City Hall debut for Keith after 60-year music career

CATCHLINE: KEITHEB''Sheffield institution Keith Peters Big Band finally plays the city hall.
CATCHLINE: KEITHEB''Sheffield institution Keith Peters Big Band finally plays the city hall.

AFTER 60 years in the music business, Keith Peters will perform for the first time in the City Hall on Tuesday when he leads a Big Band Charity Concert in aid of the Lord Mayor’s Fund.

“I have played in the Ballroom a few times but never in the Oval Hall and I am so excited,” he says.

The Sheffielder started playing at the age of 17 and went on to tour with various bands over the decades, including American soul singer Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon, playing on the hits Breakin’ Down the Walls of Heartache, Sweet Inspiration and (Blame It) On The Pony Express.

“We had just started Judas Priest when his manager asked us to be his backing band and that was a great leap forward for us,” he recalls , although he admits he missed out when the re-formed Judas Priest hit the big time.

“It was a kind of apprenticeship.”

For the last 25 years he has led his 21-strong big band made up of four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, four members of the rhythm section and three vocalists Niamh, Howard Walker, Pete Farmery.

Now aged 82, he still writes and arranges music for the line-up whose repertoire ranges from big band classics and timeless swing from Glenn Miller through to versions of modern hits by the likes of Oasis.

“I used to play and teach piano and theory but I developed rheumatism and trigger finger and had to give up a few years ago,” he explains.

“That’s when I started writing and doing arrangments. That’s where I get my satisfaction these days, and standing out front.”

The group is as committed to fund-raising as it is to music, with proceeds from regular performances at the Abbeydale Picture House donated to the building’s restoration fund.

For the past four years they have opened the Music in the Gardens event in the Botanical Gardens, again raising money for local charities. “We played in front of 3,000 people last year, it was like being at Glastonbury with everyone jumping up and dancing.”

On Tuesday night, in association with the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Coun Dr Sylvia Dunkley, they will be playing in aid of her nominated charities, the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind and the British Heart Foundation.

“Our music is popular with all ages. The majority of our audience are getting on in years but it’s surprising how many youngsters we get. The music of the Forties, Fifties and Sixties has been introduced to different generations,” says Keith.

He has gone through rock ‘n’ roll, soul and all kinds of music but swing and the big band sound has always been his first love, he says.

“I remember as a lad I would come home and turn on the radio at midnight to listen to American Forces radio and people like Count Basie and Woody Herman. My dad would shout down to tell me to turn it down. They were happy days – and they only seem like yesterday.”