Iain Kerr and his Keyboards

Iain KerrIain Kerr and his Keyboards was probably the smallest band on the radio, consisting simply of Iain (piano and Hammond organ) plus a drummer. More of that later, as we take a look at the broad career of the man behind the music.

Iain Kerr, Mus Bac, FRCO, FTCL. was born in Edinburgh on the 26th. February 1934 and is an accomplished pianist, organist, conductor, composer, singer, writer, comedian, producer, recording artist and radio and television personality.

When he was just three years old, Iain and his parents went to live in New Zealand. He had already developed a fascination for the piano - in fact he was a child prodigy. He gave his first paid broadcast at the tender age of four, playing Schumann on a piano which had specially adapted pedals. At the age of nine he took organ lessons and throughout his high school years was heard playing the Dunedin Town Hall organ for major music festivals, as well as being regularly featured as organist at the 2000 seater Empire Theatre in Dunedin, New Zealand, guesting at the Wurlitzer in Auckland's civic centre.

For some years his Hammond organ was a regular feature on Australian radio and television. He was talent spotted in Sydney by Jack Hylton and flown to London to feature at the Society Restaurant in Jermyn Street, singing and playing the piano.

For some twenty five years he played at the Mayfair Hotel in London and became friends with many international stars, some of whom insisted on performing with him. This often led to an informal cabaret act between Iain and such stars as Marlon Brando, Debbie Reynolds and Sammy Davis Jnr. The late Robert Farnon, one of our most esteemed light music composers, would pop into the Mayfair when he was in London, to listen to Iain and the two of them enjoyed a lifelong friendship. Bob Hope was another star with whom Iain enjoyed a long acquaintance.

It was at the Mayfair Hotel that Iain was 'discovered' by BBC executive Kenneth Baynes (a composer and former conductor himself) who immediately suggested that Iain would be suitable for the radio programme 'Music While You Work' - for which he was Organiser. So was born, Iain Kerr and his Keyboards, the afore-mentioned two man 'group' in which Iain sat at the Hammond organ, with a piano to his right - thus enabling him to alternate the melody line between organ and piano, whilst maintaining an organ accompaniment on the lower keyboard of the Hammond - the only other musician present being a drummer. With Iain's experience as a hotel pianist, it is perhaps not surprising that not a page of printed sheet music was to be seen in the studio during his broadcasts. He and his drummer simply had a list of the pieces to be played, giving details of keys and tempos, so that each of the programmes was effectively played 'off-the-cuff' - although, obviously, a predetermined list of titles with their composers and publishers had to be provided to the BBC.

Iain KerrIain became known as the 'Uncrowned King of Mayfair' and the likes of Larry Adler, Henry Mancini, Blossom Dearie and others spent their leisure time listening to Iain's piano. When Mayfair's Connaught Hotel celebrated it's 100th birthday in 1997, the Queen was invited as Guest of Honour and who should be providing the soft piano accompaniment but Iain Kerr.

Iain's broadcasts for the BBC also included accompanying Daphne Barker in 'London Lights' on the Light Programme, whilst on television he was featured in 'Man Alive', 'The Frost Programme' and 'Late Night Line-up'.

As mentioned earlier, Iain was brought up in New Zealand. As a teenager he performed on Radio 4ZB as a soloist and accompanist for on air vocal performances. From 1952 to 1958 he was the official accompanist to the Royal Dunedin Male Choir. Moving to Sydney, Australia in 1958, his radio career was expanded when Radio 2UW contracted him as Resident Station Organist and pianist. For the next three years he made literally hundreds of radio broadcasts and 387 television appearances, before departing for London in 1961.

Iain had formed a comedy partnership with lyric writer Roy Cowen and devised an act called 'Goldberg and Soloman' - the concept being a Jewish equivalent of Gilbert and Sullivan. The world premiere of 'Gilbert and Sullivan go Kosher' was at the Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre on April 28th 1968 and included excerpts from 'Trial by Jewry', 'The Tailors of Poznance', 'The Chandeliers' and 'Three Little Maids from Shule' amongst others. The show toured internationally for ten years, visiting South Africa, Rhodesia, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Great Britain.

After seven years based in the UK, Iain returned to Australia - although his various productions regularly took him to other countries. His comedy partnership ended with Roy Cowen's untimely death in 1978. In Sydney, Iain accompanied Howard Keel and later Billy Daniels at special gala presentations. Also, whilst in London, he accompanied Dolores Hope at an impromptu cabaret which she gave to honour her husband, Bob Hope on the occasion of his 82nd. birthday! During subsequent years Iain has continued to play at London's Mayfair Hotel and has often acted as personal coach to such artists as Miriam Karlin, Oliver Tobias and Anita Harris.

The above barely scratches the surface of the career of an artist who has performed internationally in many capacities and is still very active today. Indeed, Iain Kerr and his Keyboards is just one aspect of Iain's very full and varied career in the entertainment business. To read a much fuller account of Iain's activities the reader is recommended to go to his website http://www.kerroy.com/

(The photographs in the above article are reproduced by kind permission of Iain Kerr)

Click here!
Listen to 'Music While You Work'
played by Iain Kerr and his Keyboards
as broadcast at 10.31 a.m. on 8th October 1964

MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK at 10.31am. on 8th.October 1964
played by Iain Kerr and his Keyboards

Calling All Workers (sig)
Little Child
Have you met Miss Jones?
Hello Dolly
Liverpool Lou
If I ruled the world
Deep Purple
Autumn Leaves
I'm Getting sentimental over you
No Strings

Calling All Workers (
Eric Coates
Roy Cowan
Richard Rodgers
Ernest Gold
Jerry Herman

Dominic Behan
Jacob Gade
Cyril Ornadel

de Rose
Erno Rapee
Joseph Kosma
Richard Rodgers
Fidenco Marchetti
George Bassman
Richard Rodgers
Eric Coates

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Text by Brian Reynolds : e-mail brian@mastersofmelody.co.uk