Stainsby Festival president's sudden death shocks folk music community

Tributes have been paid to the president of Stainsby Festival who has died suddenly at the age of 70.

Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 8:53 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 8:55 am
Ken Johnson had a favourite saying that life was too short to drink from the wrong-shaped glass.

Ken Johnson, who supported Derbyshire’s folk clubs for more than 50 years, was renowned as a singer and compere at festivals throughout the country including Whitby and Warwick.

He had been involved with Stainsby Festival for many years and was made honorary president in recognition of his service.

Tony Trafford, festival chairman, said: “Ken has been a stalwart of Stainsby Festival since its earliest days, when it was still based at the old school and in the fields behind. I first met him there over breakfast in 1973. It will seem very strange to be without him next year: I can’t think of one that he’s not been at since. We’ve suffered a family loss here.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Ken Johnson worked in virtually every volunteer role at Stainsby Festival but will be mostly remembered for singing the opening and closing song and compering.

“In all that time he’s been a volunteer in virtually every job there is in the festival. Starting out as a volunteer steward, he’s worked backstage, in the box office, the information office, doing publicity on local radio, as a competition judge, an artists’ scout at other festivals, as part of the artists team, and as a trustee on the festival charity, as well as honorary life president in his final years. That’s some record.

“Yet what will immediately spring to most people’s mind is his traditional role singing the Farmer’s Song in the Willow Circle at the festival’s opening and closing ceremonies and his regular, easy going compering of scores of festival concerts. There’s no doubt that in all these roles he’s left an indelible mark on festival goers and contributed more than a little to the festival’s volunteer run, not-for-profit, community ethos.

"Fortunately for us, Ken’s last performance of the opening ceremony was captured on film for the virtual online event of 2020. It’ll serve as an abiding reminder both of his commitment to and importance in the evolving history of the event he loved so much.”

Vicky Johnson, who was close to her ex-husband, said: “Ken was a born entertainer and loved to be the star of the show. He was a fantastic singer – his repertoire was huge and mostly traditional.

"Ken was a great raconteur who loved to be in company and chew the fat.

"One of his favourite sayings was ‘Life's too short to be drinking out of the wrong-shaped glass’."

The dad-of-two, a member of Winster Morris and a founder member of Chesterfield Morris Men, had gone to Lichfield Folk Festival on Saturday with his ex-wife and her husband Trevor Webster to watch the dancing.

Morris dancer Vicky, who lives in Duckmanton, said: “Ken was in very good spirits – he’d not been ill and had had a very good day. We dropped him off afterwards and realised that he’d left his phone in the car when we got home. I rang him and couldn’t get a reply – I thought he was in the shower.”

When Trevor was unable to get into Ken’s home at Alexandra Road West in Brampton, the police and paramedics were called. Vicky said: “Ken was found sitting in a chair looking like he was having a nap.

"I'm not sad for Ken because he was spared the indignity of illness and feebleness and was in no pain – but we will miss him terribly. We were really good friends and shared a sense of humour.”

Brought up in Ashover, Ken first became interested in folk music as a teenager when he lived in Stonebroom. He attended a folk club in Alfreton, run by John Tams, and later supported folk clubs in Bolsover and Chesterfield.

He used to be part of a group called Cat’s Whiskers, which performed folk plays, songs and music, and was a member of Rolling Stock choir.

Singing carols was a passion of Ken’s and he would travel to Eyam, Castleton and Worrall in Sheffield to join in seasonal songs that were native to those villages.

Ken spent his working life as an employee of Coalite, BCRA, Clay Cross Company where he was a metallurgist, and Netto.

Details of his funeral arrangements have yet to be released.