“Aren’t we lucky?” was a rhetorical question often posed by my father, Kenny Clayton, who has died aged 86. It became the title of one of his many songs, composed in 1977. Kenny was a pianist, composer, arranger and musical director to stars such as Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey, Cilla Black, Robin Gibb and Phil Everly. He was always keen to recognise his good fortune.
Kenny would recount being rescued twice in his early years. First, after being born “out of wedlock” in Clapton Pond Mothers’ hospital in east London and destined for a children’s home, he was adopted by his biological mother’s brother, Kenneth Wilkinson, and his wife, Maud – whose maiden name, Clayton, he later assumed. Secondly, during the second world war, Kenny was saved by his brother, Eric, who hastened him under the bedclothes to avoid the doodlebug debris when the family home in Edmonton was bombed.
Maud spotted him, as a young boy, “conducting” a London Philharmonic Orchestra performance on the radio. A piano appeared, money was found for lessons and at the age of 11 he was admitted to Trinity College of Music, London.
Aged 16, Kenny worked as a ticket-office clerk and page turner for concert musicians and as a coffee-bar pianist. After national service came numerous bar, restaurant and pier residencies and a single, Tenerife, released in 1961. Being taken on by an agent, Aude Powell, was another stroke of luck. This led to an engagement in 1962 with Clark, touring in France as her pianist and musical director, which became the start of a long professional relationship. In 1983 he conducted her 40th anniversary concert at the Royal Albert Hall, broadcast by the BBC and released as the album An Hour in Concert With Petula Clark & the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Kenny composed for film, TV and audiobooks, and had West End credits, including orchestrating for Billy (1974) and as music director for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song & Dance (1982). In 1986, Billy Idol had him cast as Fingers in the music video for his hit To Be a Lover. Other screen appearances included acting in the BBC series Company & Co (1980) and as the featured pianist in Channel 4’s early comedy show The Green Tie on the Little Yellow Dog (1983).
He spent his later years composing musicals and entertaining smaller audiences with his sublime jazz piano improvisation.
Kenny was married three times: from 1958 until 1966 to Vicky (formerly Lind), my mother, in the 1970s to Norma (nee Frogatt) and from 2001 to Sarah Kingham. The first two marriages ended in divorce. Kenny is survived by Sarah and me, and by Sarah’s daughters, Sylva, Alexandra and Felicity.