An appreciation

Johnny Keating, a warm, lovable, gregarious and funny man and lifelong Hibs supporter, was the best bandleader Scotland ever produced. Son of an Irish Catholic father (who, like his son, was a conductor - but of an Edinburgh tram) and a Scots Protestant mother, he was at ease with everyone. American musician, Lyn Murray labelled him a certifiable character.

Musically skilled, he played accordion in a band from the age of 15, and quickly learned the art of the arranger. Adding trombone to his repertoire, he spent his national service playing in a military band and on demob went to London to join Tommy Sampson's 16-piece big band, one of only three in Britain.

He subsequently played in the bands of Ted Heath, Ambrose and Geraldo, being periodically fired from one band and joining another before laying down his trombone and settling into the work he loved as chief arranger in Ted Heath's band, scoring many of the its best known numbers. Years later, Heath's wife Moira wrote: "Some of Johnny's work is close to genius. To him must go recognition for a lot of the success of the band, and many thanks are due to this brilliant man."

In 1957 he set up his own School of Music, which he described as "a sort of Music Monastery with me as Pope or at least head monk." For three years he bullied, cursed and cajoled his young students as he instilled a love of jazz and swing into them. Sensing that perhaps such behaviour might diminish their ranks somewhat, one afternoon he turned over a new leaf and tried to behave as a proper gentleman. Puzzled by the students' stunned negative and deflated response he turned to his brother Eric (who played sax in the school orchestra) for enlightenment. It was simple. The kids liked him the way he was and had interpreted the new approach as an indication that he was either ill, bankrupt, or fed up with teaching.

The dawn of the 1960s found him arranging and directing hits, for both The Bachelors and Eden Kane. For the latter, he co-wrote songs with Johnny Worth, a songwriting partnership that endured. As the decade progressed, he joined the elevated ranks of international arranger, composer and conductor, and was at the forefront of creating clever band arrangements that made use of the three dimensions (he called it 'ping pong stereo'). Later, he experimented with synthesizers on a string of highly successful LPs here and in the USA.

He scored movies including Hotel, which earned him an Oscar nomination, and arranged and conducted discs with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, and three albums with Caterina Valente who he described as "a true professional, every inch a big star and a lovely adorable person as well."

His musical adventures saw him conducting and recording with both the London Symphony and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestras and his offspring, Martin, Kevin and Jill, followed him into the business, forming family band The Keatings. To her dad's delight, Jill later cut an album singing to his arrangements for the stars.

In his later life he developed Lewy Body Disease, a form of dementia, and ended his days in The Chiswick Nursing Centre. But although his personal memory might have failed, his musical memory never did and he remained the life and soul of the party, frequently entertaining his companions on the piano, remaining the same lovable man right up to the end.

Scotland has lots one of its finest sons and the world has lost an irreplaceable musical talent.