The extraordinary life of Derry singer Josef Lock will be explored in a show at the Town Hall Theatre this Saturday, March 2.
Written by RTÉ’s former Head of Music, Cathal McCabe – also from Derry – Blaze Away features Locke’s great songs, including Hear my Song Violetta, Come Back to Sorrento, I’ll Walk Beside You, Blaze Away, The Old Bog Road and My Heart and I.
Blaze Away is based on a group of fans who are presenting a tribute to Locke, when he appears and tries to edit the content, explains Cathal, who previously wrote and directed I Hear You Calling Me: The Story of Count John McCormack. As a young man, Cathal played music for Locke during his Irish performances.
Josef Locke – born Joseph McLaughlin in 1917 – was a colourful character who had a reputation as a ladies’ man for much of his life and ran into trouble with the UK taxman in the 1950s. His popularity with women was no surprise, says Cathal, as he was over six feet tall, with a Clark Gable-style moustache and curly black hair.
The young Joseph McLaughlin began his career as a member of the Irish Guard in the British Army in 1933. He was posted to Palestine, where he took a job in the Palestine police. When he returned to the North, he became a PE instructor with the RUC. While there, the former choirboy began singing, and became known as ‘Joseph McLauglin, the singing Bobby’.
In the early 1940s, Joseph engineered a meeting in Dublin with the renowned Jimmy O’Dea, who ran pantomimes in the Gaiety Theatre. Because of World War II there was no talent coming in from England and Joseph got a job. After that he began singing with the Dublin Grand Opera Society, where he came to the attention of Ireland’s most famous tenor, John McCormack.
Joseph asked McCormack about taking singing lessons and McCormack advised against it, telling him to go to England and get an agent. Joseph did, signing up with Jack Hylton who changed his name to Josef Locke. His UK career took off, with his wages rising from £150 a week to £400 and eventually £1,200 – that was the mid 1940s.
“He was an engaging performer who could be very rude to the audience,” says Cathal. They loved it. Locke became a regular in the seaside town of Blackpool for years, and performed in no less than five Royal Variety Performances in London. In 1947 he released Hear My Song, Violetta, which became his signature tune.
“Whatever he sang was what he felt like singing and what people wanted. He had no pretensions.”
In 1958, pursued by the taxman for £27,000, Locke relocated to Ireland. After some years he settled his bill and moved freely between the countries.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.