Biography (Courtesy of Peter Lee’s Appreciation site, 2006).
Born Joseph McLaughlin, on March 23 in 1917 in the Creggan, Derry, Northern Ireland. He was the son of a butcher and cattle dealer, and one of nine children.
He sang in local churches in the Bogside at the age of seven, and as a teenager, added two years to his age in order to enlist in the Irish Guards (see picture, right). Later he served abroad with the Palestine Police before returning to Ireland in the late 30s to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
Nicknamed The Singing Bobby he became a local celebrity in the 40s and then toured the UK variety circuit. In the following year he played the first of 19 seasons at the popular northern seaside resort of Blackpool.
It was renowned irish tenor John McCormack (1894-1945) who advised Josef that his voice was more suited to a lighter repertoire than the operatic one Josef had in mind, and urged him to find a theatrical agent.So it was Josef found his way to the offices of band-leader/impresario Jack Hylton (1892-1965). Hylton had booked Josef into the Victoria Palace, but found it difficult to fit his real name onto the bill, so shortened it to Josef Locke. Two years later, Josef was signed by Lew and Leslie Grade, who steered the singer to real stardom.
He made his first radio broadcast in 1949 on the popular Happydrome, which stared the trio of Ramsbottom, Enoch and Me, and subsequently appeared on TV programmes such as Rooftop Rendezvous, Top of the Town, All-star Bill and The Frankie Howlerd Show.
EMI Records signed him to Columbia label in 1947, and his first releases were the two Italian songs Santa Lucia and Come back to Sorrento.
In 1947, too, Josef released Hear my song, Violetta, which became forever associated with him. His other songs were mostly a mixture of Irish ballads.
Josef also excelled at excerpts from operettas, including The Drinking song, My Heart and I, and Goodbye, along with familiar Italian favourites such as Come back to Sorrento and Cara Mia. He also made a number of films,including Holidays with Pay for Mancunian films playing robust characters who would add a few melodies to liven up proceedings.
In 1958 after appearing in five Royal Command shows, and while still at the peak of his career, the Inland Revenue began to make substantial demands that he declined to meet. Eventually he quit the country. When his differences with the tax people were settled, Josef retired to Co.Kildare, emerging for the occasional charity concert.
In 1985 he was the subject of a 2-hour birthday tribute on Gay Byrne's show, The Late,Late show on Irish TV.
In 1992 the Peter Chelsom film Hear My Song was released, and introduced him to a new generation of fans.
Josef was flown to London for the première, attended by Princess Diana, and became the celebrity on This is Your Life .During the spring of 1992. his music got into the top 10 album charts with Hear My Song.
His music is constantly re-issued in compilation form, and despite his sad death on Friday, October 15 1999, in the hospital in his village, after a lifetime spreading joy with his God-given talents, I feel he will live on through the legacy of his wonderful recordings.
You can listen to short samples from some of the tracks from this artist using the player below.
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