Leeds-born Jake Thackray (1938-2002) is increasingly recognised as being one of the greatest English songwriters of the twentieth century, a unique talent, whose songs are full of poetry, wit, irreverence and humanity. He became known to millions through his regular appearances in the 1960s and 1970s on programmes such as Braden’s Week and That’s Life. During his career he appeared over 1000 times on television and radio, performed for the royal family and toured the world. His distinctive appearance, deadpan delivery, talent for storytelling, clever wordplay, artful use of vulgarity and surreal imagination delighted many viewers and outraged some. Since his death in obscurity there has been growing recognition of his genius and a resurgence of interest in his work. His admirers include Jarvis Cocker, Alex Turner, Don Black, Thea Gilmore, Cerys Matthews, Benjamin Clementine and Neil Gaiman.
John Watterson is the UK’s leading performer of Jake’s songs. As Fake Thackray he has toured with Fairport Convention and performed at Latitude, Cropredy and the Edinburgh Fringe Festivals. He has also played for Jake’s family. John has appeared many times on radio, including Radio 4’s Great Lives, a Radio 2 documentary on Jake presented by Cerys Matthews and Radio 3’s The Verb hosted by Ian McMillan. Most recently he appeared on TVs Meet the Richardsons with Jon Richardson and Lucy Beaumont.
With the full cooperation of the Thackray family, John and co-author Paul Thompson have just written the first ever biography of Jake. The book is now approaching completion and will be published later this year or early next.
The story of Jake’s own life is a truly fascinating one, from his humble working-class childhood in Leeds, being brought up under the watchful eye of a devout Catholic mother and bullying father, through to his lonely death in self-imposed obscurity in South Wales, and a simple gravestone near the tomb of a Catholic martyr.
It is the story of a shy, bright and creative boy whose life would be transformed by the Jesuits and the post-war grammar school revolution, which would take him to one of England’s top universities. It is the story of a risk-taker who would head abroad, fall in love with French culture and choose to live in Algeria during war-time. It is the story of an inspirational, creative, unorthodox teacher who wrote songs for his own amusement, and took his guitar into the classroom.
It is the story of a northern provincial whom the BBC executives in London eventually recognised as hot property, but whose relationship with show business would never be easy. It is the story of a man who turned his back on fame and ploughed a different path. It is the story of a man who was genuinely loved and hugely admired by many, even after he let them down. It is the story of a man who left us with ninety or so extraordinary, idiosyncratic songs which deserve to be heard, sung and studied for decades to come.
It is the story of man who was a fantasist, and a master storyteller who would never have believed that his own story was worth telling. He was wrong.
Sir Richard Stilgoe
“Jake would have loved the skill of the performance, the accuracy of the impression, and the affection it contains. Long may John continue to keep Jake’s memory alive so affectionately and skilfully, and introduce more people to one of the most remarkable talents I ever met.”
‘Brilliant! We can’t have Jake back but this is the next best thing.’
‘John Watterson’s obvious joy in performing Jake’s wonderful songs has inspired him to record these Thackray gems, many of which are receiving their first ever release. My dear friend Jake was a modest and shy man, but I think he would be quietly grinning in approval. John’s collaborator, Paul Thompson, has immersed himself so deeply in Jake’s musicality that the new tunes he has written for some of the songs sound as if they were composed by the man himself. Jake lives again through this album, which is a wonderful contribution to the canon of a unique and sadly missed artist.’
Victor Lewis-Smith (Producer, ‘Jake on the Box’ BBC 4)
‘Wonderful stuff, bringing some of Jake’s long-forgotten gems back to life. Brilliantly performed songs, with uncannily precise enunciation, and accurately capturing the unique Thackray guitar style. If Jake was right, and there really is an afterlife, he’ll undoubtedly be looking down and giving his gruff approval.’
Don Black (Songwriter and BBC Radio 2 presenter)