|Catherine and Jeff Stoker|
Unlike a lot of folkies who like to sing songs about the sea, Jeff had actually been to sea with the merchant navy. I don't know whether it was there he acquired his habit of smoking a pipe, an increasingly unusual sight nowadays, although I don't think with him it was any kind of affectation. He simply preferred it to cigarettes. He also liked real ale and I often used to see him in the Guest House, my local, before ill health began to intervene.
Jeff for many years ran a small music shop in Birkdale called Acoustic Instruments North West, where he would sell, buy and repair instruments. I bought a number of things there over the years, including the speakers I still use with my PA system. I tended to get the impression that the challenge of a tricky repair was his favourite part of the service.
Jeff was happily married to Catherine, and they had two sons, Phil and Nick, but sadly Catherine died several years before him. I don't think he ever fully got over that loss. Not long afterwards, he asked me how I was getting to Whitby for Folk Week. When I said I was going to to drive over, he said, "Let's go together in my car." My protestations that I had my PA system plus two guitars were summarily dismissed by a reminder that he had a large Volvo estate, and so for several years we shared the journey and petrol costs. I suspect the journey to Whitby, where he and Catherine had spent many happy Folk Weeks, was easier with company than alone. I too liked the company, and the fact that - despite offers from me - he did all the driving! He always came to the Lunchtime Legends rock & roll party during folk week and at other times, and was happy to advise me when the sound needed balancing.
For many years, in the run-up to Christmas, Jeff ran a carol singing session in a local pub (originally the Blundell Arms, then the Park Hotel, and latterly the Fishermen's Rest - all in Birkdale); the plan is to keep this going. It was in the Fishermen's Rest today that we gathered after the service in St Teresa's. The three officiating priests included a brother in law of Jeff and a cousin, so it truly was a family affair. The one positive thing was that church was full with Jeff's family and various friends from different strands of his life. He was a modest man and I feel sure the turn-out would have surprised him, but I had thought it might be busy. And deservedly so too.