LARRY Kearns, the "creative, inspiring and humorous" force behind legendary folk band the Oldham Tinkers, has died aged 73.
Larry, who formed the hugely popular group in a pub with his brother Gerry and old school pal John Howarth in 1965, lost his short battle with cancer surrounded by his family in Dr Kershaw's Hospice, on Saturday.
Despite stepping back from performing at bigger venues after suffering from Dupuytren's contracture - a hand deformity - around 20 years ago, his creative influence was still an integral part of the band which marked its 50th anniversary last year, headlining Oldham Carnival and Saddleworth Folk Festival.
Among the highlights in his prolific folk career - in which his witty, colloquial and sometimes political and compassionate lyrics attracted fans from far and wide - The Oldham Tinkers played at the Queen's Silver Jubilee Royal Gala Performance at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, in 1977.
As they were lining up to meet the Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh alongside the cast of "Coronation Street", actress Jean Alexander, who played Hilda Ogden, asked Larry to hold her hand because she was so nervous. He agreed but when he turned to obliged he discovered she had fainted and was on the floor!
The Duke then asked the band which of them "had the twisted thinking to write a song about a ferret". Referring to Larry's "John Willie's Ferret" song, his brother Gerry said he had to own up.
As well as vocals, Larry, from Moorside, played mandolin and whistle but, says Gerry, he was the driving force behind the group and embodied the Oldham Tinkers.
"Larry had a strong influence on the ethos of the group, presenting us on stage and directing the group's character," said Gerry.
"He could be extremely witty and told a good story. He wrote some brilliant songs about Oldham such as 'In Our Town', 'The Owl of Oldham', 'Elsie Bell' and 'The Lark' as well the 'John Willie' songs."
In the first verse of "Skiing Owdham Style" he wrote: "You can keep yer slopes at Aviemore an' yer Alps of Eastern France, To yer winter sports in Austria we wouldn't go given the chance.
"Where do the Oldham top knobs go to gain their winter thrill?
"Oh they don their togs an' they point their clogs to the ski slopes on Counthill."
He also loved writing songs based on the ditties he would sing as a child living in the streets of post-war Oldham.
Such was the popularity and reputation of the Oldham Tinkers in the Seventies and Eighties they recorded background music for several plays written by Colin Welland of "Chariots of Fire" fame. They also performed for radio and TV on many occasions.
An LP they recorded in 1968 with fellow folk singers including Harry Boardman, from Failsworth, and Mike Harding became their label Topic Records' biggest ever selling album.
Despite bowing out of performing with the band, in recent years he was instrumental in running a folk song session at the Royal Oak, in Oldham, using his "characteristic style and influence" to help and encourage fans of the musical genre.
"He didn't really have any interest in performing on big stages after developing Dupuytren's contracture and although he had an operation it came back," added Gerry (69), from Mossley.
"He still sang though and performed in pubs and in front of family and was still involved behind the scenes.
"His place was taken by our sound man Dave Howard but Larry really was irreplaceable."
Larry - whose real name was Bernard but he became known by his nickname after a teacher labelled him "happy Larry" at school - was also renowned for his passion for rugby league and rugby union and was a much-loved teacher at St Anselm's School which later became St Augustine of Canterbury RC High School.
During his teaching training at Hopwood Hall College he spent a year working at a school in France where he learned to speak fluent French.
He coached Oldham's schoolboy rugby league team for many years and became a useful translator for visiting French teams.
His son Daniel said: "My dad will be missed dearly by all the family.
"He had numerous interests and passions, a notable one being rugby, league and union, where he needed no invitation to share an encyclopaedic knowledge of players past and present.
"However, it was music that stimulated him most, filling a void and enabling him to combine his love of storytelling and poetry.
"We would like to think he will live on in his songs, songs that will hopefully be enjoyed by generations to come, in the folk way."
Larry also leaves wife Nadia and children Joseph, Stephen, Ruth and Luke and grandchildren Anya, Oliver, Freya and Iris.
A funeral mass will be led by Father Eugene Dolan at St Edward's Church, Lees, on Wednesday, June 8, at 10am.
The Oldham Tinkers are going ahead with a performance at Oldham Coliseum on Saturday.
Reporter: Gillian Potts
Date online: 02 June 2016