I'm very sorry to tell you that Les Barker passed away on Saturday 14th January 2023, just after watching his favourite football team win 7-0. His cause of death is yet to be determined, but it looks as though it was sudden and unexpected, though he did have cancer (which was improving) and a heart condition. He was my friend, a uniquely talented and very kind man. I will miss him.
Les's funeral arrangements
Wednesday 1st March
And afterwards at:
Les's preferred charity was Amnesty International. If you wish to donate in lieu of flowers, that would be very appropriate.
A last message from Les on his retirement
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Les Barker, through the years. Photo montage on Les's retirement by Roger Liptrot (folkimages.com)
Les Barker (30th January 1947 – 15th January 2023)
I first met Les Barker at Wath Folk Festival in South Yorkshire in 1985 in a pub room above the Red Lion. I’d gone there with Artisan, our first outing at a folk festival and Les, already becoming established as a performer, was there with a few of his home-made books of ridiculously clever poems including: Jason and the Arguments, Cosmo the nearly accurate Knife Thrower, Spot of the Antarctic, and Captain Indecisive. I’d never seen an audience laugh so loud or so long – though I was to see the Les Barker effect many times over the next almost-four decades
Les, an only child born and raised in Manchester, went to Manchester Grammar School, qualified as a chartered accountant and worked at Manchester Town Hall, but gave up a secure job in 1982 to try to make a living on the folk scene. A leap of faith soon justified.
Though the scruffy, cardigan-wearing idiot was his stage persona, in real life he was a scruffy, cardigan-wearing gentle genius who wrote not only side-splittingly funny poems, but, serious ones, too, bitingly political or searingly beautiful. His stage performances, reading his poems from one or more of his numerous books sold said books, and CDs, in fistfuls after each show. In those early days he was accompanied to each show by a scruffy little black and white mongrel called Mrs Ackroyd, hence his cottage-industry business name of Mrs Ackroyd Enterprises. Yes, Les might be a professional idiot, but he also had a clever mind with a business plan. He wrote upwards of 77 books, and released 20 albums. During lockdown, with all gigs cancelled he took to Youtube. Google him and enjoy the delights of Déjà Vu, I’ve Got an Occasional Table, I Can’t Find my Camouflage Net, and Dachshunds with Erections can’t Climb Stairs.
Les’s talent took him across Britain and all around the world. He toured to Canada, the USA, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. His poems, some originals, some parodies, were turned into songs and performed by such luminaries of the folk world as June Tabor, Waterson-Carthy, Steve Tilston and Mike Harding. He collaborated on projects with Savourna Stevenson, and performed id comedy duos with Stanley Accrington and Keith Donnelly at various times. His fundraising double CD, Guide cats for the Blind, featured Terry Wogan, Prunella Scales, Robert Lindsay, Nicholas Parsons and many others. This project raised close to £50,000 for the British Computer Association for the Blind’s EyeT4all initiative.
Les’s solo performances spawned a number of scratch bands at folk festivals and finally settled down to a regular Mrs Ackroyd Band lineup of Hilary Spencer, Alison Younger and Chris Harvey, first as a quartet, with Les, and then as a trio without him, but with his blessing. That trio is still performing.
Les moved from urban Manchester to rural Bwlchgwyn in North Wales in 2003. It’s fair to say that he was never houseproud, but he was house-happy, installing his model railway system in the attic. Yes, he was a train enthusiast and an excellent amateur photographer, producing three coffee-table books of his excellent photos and poems. Sometimes, backstage at a festival, Les’s opening salvo was, ‘Hello, do you want to see my pictures of trains?’
Once in Wales, Les settled down to learn the language of his adopted country, becoming so proficient that he wrote poetry in Welsh and won prizes and ‘chairs’, always reserving time from his busy performing schedule to attend the National Eisteddfod. He won the hearts of a whole new community.
Les was represented by the Emerging Music Agency, Ken and Sue Bradburn, for many years, and on their retirement moved to the Jacey Bedford Agency, that’s me. We worked together for too few years, and after he retired, I kept getting cryptic little emails with snippets of news or a little caustic comment on current affairs.
Due to ill health (cancer and a heart condition) Les retired from performing in late September 2022, but sadly had little more than three months to enjoy pottering around at home, walking with friends and tending to the little wood he bought a few years ago.
Les, always a big football fan, was found in his car on Sunday morning in the car park of The Venue at Park Hall, near Oswestry, the home of the Cymru Premier football team The New Saints. He’d been at the match on 14th January, seen his team win 7-0, and gone to his car to drive home, but collapsed in the car before leaving the car park. Staff at the venue found him the following morning.
I have many stories about Les, but they are for later, when I’ve got a grip on my sadness. I’m sure other people have stories too. He was a fell runner, played football and ran marathons in his younger days, loved real trains and models, nature, birds and photography. He hated green food, loved brown food. He was kind and self-effacing, but he expressed his distaste for war and politics very succinctly in his poetry. He was a beautiful soul, if eccentric, and a literary genius, loved by his many fans around the world.
Les never married and leaves many friends and fans, but no close relatives.
He was my friend, and I will miss him.
Jacey Bedford, January 2023
Jacey's favourite Les Barker memory.
Sidmouth Festival, 1987 or maybe 1988. We were there as Artisan, waiting to go on stage at Carina’s nightclub venue. The room was heaving with maybe 400 people, some around the room, the majority sitting hip to hip on the floor. Les was there with his scruffy, irascible mongrel, Mrs Ackroyd of blessed memory. Sileas, the lovely Scottish harp duo, were on stage in mid flow, when suddenly Mrs Ackroyd scampered through the audience, jumped up on to the low stage and started scrabbling behind Patsy and Mary as if trying dig something up. Les quickly followed and we thought that he was going to retrieve her. But instead, Les dropped to all fours at the back of the stage and started to scrabble with the dog. We were all howling with laughter – luckily, so were Patsy and Mary.
Colin Wells writes:
I first saw Les at The Winchester Folk Club many years ago. I immediately loved his work, subscribed to his pamphlets, went to his gigs, and often saw him at June Tabor concerts.
I chose one of his poems to analyse as part of my English Language and Literature degree course. My tutor said that it was a very welcome change from the usual suspects and contributed to me getting a First. If I remember rightly, her actual words were, ‘If I see one more deconstruction of William Blake’s 'The Tyger', I think I’ll go effing mad!’ But she loved 'Stanier 8F' from Red Setters in the Sunset.
Les was one of the poets who inspired me to write and perform myself, and has resulted in slam wins and regular bookings around The Midlands. When I meet fellow performers and we talk about people who inspire and influence us, Les Barker was often mentioned – especially by good performance poets who like to entertain and amuse – and, I’m sure, always will be.
I run Bridgnorth Writers Group. https://www.bridgnorthwriters.org and it’s our monthly meeting tonight. I’ll read a Les Barker poem.
A tribute from Les's neighbours, John and Alma
Many tributes have been paid so far to the wonderful Les Barker and his enormous legacy of inspirational poetry, photography and songs.
As his neighbours and friends in the village of Bwlchgwyn in North Wales, where he lived happily for the last twenty years or so, we would like to share some memories also.
We shared Les’ love of folk music and attended gigs together such as Show of Hands, Andy Irvine, Altan and many more. Of course, we also went to see Les when he was performing locally and introduced several baffled friends to Les’ musings.
Les became interested in the Welsh language and we trundled down to weekly Welsh conversation classes in the local pub for many months. He joined more classes and was proficient in the language in record time and enjoyed crafting new poems in Welsh. He won many competitions and several ‘chairs’.
In 2014 we bought a small forest near Mold and took Les to see it. The week after he announced he’d bought one as well, next to ours. He spent many happy hours there with his best mate Tony Banjo. Mostly drinking tea and cadging our chocolate biscuits. On the photo you see Les beaming in the forest on one of the several walks/picnics we undertook with a gaggle of friends.
During lockdown Les missed performing but got to grips with Youtube instead. As he was vulnerable we helped out with shopping and needed to interpret his shopping lists with items such as ‘an unspecified number of mushrooms’ and a ‘small bunch of bananas preferably with a little green tree frog like they found in Llanelli’.
He wasn’t bothered about isolation but enjoyed visiting our house for celebrations such as birthdays and Christmas and welcomed the several lockdown outdoors get togethers with neighbours. More recently he also enjoyed sessions at his musical neighbours Rosie and Meri and local musicians such as Terry Coyne.
At all occasions he would sit mostly quietly with a glass of red wine or cuppa and listen in to all the conversations around him. Invariably some theme would then pop up in a poem further down the line.
Les loved football and we take comfort in the fact he saw his favourite team TNS win 7-0 shortly before he passed away.
Les was part of our family and we will miss him so very much.
...he may be the best writer of parodies and wordplays that the English-speaking world has ever heard.
- Tom Nelligan, Dirty Linen (USA)
This man is a genuine genius of comic rhyme who appeals to people of all ages with a truly entertaining family show. I have seen him reduce a whole marquee full of festival goers to a mass of helpless laughter and aching sides. -Ron Ashton, Port Lincoln Times, Australia
Les Barker proves that poetry can indeed be entertaining, dazzling the audience at Artworks with poems from his huge range of published works. His cardigan clad, unassuming manner on stage as he peers shyly at the audience through his spectacles, and his soft Manchester accent delivers the brilliant flow of words and ideas, leaving the listener gasping with laughter. - Gulf News, New Zealand
At his best, he is an inspired genius. The only man who could produce work to match 'Deja vu' was the late great Spike Milligan. - Dai Woosnam
This page was created by Jacey Bedford.