Singer and entertainer

Born: March 13, 1938;

Died: December 18, 2019

KENNY Lynch, who has died aged 81, was an British entertainer who had success as a pop singer, a songwriter and as an actor. Although he was noted for his UK top ten hit singles Up On the Roof – a Drifters cover – and You Can Never Stop Me Loving You in 1963, and as an early tourmate and support artist with the Beatles, his greatest legacy is as one of the first and most widely-known black entertainers to become popular in Britain.

Lynch’s own heyday as a recording artist lasted throughout the first half of the 1960s, and his style as a soulful crooner earned him seven hit singles, although most were lowly placed. As a songwriter he had more success, with pieces he wrote or co-wrote being recorded by artists like Dusty Springfield, the Hollies and Cilla Black, who had a UK top five hit with his Love’s Just a Broken Heart.

This latter track was co-written with the great American songwriter Mort Schuman, with whom he also collaborated on some early tracks for fellow East Londoners the Small Faces. While most of these went on to be no more than album filler, the song Sha-La-La-La-Lee was a top three hit in 1966, and the most successful piece of music Lynch was involved in.

The band’s manager Don Arden had drafted he and Schuman to ensure the Small Faces expanded on their single hit at this point, and although the group disliked the poppy new direction, they liked Lynch. “Don’t play anything you can’t mime to,” he told the band. Lynch sang harmonies on the song. Some of his own recorded songs later made him a cult star on the Northern Soul scene, and he made a comeback aimed at this market with 1983’s Half the Day’s Gone and We Haven’t Earned a Penny.

Kenneth Lynch was born in Stepney, London, in 1938, the son of an immigrant father from Barbados who came to the UK after serving in the Merchant Navy, and a mother of Irish descent. He was the youngest and longest-surviving of 11 children, and spent his earliest years growing up amid the Blitz of the East End. His sister Gladys, who used the stage name Maxine Daniels, was a well-known jazz singer who worked with the musician and broadcaster Humphrey Lyttelton.

Proud of the working class areas where he grew up around Stepney, Poplar and then Custom House, Lynch was aware that his family may have seemed like a novelty to their mostly white neighbours in the years before Windrush, but he has said he grew up without experiencing overt racism. He left school at 15 and went to work, completing his national service in the Royal Army Service Corps, where he boxed for the regiment, and worked as a street trader upon being demobbed.

In his youth, Lynch has recalled, his only loves were music and fast cars, and he spent all of his money and time in London’s clubs at night, where he also worked as a professional singer. By 1963 he had worked his way up to the point that he was booked alongside the Beatles on their first British tour, with both acts supporting the pop singer Helen Shapiro. Despite the Beatles’ rocketing fame as the tour progressed, Lynch befriended them backstage; he asked for permission to record Lennon and McCartney’s song Misery, becoming the first ever artist to cover a Beatles composition, although his version sold poorly.

An apocryphal story also has it that he criticised the pair’s songwriting ability while they were attempting to finish From Me to You, although Lynch has since denied this – instead, he said that as a jazz singer, the music they wrote wasn’t to his taste. He was featured on the cover montage of Paul McCartney and Wings’ 1973 album Band on the Run, and performed jazz interpretations of Beatles songs in later life.

As Lynch’s pop and songwriting success waned in the mid-1960s, he branched out as more of an all-rounder and a businessman. He owned a record shop in Soho and his own record label, and later a restaurant, and then moved into screen acting and presenting work, and into stand-up comedy. He took acting roles in straight stories like ITV Play of the Week (1964), Z-Cars (1968) and The Sweeney (1976); sitcoms with now queasily outdated racial attitudes, such as Curry & Chips (1969) and Til Death Us Do Part (1976); and risqué comedy films Carry On Loving (1970), The Playbirds (1978) and Confessions from the David Galaxy Affair (1979).

Lynch also had a long-standing variety double act with his good friend Jimmy Tarbuck, and appeared as a celebrity guest on game shows such as Bullseye, Celebrity Squares and Treasure Hunt. A keen golfer and all-round sportsman, he ran the London Marathon in 1982 and played in charity football and cricket fundraisers. His youthful involvement in the boxing scene around his local area was also known to have brought him into contact with various local gangsters, some of whom he was friendly with.

In later life he continued to perform, including a tour with Tarbuck in 2018.

He was awarded an OBE in 1970, and is survived by his daughters Amy and Bobby.