John Philip "Jake" Thackray was a folk singer-songwriter from the north of England. Best known for his comedy songs, his work ranged from broad comedy and topical satire to sentimental, observational and pastoral songs. He sang in a lugubrious baritone voice, accompanying himself on a nylon-strung guitar in a style that was part classical, part jazz. His witty lyrics and clipped delivery, combined with his strong Yorkshire accent and the northern setting of many of his songs, led to him being described as the "North Country Noël Coward", a comparison Thackray resisted, although he acknowledged his lyrics were in the English tradition of Coward and Flanders and Swann "who are wordy, funny writers". However, his tunes derived from the French chansonnier tradition, and he claimed Georges Brassens as his strongest influence. He influenced numerous artists, including Jarvis Cocker, Nick Drake, Jasper Carrott, Mike Harding, Momus, John Wesley Harding, Fred Wedlock, The Corries, Ralph McTell, Alex Beaton, Robbie O'Connell, The Witches of Elswick and Sky Larkin.
Born in Leeds, the son of a policeman, he studied Modern Languages at Durham University and spent four years teaching English in France and Algeria. During this time he had poetry published, and discovered the work of Brassens and other French songwriters like Jacques Brel. He returned to Leeds in 1964 and became a teacher at the Intake School in Bramley. He took up the guitar, and found music gave him a way to interest his students in their studies. He composed and produced musicals at the school, and performed more adult-oriented material in local folk clubs. From there he began appearing on local radio, which brought him to the attention of producer Norman Newell at EMI, and network TV.
At the height of his success in the late 1960s and early 70s he appeared regularly on British television, composing a weekly topical song for the consumer magazine show Braden's Week, and then its successor That's Life. Between 1967 and 1977 he released four studio albums and one live album. In 1981 he had his own show, Jake Thackray and Songs, in which he and guest folk musicians performed live in a variety of venues, and a live album of the same name was released in 1983. He continued to perform live, but his health and financial problems, combined with a devastating loss of confidence in his abilities led to increasing unreliability, and he retired from performing in the early 1990s. He was declared bankrupt in 2000, and died at his home in Monmouth on Christmas Eve 2002, aged 64. He was a socialist and an observant Catholic. He left a widow, Sheila, and three sons.
All Thackray's original albums are out of print, but 2006 EMI released a 4-CD box set, Jake in a Box, containing all the material from his studio albums and singles, outtakes from the sessions for his debut album, songs recorded for an aborted album in 1970, and other studio outtakes, and Live Performance, a live double CD recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1970 (a single album, edited from the same performance, had been released on LP in 1971).
- The Last Will and Testament of Jake Thackray (1967)
- Jake's Progress (1969)
- Live Performance (1971)
- Bantam Cock (1972)
- On Again! On Again! (1977)
- Jake Thackray and Songs (1983)
- Jake in a Box (2006)
- Live Performance (2006)
- The Black Swan
- The Last Will And Testament Of Jake Thackray
- The Blacksmith And The Toffee-Maker
- The Castleford Ladies Magic Circle
- Bantam Cock
- Isabel Makes Love On National Monuments
- Sister Josephine
- On Again! On Again!
- To Do With You
- The Hair Of The Widow Of Bridlington
- The Bull