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Keith Llewellyn, R.I.P.

Keith Llewellyn in 2013

We were much saddened to hear of the passing of Keith Llewellyn, Hon President of the Society, on 27 September 2019, at the age of 82.

Keith was born on 30 September 1936 in Gravesend, Kent, into a family which he described as “devoid of any musical interest”. However, he was conscripted into the army at the age of 16 and became a clarinet player in a regimental band. He spent a year in 1956-57 at the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall, and this was where he first came into contact with Malcolm Arnold’s music: the first piece he heard was Tam O’Shanter, written in 1955 and all the rage at the time. This was closely followed by the televised first performance of the Grand, Grand Overture. And Keith himself took part in the first performance of the march HRH The Duke of Cambridge, written for the centenary of the School in 1957.

Keith was a good dancer and met Margaret at a dance in Brighton. They were married on 4 September 1964 in Kensington. They lived for a while in Blackpool, where they ran a guest house, and in Reading, where Keith worked for Berger Paints. Eventually, Keith and Margaret moved to Walton Street in Barnsley, to the house where Margaret’s parents used to live.

Keith was one of the first members of the Malcolm Arnold Society when it was formed by John Gould and Paul Jackson in 1991. When they had to give up running the society in 1994, Keith took over as Hon Secretary and threw himself into the role with great enthusiasm. He immediately upgraded the newsletter to a glossy, 4-page publication, initially called The Smoke, but soon after renamed Beckus. He was not afraid to approach anyone and everyone for contributions or favours, and the newsletter was a great source of information. A special 12-page issue, produced in 1996 to celebrate Malcolm’s 75th birthday, included an introductory letter from Lady Groves; and an Arnold discography was produced in 1999. These were good times for Arnold fans – a lot of his music was being recorded, he was being recognised with various honours, and there were a number of Arnold celebrations.

In 2001, Keith took part in a Radio 2 programme ‘Malcolm Arnold: an honest composer’ to mark Malcolm’s 80th birthday. Keith shared Malcolm’s sense of humour and he told this anecdote: “One Keith Llewellyn of our members used to play trombone and on one occasion he was sitting with his friend – two trombones – and they played an Arnold piece, and when it was over his friend said, ‘I think I’ll write to Sir Malcolm and tell him how much we’ve enjoyed playing his music.’ And after a few days a letter came back from Malcolm and in it he said, ‘I have written you this piece of music.’ And inside there was about 4 bars of music for trombone, and we played it, and it was just two notes that went bim-boom bim-boom.
And he’d written underneath it, ‘This is to strengthen your drinking arm.’”

Then in 2006, Malcolm died – just weeks before the first of the current series of Arnold Festivals. Keith wrote:
“The four weeks leading up to 21 October were a time of emotional extremes. We learnt of Malcolm’s very sad passing and celebrated his life – not only celebrating but also giving him our love and gratitude for a legacy of wonderful music.”

In 2013, Keith organised a wonderful Society Dinner on the eve of the Festival it was his way of saying goodbye, as he used the occasion to announce that he had decided to retire from his role as Hon Secretary after 20 years of devoted service. He said, “Twenty years have passed since that golden moment and no one could have been happier than me in the role of Hon Secretary … I’ve looked upon it as my way of thanking Malcolm for his gift of superb music.”

In recognition of his enormous contribution he was made Hon President. The Dinner was so successful, that it has now become a regular feature of the Festival weekend. In recent years, Keith was prevented from coming to the festivals because of his and Margaret’s health, but he still took a keen interest in all things Arnold.

Keith was taken ill in July and spent 9 weeks in Barnsley General hospital, where he sadly passed away on 27 September. At his funeral on 17 October, at Keith’s request, the second movement of the Organ Concerto was played – one of his favourite pieces. The Society sent a wreath, and members Barry Arnold Long, Neil Richmond, Paul Jackson and David Dunstan attended. Our thoughts are with Margaret at this time.

Keith Llewellyn, born 30 September 1936, died 27th September 2019