Music man John really was a class act

Derek James pays tribute to musician John Lofty, who has died aged 73.

He was a gentleman on the Norfolk music scene for half a century – and one of the most popular and talented musicians around.

Today I would like to remember and pay tribute to John Lofty - a man who entertained us so well over the years.

John recently died at the age of 73, but his memory and his music live on – it was played at his funeral service in the village he loved and where he lived all his life, Little Melton.

And it was a particularly moving moment when his former trumpet player and great friend, Ralph Plunkett, played The Last Post.

It was standing room only at the funeral when so many people turned out to pay their last respects.

'I didn't realise just how many friends my dad had and how much people loved him and his music,' said his daughter Marie.

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Over the years John, who could get a tune out of a piece of wood, surrounded himself with talented musicians and he was always teaching, encouraging and inspiring youngsters.

'He was,' said Ralph, 'a true gentleman of the music world. We all loved him so much. He was such a great man and he could play anything.'

Born in 1937, John passed the 11-Plus and went to Norwich School, but music always played a leading role in his life. By the age of seven he was having piano lessons at Bawburgh and by the time he was in his teens he was playing the accordion and other instruments.

'Our first group was called Moon & Stars and then we turned into The John Lofty Group. This was in the early 1950s,' said Ralph, who used to use to run his own tyre and battery company in Norwich.

One of their first big dates was a jazz festival at Dereham with the likes of Chris Barber.

'We loved jazz and especially Dixieland. John used to say that was happy music – and it was,' said Ralph, now 79 and living at Wymondham.

As the band developed, they travelled across East Anglia playing at venues large and small. They went down a storm on the American air bases and many musicians joined the band from time to time.

Dennis Buck, Mike Kerrison, Ernie Hudson, Pete Oxborough and Ian Bell were just some from the early days.

One singer who worked with John for many years was Alison Sabberton, who was the voice of the band while her brother Robert played the drums.

'John was a wonderful man to work with and a brilliant musician. We had a great time and travelled all over the country,' said Alison.

Veteran Norfolk drummer Stewy McIntosh also played with John.

The John Lofty Showband became one of the best loved outfits working out of East Anglia and while members came and went, John was always there, the beating heart of the band.

'John Lofty was respected by all of us in the music business in Norfolk. He was a fine musician and a very popular man,' said Terry Wickham, organiser of the Golden Years.

And bassman Mick Betts added: 'I think virtually every musician in East Anglia must have played with him over the years.

'He would pick everyone up in his van, and if he was late for a gig, usually miles away, his driving would deteriorate. I still have white hairs from that. When we finally arrived, Stewy Mackintosh and I would head for the bar because we didn't have to drive back,' he laughed.

And when John wasn't making music, he was building houses.

Daughter Marie said: 'Dad was a pig farmer, but was badly hit by swine flu. He then announced to my mum Dawn that he was going to build a house – and he did just that.'

Over the years he built houses in Little Melton, Hethersett and several other villages. 'When he put his mind to do something he did it – from making music to building houses,' said Marie.

'I am so proud of him,' she added – and she has every right to be.