The Ryhope music man who triggered fond memories among former students

Ryhope Grammar School.
Ryhope Grammar School.
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We struck a real chord when we asked for memories of the Ryhope teacher who had links to the pop stars.

Just weeks ago, we asked if people remembered Clive Westlake.

Clive Westlake who wrote hits for the stars.

Clive Westlake who wrote hits for the stars.

Locally, he was known as a teacher at Ryhope Grammar School where he worked from 1956 to 1959 and was head of the music department for that period.

But internationally, he will forever be remembered as the man who penned the hits for some of the biggest names in the charts.

And as well as making his mark on the music scene, he made an impression on the pupils he taught.

Donald Smith replied to our appeal for information and told us: “I was a pupil at the Robert Richardson Grammar School (Ryhope Grammar) from ‘54 to ‘61 which includes the whole of his time at the school and remember him well.

Oe day he told us that he was going to leave and seek his fortune in Tin Pan Alley. Scroll on a decade and I was watching Dusty Springfield on television. She sang her top ten hit “I Close my Eyes and Count to Ten” then she told us that it was written by the brilliant Clive Westlake.

Donald Smith, former student of Robert Richardson Grammar School

“He was almost one of the lads because although he was a teacher he was only about seven years older than me and my classmates.

“Without knowing it, he did me a big favour. During a class in the little music room, he played Grieg’s “Wedding day at Troldhaugen”. He was probably showing off a bit and, to be frank, he didn’t play it all that well.”

Donald described Clive’s piano style as slightly unsubtle but he added: “Something ‘clicked’ with me. My lifetime love of classical music is owed to just two or three ‘triggers’ and this was the first of them.”

Donald also remembered the time when Clive told his pupils it was time for him to move on.

Dusty Springfield.

Dusty Springfield.

“One day he told us that he was going to leave and seek his fortune in Tin Pan Alley. We all laughed sympathetically at his self-delusion.

“Scroll on a decade and I was watching Dusty Springfield on television. She sang her top ten hit “I Close my Eyes and Count to Ten” then she told us that it was written by the brilliant Clive Westlake. We shouldn’t have been so cynical.”

It wasn’t just Dusty either, who got to sing some of Clive’s great hits.

He also composed Big Man by Kathy Kirby and What I Am To You which was sung by Kenny Lynch.

He wrote the music for film themes as well, such as for Live Now, Pay Later; It’s Trad Dad; Comedy Man; and Just For Fun.

We were also contacted by another of Clive’s former pupils - Bryan Mayhew - who told us that Clive died at his home in Nashville in 2000. He was 67.

Bryan added: “My particular memory of Clive - or “Taffy” as he was universally known at the school - was as a very enthusiastic conductor of the school choir and winning two trophies in an inter school tournament at the City Hall, Newcastle.

“Tom Allan, the world famous baritone, was also a pupil at the time although I am not sure how much influence Clive had on his career.

“Clive taught “serious” music at school and there was no indication at the time that he would go on to be such a successful pop song writer, although this has been well documented since.

“I have known of Clive’s death for some time and have always been intrigued to know how he ended up in Nashville.”

The man who made such an impression in Ryhope was born on Christmas Day in 1936, in Wattsville, Monmouthshire.

His father was a coal miner who didn’t want his son to follow him into the pits.

After much discussion, a career in music was decided upon.

He turned to music writing because he loved it, he freely admitted.

The hits soon followed and he made the pages of the Echo’s sister paper the Northern Daily Mail in 1968.

It also told how Clive not only penned for Dusty, Kathy and Kenny - he also helped new stars on their road into music.

It was his words which made up a debut single by 23-year-old Brooklyn-born Allan Jeffers.

Clive wrote songs for him which were called Turn Back The Time and Look Away.

Our Northern Daily Mail report at the time said: “On them, Allan shows that he has the voice with which stars are made.”

Our thanks go to everyone who sent us replies on Clive. We’re hoping his story inspires other people to get in touch with their tales - whether it’s from a time in their own past or perhaps interesting facts about their own family tree.

Contact Chris Cordner by emailing chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk.