Obituary: Banjo performer Clem Vickery, 73
It was a chance discovery in his grandfather’s dusty attic at the age of nine that inspired a lifelong love of music.
As soon as Clem Vickery picked up the long-forgotten banjo, he was hooked.
And by the age of 16, the talented musician had acquired enough skills and knowledge to perform.
His passion and enthusiasm for the instrument became the start of a 40-year professional musical career – with his big breakthrough when he began performing on the now famous The Black and White Minstrel Show – and he built a repertoire by taking renowned music from the western classical tradition and arranging it for the banjo.
A longtime resident of Wicken Green, near Fakenham, North Norfolk, he prospered as manager of the fretted instrument company Clifford Essex and designed some of the finest banjos, mandolins and ukuleles available anywhere in the world. world.
Born Clement Andrew Vickery on January 31, 1949 in Forest Gate, London, he was the only child of Clement Horace Vickery and Gladys Florence. His two sisters were Kathleen and Doreen.
As a child, he was very passionate and well versed in model airplanes and boat building. He would take great pride in ensuring that his models survived as long as possible and would spend hours, if not days, fully engaged in these activities.
The part he enjoyed the most was flying or cruising the models, with testing spaces in abundance at the time due to the presence of a boating lake around every corner.
He had recently expressed a renewed desire to redo these models and was looking forward to assembling a Tiger Moth model purchased for him last Christmas.
Mr Vickery attended Plaistow Grammar from 1960 to 1966, but later confessed his desire to attend the local technical college instead to satisfy his love of design and wood and metal work.
Following his grandfather’s discovery of the banjo, at age 16, Mr. Vickery had acquired enough skills and knowledge to perform in local dance groups. Over the years he has starred in many as well as directing his own.
He also appeared on television shows, including a season of David Nixon and his own show, Mini Melodies, in the mid-1970s. During this time he was also chosen to represent Britain in the first International Jubilee banjo in California, USA, where he finished on a podium position.
Later in his career he performed as a soloist and one of his most rewarding periods was touring the UK in a campervan with his late partner Jenny and their many dogs, sometimes leaving their home village of Wicken Green for months. time.
In 2007 the couple decided to revive Clifford Essex Music Limited from their home. Mr. Vickery became its director and designed some of the finest banjos, mandolins and ukuleles available anywhere in the world.
During this time he also revived and edited The BMG–Banjo, Mandolin, Guitar–magazine. This saw him work with David Cotton, Alan Middleton, David Wade, Garry Silbert, Bob White, John Baldry and countless others. His dedication to the company was unwavering and he was still processing orders and buying stock just days before his death.
His son, Clem Vickery Jnr, paid tribute to his father on behalf of the family, describing his life as “colourful”.
He said: “Dad started his working life as an apprentice telecommunications engineer. However, early in his apprenticeship, he spotted an advertised sales position at Clifford Essex Music in Covent Garden. Despite a severe pay cut, he accepted the job.
“While working for Clifford Essex he also played nightly in a variety of sets around London so essentially he had two jobs. He knew burning the candle at both ends was not sustainable , however, he continued as best he could.
“I remember him mentioning the rare times he’d slip into work late and cloudy-eyed, only to be called in to have a chat with his boss.
“One of Dad’s regular jobs at the store was to demonstrate banjos to customers. One day, while performing such a task, and unbeknownst to him, a BBC producer was rummaging through the shop. He was blown away hearing Dad’s virtuoso magic and had no hesitation in inviting Dad to audition for a BBC musical role a few days later.
“As a result, Dad started acting in the BBC television series ‘Black and White Minstrel Show’ in 1971. It was his big break, he knew he would have to give up his job at Clifford Essex, however, as the fate would have it, he would eventually find his way back 35 years later.
“In 1973 George Mitchell offered him an eight-month season in the West End stage show at the New Victoria Theatre, which he naturally accepted. He wasn’t too enthusiastic as it turned out he would have to act out, but it was too late, he was under contract.
“He was passionate about his music and had a great sense of humor. He was always driven, hardworking and thrived for perfection.
Mr Vickery died on February 6 and is survived by his children Tracey, Clem, Amanda, Maria, Lloyd, Andy and Iain.
He was buried with “the love of his life” Jenny, alongside his parents, at a celebration of his life on February 25.