Jake: The Performer

Jake and Georges

It is with a real sense of shock that I have just learned that Jake died last Christmas. He played a gig at The White Hart, in Duffield, near Derby, where I live, in 1986 or 7. At the break I joined him at the bar, and introduced myself, saying I had seen his heartfelt letter in the Guardian about the almost ignored passing of Georges Brassens. " Bloody hell," he said, "do you like Georges?" "Love him", I said, and as well as lending me a recording he had, which I re-recorded and sent back to his home, he told me of Georges giving him a tune (to Bantam Cock, I think) and we talked until the end of the break. Then, at the start of the second half, he announced, "I'm now going to do something a bit unusual for an English folk club. I'm going to sing a French song --- and it's for a bloke called Max, who's sitting over there." And he sang "Dans l'eau de la claire fontaine." I try to play and sing this myself, sometimes, and I always have found it moving. Now I'm sitting here with a lump in my heart, because I didn't know, and in fact I was only talking about him last week. I don't know if I'll ever be able to sing the song without tears in my eyes.

Max Roberts

A huge, big, vast, monumental talent and it seems a bit bloody unfair that he should have been called in before his time was really up. France mourned when Brassens died, and I hope the UK'll do the same thing for Jake: they were for sure equals. My next door neighbour here was Brassens's next door neighbour in Sete as a child, and so I played her the sole, publicly-extant, JT CD. She said 'My God, it's Georges singing in English'. She's French, so she said it in French, but I knew what she meant. I've played the CD more than any other CD I own, and I still laugh at the lyrics every time I play it. You were a genius, Sir, and, by all accounts, a right nice man. I'll miss you quite badly: it used to make me quietly happy to know that you were alive and living in Monmouth.

Mike Smith-Daye

A thoughtful man

My most endearing memory of Jake was when he performed at the Victoria Hall in Hanley in about 1977. The hall was practically empty except for his avid fans who were scattered throughout the Hall sitting in their allocated seats. When Jake came on stage he politely asked all those who had shelled out for the best seats at the front if they minded if all the others in the audience could come and sit with them. Of course there were no objections and with that he dispensed with the sound system (after apologising to whoever had set it up) and talked and sang to a very appreciative audience for over two hours. …..I saw Jake perform live on several occasions and he never let us (his fans) down and it is with great sadness that I read of his troubles towards the end of his life. He was unique, a genius and a gifted entertainer and philosopher. More than this, his love of people was unsurpassed. I hope he knew how much we loved him too.

Rod Forrester

"It must have been .... ten years ago that I last saw Jake at The Tramshed in Woolwich. The gig was badly promoted and there were probably about 20 of us (maximum) who had turned up but this did not phase him a bit. He just took his chair off the stage onto the ground, encouraged us all to sit around in a loose semi-circle and played, chatted, took requests, told stories ..... it was one of the most enjoyable evenings of my life.

Around that time, too he played Joe Stead's birthday party at Well Hall Open theatre, immediately preceeded by Jon Benns singing a tribute to him. Jake had been held up in traffic and was late arriving - in fact Jon didn't know that he had arrived and so thought he was safe. Unbeknownst to him, he performed the whole song with Jake standing behind him with that wonderfully expressive look of his.

Barry Howard

Jake holds a special place in my memory. He was the "star turn" when I first performed in public as a floor singer at the Carlton Folk Club in Cheltenham in the early 70s. Shortly after, I went to see him at Pewsey Village Hall. I was with my young sister (aged about 10). We were at the front and she didn't have a seat. Jake came on stage and offered her his seat from the stage. He meant it! We will miss him.

Tony Cima

I saw him on a couple of occasions when he played The Buddle Arts Centre in Wallsend - a small venue, one where he said "just get up and get yourselves a pint if you want - you can get me one and all, if you like!"

Audrey Jermyn

Remember one night when Jake was appearing at Grange Arts in Oldham. A lovely, gentle, laid-back evening...when everyone went to the bar at the interval Jake said: "Don't rush your drinks...when you're all back I'll start the second-half.."

A very nice, gentle man........ Good night, Jake...

Harry Basnett

Hadn't seen Jake since the good old days of the Oval Folk Club (Hendon Rugby Club)in the 70's. My brother Les did a marvellous impersonation of him in those days and used to sing his songs accompanied by myself. One evening when Jake was there, he heard that we played his songs and insisted on us playing a couple of them,(despite our reluctance).

Rob Peacock

As a keen attendee at various folk clubs in Essex, I saw Jake play a couple of times. Once, I asked his permission to record his show (just a little Walkman). Not only did he agree - he stopped half-way through the first song to ask if he was singing loudly enough!

Ian Fordham

I saw Jake once at a pub in London. During the interval I encountered him in a corridor. "Please", I requested, "do the 'Last Will And Testament'". "That takes me back a bit," he replied. He had not done it by the end of the show. I despaired. Then, after taking his bow, he said "Someone asked me for this song during the show. I'd like to play it now." I hope he is singing it happily in the great Pub in the Sky.

Liz (LTS)

Keeping faith

Ann, who is 'something' at the Dartford Folk Club, told me of one time at their previous venue when they had booked Jake but he failed to turn up. She rang him and, instead of making an excuse, he just said, "Oh, sorry, love, I thought it was on Monday! I was decorating the parlour." Then he offered to come another night for expenses only, and did. Ann said that even 'just expenses' was a lot - £75 I think she said, which she said was considerable back whenever this was.

Keith Donovan

Jim Reynolds recently appeared at Dartford Folk club, and he stopped overnight with myself and Lorraine before moving on to Brighton. However, as we were sinking a beer or two later, I was telling him the tale of the group and York and all. Jim recalled when he ran a Folk Club in Bristol, he contacted Jake to do an evening, and got a standard reply that it would have to be done through his agent, Jim contacted the agent and was given a quote of £200, which back then was a lot. Hell, for any folk club even now it's a lot! So Jim, a little disappointed, rang Jake and said he was sorry that he could not go ahead with the booking because of the cost. When learning of the fee, Jake said "that's absolute nonsense, I'll come and do it for half that, don't tell my agent"!!

Ian Slipper

I was at Stainsby festival in 1986, where he was booked as the main turn on the Saturday night. Unfortunately he had broken his wrist and had to cancel because he couldn't play his guitar... but he came in person to apologise, and did a 20 minute set without the guitar while he was at it! What a thoughtful man, and what a treat!


I came across Jake in the early eighties by catching him at the local folk club on the Wirral. Each year from then I used to drag my friends along to hear a master at work. He was always different but one night sticks in my mind. He arrived a little late with a terrible cold. He sang one song then announced he would prefer just to mainly talk rather than sing as it was so uncomfortable. He proceeded to perform a 50 minute stand up routine about his boys or as he referred to them 'the chaps'. He literally had the place in uproar with his hilarious tales. It was a real spontaneity and quite awesome.

Paul Millington

……… I noticed that at the annual Swaledale music festival Jake was booked to appear at Hawes, (over the hill in Wensleydale actually). This was June 1996 I think. It was a small venue with makeshift stage and untidy wiring. The whole audience were shocked to see Jake enter and trip headlong flat on his face over one of the wires. We were all amazed how he took it in his stride and went on to give a terrific evening show, he charmed everyone and our faces ached from smiling so wide.

Phil Webster

I booked Jake into the Load Of Hay in Uxbridge back in the good old days. He arrived late and aged me ten years I think, but still gave us a superb evening. As has been said he will be missed but his songs will live on.


In about his last year of touring Jake played at the Dovecote Arts' Centre in Stockton-on-Tees (my old stomping ground) and apparently had so much trouble remembering his words that he stopped the gig and invited everybody into the bar for a drink on him! Apparently he kept everyone spellbound with his stories till the early hours!!!

Steve Cavill

A hero of words passes on. We met many times at Cherrytrees Folk Club, Alcester, Warwickshire (no longer functioning) and Redditch Folk Club which I co-ran until the early '80's.I have a claim to fame in as much as when Jake was performing at Redditch one evening he broke a string on his guitar and, for the sake of continuity, picked mine up and played it for the rest of the evening. I still have it and it has gone on again on again on again on. A sad loss, heartfelt feelings to all family.

Benji Benjamin

Down to earth

I spent many a happy evening with him in the guise of various folk clubs and festivals, a more foul mouthed and alcoholic man never walked this earth.... nor graced it with such licentious linguistic acrobatics...

He was the world's hardest act to light, because every backlight made him look green. Hope the BBC do the right thing and show again his wonderful series.

Liz the Squeak

I was privileged enough to have seen JT twice, the second time a few years ago at The Pomegranate, Chesterfield. It was a great family occasion with ten of us in attendance and needless to say a great time was had by all, except perhaps for the man himself. After the first few bars of "The Jolly Captain" he dried up and had to admit to forgetting the words. My mother being my mother piped up "don't worry we all do it", to which Jake replied " yes but you didn't write the f****** song ! ".

Phil Turton

I saw Jake at a folk club in Lichfield Staffordshire around 1975. He was standing directly behind me in the crowd as he awaited his introduction, he cleared his throat as well as any of the miners he stood with and went on stage to deliver a brilliant evening which hooked me forever to his great humour and precision in observation. A clever, witty and great entertainer who will be missed but what a fantastic memory and gift he leaves behind.

Lee Chandler

I was privileged to see Jake perform live many times and to meet him once. Trembling in awe at the prospect of meeting this man I revered so much, I'll never forget the first words he spoke to me - "Is there somewhere I can have a shit". This summed the man up - no edge to him, just a great bloke. I'm a mature man but I make no excuses, I wept when I read of Jake's death.

Phil Blewett

I was sorry to hear of Jake Thackray's death; I remember fondly, albeit dimly, early appearances on the Sunday afternoon children's TV show Tickertape (though he once replied to a letter of mine saying that he reddened to remember the songs). I also remember a (presumably live) performance on Bernard Braden's show in which Jake, possibly singing Sister Josephine, went on beforehand about his bowels to the amusement of the audience, prompting a slightly acidulous Braden to congratulate him on stretching out a three minute spot to nearer eight.

Years later, probably around the mid 90s, I was on a train going to or from Wolverhampton, saw what I thought was a spare seat and, approaching, thought I recognised the man sitting opposite: "Mr Thackray?" He acknowledged that it was indeed him, but I then launched into a rambling adulatory spiel, mentioning Tickertape, that was probably highly embarrassing for him in that public place with no escape short of the communication cord. But he simply said mildly, "Yes, well, I think that seat is taken," and I moved off.

Anthony Teague

Giving encores

Some time last year I "rediscovered" Jake; having been a great fan in my 'teens, and seen him twice in concert; once in North Wales and once in Leeds. I particularly remember his comment on "encores" ; it went "Do you think the stage manager has to run down the road in the pouring rain to the bus stop and say "Hey, lad, would you mind doing another song; only the audience are still clapping?" and I run back the road, take off me coat, get out my guitar, and come back on stage like I didn't expect it or summat?" A great man, and none the less of a great man for his avoidance of the media hype and limelight. He's going to be missed so much.

Tim Turner

On his disliking of encores, I remember Jake saying something along the lines of, "..if it pleases you to see a grown man walking on and off stage with a guitar, I would have started earlier on and given you a right good night." Well there aren't going to be any encores, and nobody can fill a gap which simultaneously leaves us without a huge talent and, with his abhorrence of nose-lifting pomposity and arty bluster, a fine example of a human being. …… The messages in this book indicate that Jake's work, and humanity was more widely appreciated than he could have realised. Being one in a million sounds great until you really think about it.

Carl Jervis

I saw Jake at the old Tramshed folk/jazz venue in Woolwich in London, and at the Bridgwater Arts Centre in Somerset. The second was very poorly attended, and it was typical of Jake's hatred of bullshit that he got the audience members to all sit in the front row. At the end of the performance he said" you are going to get one more song - I'm not going through the I walk off you applaud I come on all surprised and do an encore"

Tony Roskilly

Jake and dogs

His was a wonderful, unique talent. Nobody else wrote songs like him (though a lot of us tried). Nobody else sang like him. And no other performer had that strange mien of a singing peregrine falcon perched on the stage. He once sat in my kitchen and sang songs to my dog, who admired him nearly as much as I did. I’m delighted I worked with him, and bitterly sorry that I’ll never work with him again. Being unique is bound to be lonely.

Richard Stilgoe

I notice you have included "Tortoise" from the album "Where Would You Rather Be Tonight?" in Jake’s discography. I was the producer of that album and remember the session well. We recorded the song at Dave Pegg's studio in Barford St Michael (a very picturesque village near Banbury). As Jake got out of his car Dave's dog ran up and bit him on the leg, tearing his trousers in the process! The dog has never been known to bite anyone before or since! [See also Poems & Songs in Epitaph]

Jon Benns

I had the pleasure to book Jake at Readifolk Folk Song Club in Reading on at least two occasions. I was also able to offer him hospitality and a bed for the night after the performance. Apart from wonderful evenings of songs and humour one memory will stay with me. Usually we took the dogs with us to the club (my husband’s working guide dog and his retired one). As it was going to be a busy night we left them at home but warned Jake that they were indoors and would probably burst out when the door was opened. This duly happened and instead of coming straight into the house Jake followed the dogs down the garden and proceeded to play with them for some time. It was about midnight - we had warned our neighbours that Jake would be staying the night. Thanks for a great and unique sense of humour and for all those great songs.

Anne Bingham

Adaptable anecdote

Reading the stories reminds me of one which Jake told at a concert here in Edinburgh sometime in the early eighties. On a previous visit he and a bass player had been staying outside of Edinburgh in a town called Livingston. They had left a double bass and Jake's guitar in the car overnight and were horrified to discover in the morning that the car had been broken into. Even worse, when they looked in the car the instruments were still there but "some bugger had finished my Guardian crossword.."

Ian Burdon

Jake changed my life. I am so happy to be able to say that I actually played with him one night in a club in Brentwood, Essex. (He said that his car had been broken into, and, although nothing was stolen, somebody had filled in the crossword puzzle in his newspaper!) I have seen him straining with anxiety, saying "see what you think", and a concert hall totally shook with laughter, people of all ages wetting themselves. No encores, ever, not for Jake. Very religious, very socialist, he'd soon knock these buggers into shape. and after such a troubled life, because he was troubled, as geniuses are, what a clean smell he has left behind!

Tony Diamond

Buy the DVD

jake bbc dvd

The DVD of the BBC series 'Jake Thackray and Songs' is now available to buy online via Amazon. http://tinyurl.com/JakeDVD

'Magnificent' (The Independent)

'Jake Thackray and Songs', broadcast in 1981, captures him at the height of his powers; it paints an intimate portrait of Jake as a live artist, playing to audiences in the small venues where he felt most comfortable.

This BBC-licensed DVD, professionally produced from the original BBC masters, features all of Jake's performances from the series: thirty of his greatest songs, along with his inimitable between-songs chat and storytelling.

Also included are previously unreleased performances by three outstanding guest artists: Ralph McTell, Alex Glasgow and Pete Scott.