Chris Morley

Chris died in Manchester on April 24th after a full and a very musical life.

Below are two tributes from friends Alan Helsdon and more recently, Tony Hall.

Chris Morley
Taken at a Red Herrings Gig at Morston, North Norfolk in 2008 – credit A Helsdon

Whether it was sawing a lorry in half to make a bigger campervan, spotting an antique going for less that its value, acting as Tour manager or, most of all, making wonderful music alone or with others, Chris did it all with style and enthusiasm!

Rod Stradling had recently said that as the leader of the East Suffolk Country Band, he gave outsiders access to the traditional music and song of east Suffolk.

Alongside Suzie and Bobby Hanna, he and Karen made up Red Herrings and played many years and many places and gave many audiences an evening to remember.  The precision of his melodeon playing never got in the way of the spirit of whatever kind of music he was playing and as a ceilidh band Red Herrings were a Caller’s delight in the way they lifted the dancers’ feet all evening.

Chris was a trained chef who had worked in a top London kitchen and you were always well fed if lucky enough to be invited to eat with him.  He took great pride in producing beautiful meals right up to the time the tumour and the treatments robbed him of his sight. 

Another non-musical delight was his and Karen’s allotment in first Norwich and then Glossop.  Here, like everything else in his life, all was ordered, well-tended and produced excellent results that he was delighted to share.

He was diagnosed as having a brain tumour late last year and, typical of the man, decided to fight it rather than give in.  Chris fought long and hard against his failing health and the effects of radiation therapy but was unable to repeat his remarkable recovery from throat cancer of a few years ago.  He spent his last few weeks in a Hospice in Manchester, visited every day by Karen despite traffic then Lockdown.

Fiddle and melodeon, mandolin and voice, saucepan and spade, Chris Morley wielded them all with tremendous skill but his playing, singing, growing and cooking days are finished; Service is ended and we are all the richer, however we remember him.

Alan Helsdon was a friend of Chris’s and the obituary above has been written by him. It appears also on the Mustrad website and we are grateful that he has also shared it with EATMT. Alan called for 65 of Red Herrings’ Ceilidhs between 2001 and 2014.

Tony Hall has recently sent the Trust his tribute to Chris:

“Firstly, I’d like to pass on my sympathies to Karen, Chris’ partner, for her sad loss, and I feel I must write a tribute to Chris for his contribution to traditional music in the East.

Chris, to my mind, was an unsung hero of the above, for various reasons. Going back in time (and I’m a bit vague about dates etc) and mainly in the late ‘60s, I was a regular at the King’s Head folk club in Islington, a wonderful trad. club run by Rod and Danny Stradling. This club was a magnet for folkies, and it was there I met Chris and his then wife Jenny. They kindly invited me to stay at their cottage in the village of Bealings in Suffolk, and Chris allowed me to play (as an honorary member) in the East Suffolk Band, which he formed. As a ‘cherry on the top’ Chris had living in a caravan in their garden two of my other folk heroes – Annie Briggs and Johnny Moynihan.

So on my visits we (the band) played in several very unspoilt Suffolk pubs, such as The Blaxhall Ship and The Crown at Snape – and we all got positively rat-arsed (ah, halcyon days!). Chris and Jenny also ran a terrific folk club at The Suffolk Punch pub in Ipswich, which booked great trad. performers such as Martin Burns, Irish fiddler, the Watersons, etc etc.

So basically, Chris never received the recognition he deserved (and Jenny, re. the club) for his contribution to trad. music in Suffolk. He, on our band ‘gigs’, also encouraged lots of old trad. singers to do their thing (people like Percy Webb, Oscar Wood on squeeze box, etc.) but it was
all done in a natural, joyful way (unlike mainstream folk clubs, which became very left-wing and political – bordering on Communism!).

In later years Chris and Jenny moved to Norwich, where he joined my loosely-knit band (now known as the Von Krapp Family) playing melodeon and eventually he formed Red Herrings, another cracking band, with Karen and the Ellis sisters. (You can’t seem to buy actual red
herrings these days – very salty!).

So here’s to Chris’ memory – and I’m sure Karen will appreciate how important he was to the folk world”.
Tony Hall, Oulton, Norfolk – May 2020

Rod Stradling, in his online Mustrad (Musical Traditions) magazine writes about the King’s Head Folk Club in Islington 1968-1970 (Article MT273) where Chris and often the East Suffolk Country Band was resident. He credits Chris for having properly introduced the residents there to Phoebe Smith who was a guest at the folk club in January 1969.

EATMT would like to put together an article about the East Suffolk Country Band. If any of our dear readers would like to contribute to this article, we’d love to hear from you (info@eatmt.org.uk).