion. 

He was also generous closer to home and despite the fact that he was not all that partial to jazz, because Brian & I had formed a jazz club in 2000 and which still runs today Keith came along to our gigs to support us and even ended up being an honorary committee member, having donated £2000 towards buying the club a piano even though he had already lost a £700 deposit on one at Woods Music Shop who were happy to take it even though they knew they were headed for bankruptcy.  Hence our piano bears a small plaque on it that reads: The Keith Jennings Piano.

He was equally generous with his time volunteering as a barman on the bar at the Priestley Theatre in Chapel Street for many years, going down there night after night and donning his apron before serving drinks to the audience members.  Almost as soon as he had retired, he volunteered to hear children read at the Miriam Lord Primary School for several years and I’m sure the kids loved it when it was Uncle Keith’s day for a visit.  In addition, for a number of years he acted as a crossing patrol man or ‘Lollipop man’ as they are affectionately known.

Brian always admired Keith as a true ‘son of the working class’ who had variously worked at a blacksmith’s, for the Forestry Commission and, for many years at the Water Board.  However, he didn’t stay long when he once worked for Prudential Insurance, which he hated. 

Brian wrote a parody of the Red Flag to celebrate Keith’s 80th birthday which time prevents me reading now but if weather permits I will read it at the graveside later, I might even sing it!

Tune: The Red Flag


A hero of the working class

The monarchy can kiss his arse

The House of Lords and Commons too

He knows what they are all up to

His dad knew all about the score

He wasn’t going to the war

And went to prison rather than

His uncle followed in t’can


Great Horton was Keith’s first abode

In Bradford, near the Queensbury Road

To school he went and learned to read

And all the maths he’d ever need

His lessons there he ne’er forgot

Wrote copper plate without a blot

But Keith grew up, knew what was what

He knew the system was a plot


VE and J in forty-five

And very glad to be alive

But to the army Keith must go 

For via Suez oil must flow

So o’er to Egypt Keith was sent

To keep the Empire their intent

To heat and dust and sand and flies

King and Country ? pack o’ lies.


So underneath their sweaty caps

Photography and making maps

The point of this was never clear

“There’s nowt but sand from here to here”

Then came some leave, he took the train

To Holy Land, the land of Cain

And thence to Haifa, won a bet

Sailed to Cyprus, joined jet set


Then out of army, what to do ?

To work for profit he’d eschew

“Planting trees will keep me lissom

And there’s the Forestry Commission”

He went where once dwelt Robin Hood

(But found no Marian in the wood)

“No matter, I’m a bachelor free

And nothing’s lovelier than a tree”


But Sherwood glades began to tire

He sought more challenge to inspire

Harwood Dale his wish to grant

A million spruce trees there to plant

At Langdale End though toil was heavy

The Moorcock Inn purveyed some bevy

But all the same, no girls, no flicks

It really was out in the sticks


For Keith, a man of culture he

Had learned a lot from programme three

The music world became an itch

Yehudi and Moiseivitch

So back to Bradford and the Halle

(With Barbarolli he’d get pally)

T’Waterworks to earn some brass

Join t’Union, fight for his class


The Party too he served right well 

Until he thought they’d gone to hell

So cast his lot with Gerry Healey*

(An aberration, surely, really!)

Then came the day the blacksmith’s striker

Was bid goodbye, “get on your biker!”

The water workers were down-sized

The bloody lot got privatised!


Since then he’s cherished friends with ruth

He’s even cherished Jazz, forsooth

The piano fund a new obsession

He’ll tap you if you care to mention 

All hail to him, a friend so dear

To meet again and drink some beer

Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer 

He keeps the red flag flying here.

*I should just mention that the Gerry Healey mentioned in Brian’s tribute refers to the Socialist Labour League which became the Socialist Workers Party.  Keith always tried to do what he thought was correct politically.

He’d go and spend weekends at Diana Batchelor’s where he would help in the garden well into his 80s.

He loved celebrating his birthday with many guests at The Oakwood in Bingley and at many other meals there in between with his great friends the Faireys and Wrights.  It was on such an occasion to celebrate the Fairey’s silver wedding that he, along with most others, chose duck which, unfortunately turned out to be tough leading to Keith bringing the house down by declaring “I think they’ve given me the decoy!”

He would enjoy coming with my wife and her Mum and I to Dick Hudson’s or The White Hart, Pool in Wharfedale, where if it was a nice summer’s day, he would enjoy sitting outside sipping his Pimms (with all the trimmings).  He could certainly put it away and that’s another thing we have in common and would always insist on starter, main course and dessert washed down with a nice bottle of red wine.

Another friend he made many years ago is Diane Bentley who runs a shop called The Souk at the top of Haworth close to The Parsonage.  He was a lucky man to have Diane as a friend for no one has been more solicitous while he has been bedridden these last many months.  She has been a rock spending many, many hours seeing to his needs be it provisions or support and was with him right at the very end holding his hand and speaking words of comfort.

So, you see that it takes a lot to give even a sense of the broad sweep of such a full life and this has only scratched the surface.  It is often said about people who have passed that after them ‘they broke the mould’; it was never truer in his case for we shall never see his like again.

Farewell Keith, it was a joy and a privilege to have known you.