Saturday, 18 February 2017

Van Biographer Ritchie Yorke dead at 73

Van Morrison biographer Ritchie Yorke has died aged 73 in his hometown of Brisbane, Australia.  Yorke was an author, broadcaster, historian and music journalist.  He is particularly known for his relationships with Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison and John and Yoko Lennon and the biographies that came out of those relationships.

His early working career was in Brisbane where he first wrote about teen music and later more broadly as his journalistic career expanded. In 1965 he entered the field of radio.  One early controversy which reveals a lot about the man occurred when he was a radio DJ in the Australian country town of Tamworth. He played Little Stevie Wonder’s Fingertips Part 2 on his weekend show.  He was told by bosses not to play “this kind of music” and Yorke suspected a racial link to the request. In protest he managed to play the song the next weekend eight times in a row before being axed.

He soon left for the UK where he worked in the record business managing and promoting artists and working as international operations director of Sunshine Records.  In December 1966, Yorke began working for Island Records as an international promotion manager for the Spencer Davis Group.  He was tasked with promoting the band outside of England in support of their record Gimme Some Lovin'. At this time, Yorke’s first book was published, Lowdown on the English Pop Scene with a foreword by Spencer Davis.

In 1967 Yorke arrived in Canada where he worked as a rock journalist for Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail and for the Canadian edition of Billboard magazine.  During his six years in Canada he also contributed to Rolling Stone magazine and NME.  In late 1969, Yorke also assisted John Lennon with the coordination and execution of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s War Is Over! peace campaign.  He helped plan the Montreal bed-in where Lennon’s peace anthem Give Peace a Chance was launched.

In 1973 Yorke moved to London to concentrate on his rock book career.  In 1975 he published his biography of Van entitled Into the Music.  Surprisingly Van wasn’t completely offended and had some contact with the author after the book came out.  When York passed away this month Van’s official Facebook page released the message: Ritchie Yorke - my old friend, I'll miss you. I always looked forward to catching up with you. My sincere condolences to Minnie and the family. Van.  A heartfelt tribute indeed from a man whose attitude to journalists is on a par with Donald Trump’s.

Yorke’s two biographies of Led Zeppelin were published in 1976 (The Led Zeppelin Biography) and in 1991 (Led Zeppelin: The Definitive Biography).  In 1986 Yorke moved back to Brisbane and continued his journalistic endeavours with radio stations, newspapers and book writing.  His rock music connections meant Yorke was often called upon by media outlets to give insightful comment about rock events.  He did a comprehensive series about rock music which was published as booklets by the Brisbane paper The Courier-Mail.  By the end of the series he revealed what he claimed was the Number 1 popular music album of all time – Astral Weeks, of course.

In 2015 he published his most recent book, detailing his relationship with John Lennon and his involvement in the peace campaign entitled Christ You Know It Ain’t Easy: John and Yoko’s Battle for Peace with a foreword by Yoko Ono.  Ritchie Yorke died in hospital in Brisbane on 6 February 2017, from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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