Obituary: Johnny Keating, composer, 87

Johnny Keating wrote songs about Hibs. Picture: Paul Parke
Johnny Keating wrote songs about Hibs. Picture: Paul Parke
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Johnny Keating, a composer and arranger who recorded the classic Theme From Z-Cars and some well-known Hibs songs, has died aged 87.

Keating was born in Bakehouse Close’s Huntly House, just off the Royal Mile, in 1927 to mother Esther (née Aitchison) and father Jock, the local bookmaker. One of four children – brother Eric and sisters Moira and Pat – he began to play the piano accordion at a very young age.

Some of Keating’s earliest shows saw him playing in the ever-fluid line-up of the Tommy Sampson orchestra, backing the nationally celebrated big band leader from Dunfermline.

Among these youthful dates were shows at the Fountainbridge Palais and the now-destroyed Eldorado Ballroom on Mill Lane, Leith, home to another of Keating’s lifelong loves – Hibs.

Beginning his writing career with a song entitled Emily, a tribute to his wife, Keating went on to attract the attention of Ted Heath, the London-based big band leader. Moving to London with his wife in 1952, he played for various band leaders at the head of the trombone section.

Accounts vary as to the lineage of Theme From Z-Cars for the BBC TV series, with many saying it was based on a traditional arrangement of an old folk song called Johnny Todd. Musicians Fritz Spiegl and Bridget Fry are also said to have been involved. But it was Keating’s successful chart version which became widely known.

Recorded alongside his orchestra, who also went by the name Johnny and the Z-Men, the song was adopted by Everton fans as an unofficial club anthem.

The 1960s were a period of great activity for Keating, with his writing and composition credits including popular pieces for Adam Faith, Anthony Newley and Helen Shapiro.

Moving briefly to Hollywood, he also earned work as a composer for film, scoring Hotel (1967), Robbery (1967) and Innocent Bystanders (1972) among others.

The 1970s saw recordings released of him conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra, as well as the companion pieces Space Experience (1972) and Space Experience 2 (1975), which put him at the forefront of a wave of electronic composition inspired by the Moog synthesiser.

In 1973 he also wrote the double A-side single Hibernian (Give Us a Goal)/Turnbull’s Tornadoes for his favourite team.

He founded the Johnny Keating School of Music during a three-year return to Edinburgh in the 1960s and would also visit his parents in Portobello and watch Hibs play.

He died of natural causes following a period with dementia in London, where he made his home, and is survived by children Martin, Kevin and Jill – all musicians – as well as his grandchildren. According to Martin, he insisted on being buried wearing his Hibs club tie.