Acclaimed Derry singer passes away in Australia

Amborse McLaughlin went by the stage name Brendan Locke.
Amborse McLaughlin went by the stage name Brendan Locke.

An acclaimed Derry singer who followed in the footsteps of his uncle, Josef Locke, has passed away in his adopted home of Australia.

Ambrose McLaughlin, who went by the stage name of Brendan Locke, became a major star among Irish communities across Australia and was the first Irish tenor to appear on stage at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall in 1974.

Mr McLaughlin, who originally came from Artillery Street in Derry, passed away on Christmas Day in his home at Harb, New South Wales following a short illness at the age of 83. He is survived by his wife Frances, children Joanne and Carl and siblings Brian, Irene and Imelda.

Mr McLaughlin, like many young men from Derry, moved to England in his 20s and got a job with car-makers Vauxhall.

It was at this time that he began professional singing lessons “just to see how much my voice could improve.”

It was there that he met his wife and to earn more money, Brendan took a long-distance truck driving job, travelling all over the UK.

On a website dedicated to his world-famous uncle, Ambrose relates: “It was then that fate took a hand. My mother’s sister, Bridie, had married a Welsh Sgt. Major, Bill Lewis, who was living in Newport, South Wales. The truck I was driving suffered a mechanical fault on a Friday while I was at the docks in Cardiff.

“Unable to get back home to Leighton Buzzard, I contacted Bridie and Bill who were happy to see me as always. I went with them to a local ex-servicemen’s club where a Welsh tenor was singing, badly.

“I boasted I could do better, and I was immediately challenged by the singer’s family, who had overheard my crass remark, to get up and prove it.

“This I did, and I was immediately offered five pounds to come back the following week. After that there was no stopping me.”

Having purchased a bow tie and wearing his wedding suit, Brendan set upon a singing career, under the name of Carl Stevens. His repertoire was mainly Mario Lanza and Richard Tauber standards and he played the workingmen’s clubs, which thrived in the North of England at that time. It was Jimmy Hartley of ‘The Stage’ newspaper who persuaded him to change his stage name to Brendan Locke.

After emigrating to Australia with his wife and family over 30 years ago, his rich, resonant voice won the hearts of his adopted country. He toured extensively and released numerous albums, often as one of the Three Irish Tenors. He was awarded a Gold Disc for his first recording, The Shamrock Spectacular, based on a successful show of the same name.

He achieved another Gold Disc with the recording of a special show, which was released as a fund-raiser for the Sydney charity Boystown, and presented with this accolade at his own Bunratty Castle Theatre Restaurant in 1977 - the same date as his third Australian-produced album, My Many Requests, was released by EMI.

An avid golf fan, Mr McLaughlin will be cremated on January 6 and at his own request, his ashes will be spread from his favourite tee box.

Fondly remembered and sadly missed by family and friends.