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GUEST,Graham Bradshaw Obit: Bernard Overton--1930-2008 (14) Obit: Bernard Overton 21 Jun 08


It is with great sadness that I learnt of the passing of my good friend Bernard Overton.

Bernard collapsed and died at his caravan in North Wales last Friday (13th). He had been suffering with Parkinson's Disease for the last few years.

Already well-known on the trad jazz scene, primarily as a piano player, by the early 60s, Bernard was in at the start of the folk-revival in Coventry. Singing traditional songs accompanied by his guitar, he was almost a fixture in all the fledgling and burgeoning clubs in and around Coventry and Rugby.

I first met Bernard in 1967 when Derek Sarjeant and I were booked to appear at Coventry's Village Pump club. This was a then unique concept. It was firstly a ceilidh club, with the ground-breaking Magic Rantabout in residence (of which Bernard was a member), but they booked a song guest who appeared in the middle between the dancing, plus a floor spot or two. The week we did it, the floor spot was Eddie and Finbar Furey who lived in Coventry at the time!

And this is the connection which made Bernard famous. It was Finbar Furey who approached his old mate Bernard - " Bernard, I've broken my old bamboo flute. Can you make me another one out of metal that sounds the same?"

And that was how the Low D whistle was born. Virtually invented by Bernard, he went on to develop a whole industry around this instrument, and the Overton brand, although much copied by others, went on to become the most sought after instrument for whistle players all over the World. The role call of Overton players includes the very best in every genre of music. He was still building whistles right up until his death.

Bernard and I became close friends after I moved to Coventry in 1970, and we played in a ceilidh band together - Brown Boots and No Breakfast - during the 80s and early 90s. We also were band musicians for Earlsdon Morris Men from 1975 to the early 90s.

Everybody who came into contact with him has colourful anecdotes to tell of Bernard, most of them unrepeatable here. He was a true one-off.

I last saw him a couple of months back at the Tump Folk Club in Brinklow, where he lived, and despite his Parkinson's, we had a good old reminisce about the old days.

I am sure many others will have much more to say about this great man. He had music coursing through his veins, and touched literally thousands of people in the folk and jazz worlds. The world will be a poorer and much less interesting place with his passing.

No doubt when he reaches the pearly gates, he'll come out with the immortal saying, " Hey mate, is this the effing gig?!"

The funeral is at Canley Crematorium at 2.00 pm on Monday 30th, followed by a memorial service at 3.00 in Brinklow Parish Church.


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