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Legacy of talented hit-and-run musicians Keith Morris and Joe Scurfield lives on

Musicians Keith Morris and Joe Scurfield, who died 10 years ago, will be remembered in special musical events this month

Keith Morris and Joe Scurfield
Keith Morris and Joe Scurfield

Many mourned when Keith Morris and Joe Scurfield were killed by a speeding car in Newcastle a decade ago. They were popular and influential figures on the music scene in the North East and beyond.

But they have not been forgotten and their musical legacy is robust.

Keith, who was composer, musician and teacher, will be remembered in a concert at Gateshead Old Town Hall on Sunday, June 7, which will also serve as a reminder of all his innovations and collaborations.

It is called Keith Morris – Politics and Poetry and it will see performers from the jazz and folk scenes join with poets in the kind of concert he would have loved.

Keith’s widow, the writer Ellen Phethean, explains: “Many of the musicians will be in established bands but a lot of them are stepping out of that.

“On the night they will be forming various groups to perform pieces of music from different parts of Keith’s life.”

The first part of the concert will be vocal with contributions from a capella group Mouthful (Bex Mather, Dave Camlin, Katherine Zeserson and Sharon Durant) and the community choir, Heaton Voices, run by Richard Scott.

All will sing choral compositions by Keith.

There will be a performance of Song for the Crossing by poet Sean O’Brien, who will also take to the stage on Sunday to read poems with Ellen and Graeme Rigby, MC for the night, who worked with Keith on the BigFest concerts that used to take place regularly at Live Theatre.

Sean was one of four poets commissioned by New Writing North to commemorate the North East poet Andrew Waterhouse who took his own life in 2001. Keith set them all, including Song for the Crossing, to music.

It wouldn’t be a Keith Morris concert without the Kent Moped Orchestra.

“It was an outfit he formed in the early days when he went to various Red Music political song festivals around Europe,” says Ellen.

“In Bulgaria it was pointed out that Keith Morris in Cyrillic looked like ‘Kent Moped’ so it became the Kent Moped Orchestra.”

The second section of the Gateshead gig will be instrumental. As well as Kent Moped, Keith performed with – and composed for – The Grand Union Orchestra and he also had a group called Metalwork which specialised in music for metal instruments only.

Among musicians confirmed for the gig are Brendan Murphy, Paul Flush, Lewis Watson, Richard Scott, Eddie Nickson, Rod Sinclair, Helen Walker, Penny Callow and, from France, Kent Moped member Olivier Ubanell.

As a finale Keith’s son Fred Phethean, who is 27, will take to the stage with his own Backyard Rhythm Orchestra and well-travelled North East favourites The Baghdaddies to play dance-orientated arrangements of Keith’s music.

Both Fred and 22-year-old brother Johnny, currently studying digital music and sound arts at Brighton University, have followed their father into the world of music.

Fred works for Sage Gateshead, holding DJ-ing and rapping workshops, and also runs the multi-cultural band Crossings, when not performing with his own band.

“All the people taking part are doing so out of the goodness of their hearts because I couldn’t raise the money to do this otherwise,” says Ellen.

“But they were all very fond of Keith and they really respect his music.

“The best thing about the last set is that Keith didn’t actually play with Fred or The Baghdaddies but they felt very inspired by him.”

Proceeds from Sunday’s 7pm concert will go to the Musicians’ Union. For tickets contact Sage Gateshead’s box office on 0191 443 4661 or visit www.sagegateshead.com

Joe Scurfield, meanwhile, is to be remembered with a party – “basically a big tune session,” say the organisers – at the Cumberland Arms, Byker, from 1pm on June 14.

Joe played fiddle but was also the “creative genius” (this from fellow members) of the Old Rope String Band which, during 20 years of touring, made thousands of people laugh while listening to accomplished musicians having fun.

The band was reborn as the New Rope String Band but Joe, bearded and full of boundless energy, could never really be replaced.

A Facebook posting by fellow ‘Roper’ Tim Dalling explains that Joe, when he died, left 14 C90 cassette tapes containing hundreds of tunes he’d collected.

“They’re pretty rough recordings but an interesting example of one fiddler’s repertoire and a lovely chance to, once again, hear Joe playing in his kitchen.”

A website, Joe’s Tune Bank, featuring the digitised contents of the casettes, is in the making. It will be launched at the party on June 14 which will be attended by Joe’s partner Rianne and her daughter Mariza, travelling over specially from Holland.

“Please spread the word,” say the Dallings, “to anyone that knew Joe or just anyone you know that likes playing, listening or dancing to a tune.”


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