February 17, 2017 – Peter Skellern was born in Bury, Lancashire on March 14, 1947.
He played trombone in a school band and served as organist and choirmaster in a local church before attending the Guildhall School of Music, from which he graduated with honors in 1968. Because “I didn’t want to spend the next 50 years playing Chopin,” he joined the vocal harmony band March Hare which, after changing their name to Harlan County, recorded a country-pop album before disbanding in 1971.
Married with two children, Skellern worked as a hotel porter in Shaftesbury, Dorset, before music struck lucky at the end of 1972 with a self-composed U.K. number three hit, “You’re a Lady.” The record featured the Congregation, who had previously recorded the top ten hit “Softly Whispering I Love You”.
“You’re a Lady” reached number three on the UK Singles Chart and number 50 in the United States Billboard Hot 100 and sold several million copies world wide.
That same year the song was also covered in France by folk singer Hugues Aufray under the title “Vous ma lady”, followed later in the year by Brigitte Bardot with Laurent Vergez in a duet version released on 3 January 1973. Davy Jones from the Monkees also recorded a version. It has been extensively covered since, by artists such as Johnny Mathis on his 1973 album Me and Mrs. Jones and Telly Savalas on his 1974 album Telly.
The follow up album Not Without a Friend consisted entirely of original material (aside from a rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Rockin’ Chair”).
Success for Skellern came again three years later with “Hold On to Love” which reached number 14 on the UK chart and established Skellern as a purveyor of wittily observed if homely love songs of similar stamp to Gilbert O’Sullivan. He earned the respect of Beatles fans (already manifested following Derek Taylor’s production of Not Without a Friend), when George Harrison assisted on Hard Times and the title number was later recorded by Ringo Starr. He also sang the theme song to the London Weekend Television series Billy Liar (1973). For three years in the 1970s he worked on BBC Radio 4’s Stop the Week. A non-charting song, “Too Much I’m in Love”, received radio play.
In 1978 Skellern had a minor hit with the 1930s Ray Noble song “Love Is the Sweetest Thing” (which featured backing by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band), winning the Music Trades Association award for best middle of the road song. This followed his departure from Island Records after his previous album, Hard Times, had failed to chart despite a guest appearance by George Harrison.
In 1981 he wrote, composed and performed in a series of musical playlets for the BBC called Happy Endings. Two years later he hosted the Private Lives television chat show. He also composed theme tunes including TV’s “Billy Liar” and achieved cult status in 1982 when he co-wrote “One More Kiss Dear” with Vangelis, featured in Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”.
Skellern’s expansive career was turning from musical theatre to musical comedy, writing and performing six autobiographical programs for the BBC followed by a series of musical plays called “Happy Endings” and was a regular guest on Radio 4’s “Stop The Week“.
Let’s face it you know you’ve made it when you get selected to be taken on that “Desert Island” by Alison Steadman, David Blunkett, Richard Branson and Adelaide Hall. You’re the top guest on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. You have Victoria Wood performing a clever parody, with a brass band and heavenly choir in “A Simple Northern Boy”, you appear in 2 Royal Variety Performances, where he met Sir Richard Stilgoe spawning their hugely successful musical team.
In 1984, Skellern performed the theme song for the London Weekend Television program Me and My Girl. In the same year, he formed a group called Oasis with cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and Mary Hopkin. Wales born beautiful folk singer Mary Hopkin was still well-known for her 1968 Paul McCartney produced worldwide hit “Those Were the Days My Friend”. The group released a self-titled album in 1984 on the Warner Bros. Records label which earned a silver record. The group performed live on television, but a planned concert tour was cancelled when Mary Hopkin became ill and soon after the group disbanded.
In 1985, Skellern joined Richard Stilgoe for Stilgoe and Skellern Stompin’ at the Savoy, a show in aid of the Lords Taverners charity organization. This led to the two entertainers working together on several successful tours and in their two-man revue, Who Plays Wins, which was presented in London’s West End and New York City. They released three live albums; A Quiet Night Out, By the Wey and Who Plays Wins.
In 1987, Skellern also wrote and performed the theme music and song for the Yorkshire Television series Flying Lady.
After becoming disenchanted with the record business for a time, it was not until 1995 that Skellern issued his first album in nearly eight years. Originally conceived as a tribute to the Ink Spots, it eventually consisted of a number of songs associated with that legendary group, and a few Hoagy Carmichael compositions “just to break it up.”
The one thing he never forgot was his Lancashire roots, his voice was always authentic and his songs often featured a brass band and a choir. Peter was a committed Christian and last year was ordained as a priest.
Toward the end of his career Skellern wrote pieces of sacred choral music, including “Waiting for the Word” (which was written for the BBC’s Songs of Praise programme of 19 August 2001), Six Simple Carols and The Nativity Cantata written for a Hemel Hempstead choir, the Aeolian Singers. The work was first performed by them in 2004 and was later recorded.
In October 2016, it was revealed that Skellern had developed an inoperable brain tumour and that he had fulfilled a lifelong calling to be ordained in the Church of England. Under a special faculty from the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was ordained both as a deacon and priest on 16 October 2016 by the Bishop of Truro.
Skellern died as a result of the brain tumor on February 17, 2017 at the age of 69, at Lanteglos-by-Fowey, Cornwall.