Keith hampshire 001001 squared for mocm

Hampshire, Keith

Origin: Calgary, Alberta

The Hampshire saga began on the morning of November 23, 1945 in Dulwich Hospital, London, England. He was a pretty English baby and at 10 pounds, 12 ounces, a big one.

Georgie PorgieBy the age of 4, Keith was being spoon fed on strong doses of ballet and tap dancing lessons. He made his theatrical debut that year in a children's dance show for parents. It wasn't exactly the big time.

"I was the star of the show," said Keith dryly. "The show was based on the circus and I was the ringmaster. I also played Georgie Porgie."

From then on, apparently, it was all downhill… A good flaming finish. His glittering debut evoked sufficient disinterest to ground his stage career for over twenty years.

"But, I've got some nifty pictures of me dressed in some really weird get-ups," Keith says. "I can remember kicking my leg up against the wall and all that." Two years following his stage triumph his family sailed to New York and took the train to Toronto, Canada, where they bought a battered sedan and made the long trek west to Calgary, Alberta.

Keith recalled the cross-country family jaunt with a certain ironic, but fond detachment. "I stood up the entire way! My sister would get car sick so she got the window that would open. My window was covered up with clothes and suitcases and I had to stand and lean against a trunk for support."

Momma's Little ChoirboyWhile growing up in Calgary, Keith sang in the local Anglican Church choir and took weekly vocal lessons for three years. He learned enough to earn prizes in a number of Kiwanis sponsored singing festivals. The same as many people, he spent a lot of time with late night radio, dial-switching around to pull in a favourite station.

At sixteen, he was still an honest-to-goodness soprano as well as being frustratingly short. "I was five foot one," he moaned, "a midget. I didn't develop until very late in life. I was called Shorty, Runt, and Chubby, among other things."

Any lingering suspicion that he was becoming a nobody vanished when, at seventeen, his voice (thankfully) changed. At that stage he started going through all the clumsy motions of teenage romance, a distraction that occupied most of his out-of-school activities.

At the same time, The Depression Coffeehouse operated by John Uren, was spawning an entire generation of high calibre folk talent like David Wiffen, Donna Warner, Will Millar and Joni Mitchell. During one Sunday Amateur Night, Hampshire sauntered into the club and requested to sing a couple of numbers.

Hootenanny DaysHis presence there that evening was probably unforgettable. Keith, who is not an instrumentalist, sang three songs a cappella to a shocked club of folkies. He returned to The Depression the following week and soon was performing there regularly on amateur night. Eventually, he sang (sans guitar) on the local coffeehouse/college/folk hootenanny circuit.

When blaring rock 'n' roll became popular, he stopped cutting his hair and quickly auditioned for a band named The Intruders.

"We had exactly one practice," Keith smiled, "in someone's basement. We plugged a microphone into the guitarist's amp. I sang Kansas City. They said, "Yeah, you'll do," and gave me a blue-sequined jacket that came down to my knees with white shiny lapels. We never played any gigs, so I gave the jacket back."
A second group, Keith and The Bristols, folded almost as quickly. Keith explained: "Little did we realize that Bristols has other connotations. We thought it was nifty because it was very English-sounding." His next incarnation, Keith and the Variations, however, did thrive for over three years to develop a fervent following in Alberta. A band with a definite English influence they played everywhere they possibly could, including as opening act for a Roy Orbison concert at the Stampede Corral (Calgary's Hockey Arena) and a local weekly Calgary TV show called, Whoopee-A-Go-Go.

Following graduation from high school, Keith was hired at CFCN Radio and Television as a cameraman. Soon he was working at an overwhelming array of things: Camera work, acting, announcing, operating. Chafing restlessly under CFCN's MOR radio format, Hampshire began programming never-heard-before British music on the weekend after-midnight program. He was one of the first Canadians to pick up on Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, the Swinging Blue Jeans, the Animals and the Searchers.

However, by 1966, he had become disillusioned with his job and with a band crippled by terminal boredom. The Variations still had a great image, but the whole rock world was whirling by as the band drifted, mostly downward, gigged here and there without bothering to rehearse or learn new material. Keith had big plans and decided it was time to explore some different alleys. In April, he trundled off to England with a friend. The two adventurers puddle-jumped around Britain in a beat up Morris Minor.

"We slept in the car," Keith declared, "and lived on fish and chips and apple cider because you could be sure wherever you travelled they'd be okay. After a month and a half, our money was low so we headed back to London and my Uncle Tom's home in Epsom."

With typical boyish flamboyance, Hampshire applied for a disc jockey position on the powerful Radio Caroline, a fifty kilowatt pirate ship in the North Sea, on the strength of a letter of recommendation from CFCN in Calgary. He was being optimistic, he admitted – but only a little.

Live On the Air"I just bee-essed my way onto the ship," Keith said a bit defensively. "I really hadn't had very much experience on-the-air. I pretended to know what I was talking about and somehow managed to carry it off."

For thirteen months, Keith was a certified English idol subjected to the hundred thousand watt glare of the English pop press, enjoying the glow and warmth of cocktail partying with well-known stars, hosting, first Keefers' Commotion afternoon show, and later, Keefers' Uprising in the mornings.

"There were no fewer than two million people listening to Radio Caroline at any one time," he stated. "The average listening audience was 8 million. Peak listening audience was between 15 and 20 million. We blanketed the whole European continent too."

"It was a strange existence," agreed Keith. "There were so few pirate jocks around that you were treated like pop stars in town. You'd be mobbed everywhere you went. One week out of three you were a star. You'd come back to the boat with eyes held open with toothpicks. However, for the other two weeks, you were a nobody sailor, sitting in a box talking to yourself and playing records."

Keith also managed his first recording at this time. "Millions of Hearts" was backed with a cover of Paul Anka's, "Lonely Boy," for King Records in the U.K.

Liverpool Street ChaosHampshire quit Radio Caroline on August 14, 1967, the day before the Marine and Etc. Broadcasting Offences Act was enacted by the British Parliament. The act, which elicited a virtual flood of comment and criticism, stipulated that anyone helping the pirates in any way would be liable to heavy fines and/or up to two years in jail. British firms advertising on pirate radio would also be subject to heavy fines and penalties.

"When the boats finally closed down, we got mobbed by 10,000 people at the Liverpool Street Station in London. People came out to support their favourite jock. I've never experienced anything like it."

New JockAlthough Radio Caroline still exists today, what remained for Hampshire after the dust had settled was a yearning to return to Canada. Following a holiday on the continent, he flew to Montreal and took in the last week of Expo '67. Soon he drifted to Toronto, where he was hired by CKFH radio after turning down a counter offer from CHUM.

While at CKFH, he met and married Cathy Brown on August 1,1969 and together they have a son, Christian and a daughter, Laura. A couple of years later, Keith was back on the streets scouting work. It came as quite a shock to a good many people when it was announced that he would appear in the musical stage revue You Better Believe It with Jack Duffy, Julie Amato, and Almeta Speaks.

He then moved on to a great deal of television, notably as one of the regular cast on The Wayne & Shuster Comedy Hour, radio and television commercials, and more stage work in the longest-running (at that time) production of Oops!

Through a friend, Keith met producer Bill Misener, then working for RCA in Toronto. Bill was an original member of the rock group The Paupers, which also included Skip Prokop (leader of Lighthouse). Misener had worked as a staff producer for RCA for several years before meeting Hampshire, and was recognized within the industry for various successful RCA projects.

Hampshire recorded "I Wish I Could Wish Away," written and produced by Misener, during an after-hours session at the RCA studio. RCA Records agreed to release the single (re-titled "Ebenezer"). When sales weren't of hit proportions, RCA indicated it wouldn't be interested in any future product.

Soon afterwards, Keith played Bill "Daytime Night-Time," written by Mike Hugg, an original member of Manfred Mann. Both agreed the song could be a North American hit if it was reworked. The two booked the RCA studio, laid down a basic track, and approached A&M of Canada. Misener also decided at that time to form an independent production company Pig Weed Productions.

"Daytime Night-Time" became a Top 10 hit in Canada in 1973 and also appeared in the U.S. Top 50. Its powerful successor, "The First Cut Is The Deepest," reached the coveted number 1 spot in Canada on May 12,1973, was a big hit in Australia and also cracked the U.S. Top 100.

The follow-up, "Big Time Operator" went Top 5 in Canada, Top 100 in the U.S. and number 1 in South Africa. The album, The First Cut unhappily did not fare as well. And after a couple of other singles, namely "For Ever and Ever" and "Hallelujah Freedom," Keith left the A&M stable.

Music MachineWithout missing a beat, Keith became the host of a coast-to-coast CBC-TV network show called, Music Machine, from 1974-1975. It featured all the top Canadian recording artists of the day as special weekly guests. Artists like Klaatu, The Bells, Copperpenny, Rush, Lighthouse, The Stampeders, Valdy and others made some of their first television appearances on Keith's show.

After leaving Music Machine, Keith made a few more recordings, and released the single, "Something Good," backed with another gem, "Just Another Fool," on the Axe Records label. A second version of "Something Good" soon appeared on Keith's second album, Variations, named after his old band. It was released in 1981 on Freedom Records, where Keith also served as an A&R man, helping sign artists like David Wilcox and Lee Aaron to their first recording contracts.

In 1983, Keith was presented with his first Gold Record for "OK Blue Jays," a track he recorded with The Bat Boys as the theme song for the Toronto baseball team. Another memorable performance came at the Canada Day 2000 celebrations when Keith sang "Daytime Night-Time" to a crowd of over 100000 fans in Ottawa.

Over the years Keith has also enjoyed work off-camera as a jingle singer, voice-over or character-voice on television commercials, radio commercials (listen here), motion pictures (listen here), cartoon series and radio plays.



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