Morgen zal het twintig jaar geleden zijn dat de Ierse tenor Josef Locke is gestorven. Alhoewel hij “in zijn tijd” enorm beroemd was, kennen wij hem vooral uit de film “Hear my song”.
Joseph McLaughlin was born in Derry, Northern Ireland as one of the nine children of a butcher. He started singing in local churches in the Bogside at the age of seven, and as a teenager added two years to his age to enlist in the Irish Guards, later serving abroad with the Palestine Police Force, before returning in the late 1930s to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Known as The Singing Bobby, he became a local celebrity before starting to work the UK variety circuit, where he played nineteen seasons in the northern English seaside resort of Blackpool, waar nu elk jaar het hoogtepunt van het “Strictly come dancing”-seizoen plaatsvindt. The renowned Irish tenor John McCormack (1884–1945) advised him that his voice was better suited to a lighter repertoire than the operatic one he had in mind, and urged him to find an agent. Thus he found the noted impresario Jack Hylton (1892–1965) who booked him, but couldn’t fit his full name on the bill, so Joseph McLaughlin became Josef Locke.
He made his first radio broadcast in 1949, and subsequently appeared on numerous television programmes. He was signed to the Columbia label in 1947, and his first releases were the two Italian songs “Santa Lucia” and “Come Back to Sorrento”.
Still in 1947, Locke released Hear My Song, Violetta, which became forever associated with him. Hear My Song, Violetta was based on a 1936 tango Hör’ mein Lied, Violetta by Othmar Klose and Rudolf Lukesch and was itself based on Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. His other songs were mostly a mixture of ballads associated with Ireland such as The Isle of Innisfree (the theme song from the film The Quiet Man), and excerpts from operettas including The drinking song from The Student Prince and Goodbye from The White Horse Inn, along with familiar favourites such as Come Back to Sorrento and Cara Mia.
From 1948 onwards, he appeared in several films, usually as versions of himself, e.g. as “Sergeant Locke” in the 1949 comedy What a Carry On!
In 1958, after he had appeared in five Royal Variety Performances, and while he was still at the peak of his career, the British tax authorities began to make substantial demands that Locke declined to meet. Eventually he fled back to Ireland, where he lay low for several years. When his differences with the tax people were eventually settled, Locke retired, emerging only for the occasional charity concert and reappearing in Blackpool in 1968. He later appeared on British and Irish television, e.g. he made many appearances on the BBC TV’s long running variety show The Good Old Days. Wellicht moet ik hem daarin gezien hebben, toen deze reeks ook door de BRT werd uitgezonden, maar ik was te jong om mij hem te herinneren.
In 1991, the Peter Chelsom film Hear My Song was released. It is a fantasy based on the notion of Locke returning from his Irish exile in the 1970s to complete an old love affair, and save a Liverpool-based Irish night-club from ruination. Locke is played by Ned Beatty, with the singing voice of Vernon Midgley.
The film led to a revival in Locke’s career. A compilation CD was released and he appeared on This Is Your Life in March 1992. He performed again at the 1992 Royal Variety Show, singing “Goodbye”, the final song performed by his character in the film. He had announced prior to the song that this would be his final public appearance.
Josef Locke died on 15 October 1999 aged 82, and was survived by his wife, Carmel, and a son. A detailed and illustrated biography entitled ‘Josef Locke: The People’s Tenor’ will be published today to celebrate the centenary of his birth. (Wikipedia)

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