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West Norfolk's music maestro George dies at 90

West Norfolk's music scene has struck a sad note with the death of George King at the age of 90.

Tributes have poured in from fellow musicians remembering him as a much loved character, with a wicked sense of humour, always up for a laugh and who will be greatly missed.

Making and teaching music was George's passion from his early gigs with a skiffle group touring the American air bases, on to playing with bands in the dance halls, clubs, pubs and theatres.

George King music maestro (44563560)
George King music maestro (44563560)

Later, he formed his own jazz quartet the King Swingers which was still out there entertaining until the pandemic shut them down.

“Music was his life” said his daughter Christine Robinson. “It is very sad that lockdown meant he had to stop. He missed it all terribly. They all did.”

Outside music he was a keen sailor, talented artist and, writing as George Thos King, airing his views as a regular contributor to the Lynn News letter pages. He was also a motorcycle enthusiast, taking part in several of the mayor's charity annual Christmas runs and he had a new bike sitting in the garage when he died.

George and the King Swingers at Heacham fete in 2019
George and the King Swingers at Heacham fete in 2019

George was born in South Lynn, left school at 14, worked first in a wood yard and spent 42 years as an engineer with Cooper Roller Bearings. He had worked his way through the ranks to purchasing manager when the firm changed hands in 1987 and he was one of a number made redundant.

In 1953 he had married Brenda – who died last August – and they moved to West Lynn.

Music was George's life. His father was a musician and Christine believes he got his first experience of the big band sound when his grandmother provided accommodation for famous bands who appeared at Lynn Corn Hall.

“I also know that he was a bugler in the air cadets and led the Sunday morning parades from the Tuesday Market to the Bawsey Sandboy,” she said.

George King at the piano (44563578)
George King at the piano (44563578)

Fellow musicians take up the story: Derek Stringer, chairman of West Norfolk Music Centre, who had known George for 40 years, said that he was a founder teacher at the Centre.

“He could play a number of instruments, but primarily all the saxophones and the clarinet. His great talent was being able to connect with pupils of all ages, from four into the late 80s.

“He was no run of the mill music teacher. He was self taught in the university of life and he always encouraged his pupils to be adventurous and improvise and not just to 'follow the dots on the sheet music'. He would say 'write your own name on the music'.

George King with Nik Carter in London
George King with Nik Carter in London

“He was a much loved character who was genuinely liked and he had a wicked sense of humour.”

One of George's pupils was Nik Carter who has gone on to great things in the world of music and show business.

Nik is a saxophonist in demand for live performances, theatre, TV and recording sessions all over the world. Stars he has worked with include Ed Sheeran, Jools Holland, Pixie Lott, Girls Aloud, Olly Murs,Vanessa Mae, and the Lighthouse Family and he has played big venues from the Royal Albert Hall to Wembley.

George King making music (44563575)
George King making music (44563575)

“ I am told I chased him down a school corridor at Springwood School after hearing him in a Music Centre concert and I begged him to teach me to play,” said Nik. “I was 11 and he taught me until I went to London at 15 to continue my training.We never lost touch and I could rely on him for help and advice. He watched me play on a number of occasions and I spoke to him on the phone a couple of days before he died.

“Probably the last time I saw him was on Christmas Day when I took a Christmas dinner to his home and he stood on the doorstep and played “I Wish You a Merry Christmas." George meant the world to me.”

Michael Williamson was one of the four King Swingers and recalls their gigs on Sunday afternoons at Bank House, Lynn, at the Fox pub at Heacham, entertaining at weddings, parties and fetes, at St John's Church coffee mornings and at Watlington Jazz Club.

“ He was perhaps the last link to the old local dance bands. For a time he was also on keyboard and sax with the Geoff Stinton Musicmen, the Centre Stage Swing Band, Norfolk Reeds and Hunstanton Concert band.

“I know that one of his proudest moments was playing his clarinet on the corner of Bourbon Street, New Orleans

“We were also members of the Ouse Sailing Club and, for a bit of fun we formed the Anmer Mere Yacht Club. We organised some brilliant April 1 spoofs including a story about fracking fears at Anmer and in collaboration with Palm Paper we announced the launch of a paper boat on the Ouse.We had many laughs together.”

Fellow King Swinger musician, Ivan Garford said: “George was always up for a laugh. I remember him as friendly and encouraging and especially so when he was teaching young people.”

Nigel Portass's memories of George go back to the Bert Murray Band which played on Saturday nights at Wisbech Rose and Crown Hotel. They went on to play in club and cabaret bands and had a shared love of jazz. He was incredibly popular” said Nigel.

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