THE Winchester artistic community is in mourning following the unexpected death of musician Simon King in London at the age of 52.

Hailing originally from Sparsholt, where he was fostered by the Salter family, Simon’s family roots were in Barbados. He was the son of well-known Winchester figure George King, who is still living in the city, aged 72.

Simon’s first Winchester band was 11th Commandment, a punk band made up of teenagers from Westgate and Henry Beaufort Schools. He then went on to lead the long-lasting and quirky Prince Boo Hoo And His Little Smuts, alongside other Winchester stalwarts such as Rod Chamberlain, Teej Osbourne, Lucy and Kate Gould (who went on to professional careers in classical music) and even Ron Purse on maracas.

Simon’s multi-instrumental talents made him an important part of Eye To Eye Theatre, in which Alison Goldfrapp was also involved. He was admired for his extraordinary musical abilities and improvisational skills. During the mid-eighties, Simon was an important figure at The Tower Arts Centre, being part of a Youth Opportunities Programme doing theatre there. He wrote the music for the Hampshire Youth Theatre’s The Tree That Held Up The Sky, which ran for a week in a marquee at River Park.

Simon was also very active in the Hat Fair and Zippo’s Circus, constantly contributing to Winchester’s cultural life.

Simon eventually moved to London, where he continued his musical activities in various bands such as The Windsors, many of which were experimental in their output, and in the late 90s to early 2000s with Homelife.

Tributes to Simon have been pouring in, all of them noting his huge personality, his charm and humour and his immense likeability. Richard Williams, with whom Simon played in various bands including On The Bus, said Simon was “a brilliant composer, multi-instrumentalist and all round good guy, and a big inspiration for me and a lot of other people”.

Richard Turner, with whom Simon performed in an Irish folk group, added: “He was a natural, instinctive, and intuitive musician, picking up various instruments and making it look as easy as breathing.”

Kevin Rayner, of the recently re-formed band The Ba, said: “These are sad times for Winchester and far beyond. Simon was known and loved in places you never even knew he had been to”. Kevin would visit Simon at the home in Ham Green, Sparsholt, where his foster family still lives. “I remember you could barely get into his room, as it was so full of instruments and albums, mainly bought from charity shops.”

Michael Jennings, affectionately known as Gumby back then, has a great tale of when Simon worked with his duo Bob and Bob Jobbins added: “During one performance in a run-down district of Amsterdam, Simon took the lead and started juggling with a banana. I watched, along with the children, open-mouthed, as he proceeded to eat bits of the banana whilst still juggling what was left, until only the skin remained!”

On a personal level, I will always remember the first time I met him, supervising an 11th Commandment rehearsal in the music room at Henry Beaufort School. I instantly warmed to this larger-than-life character who always had a warm, friendly smile and a naturally communicative manner. Just last year, while walking in Southwark, a van drew up alongside me and Simon leaned out. “Awright Ollie?’ he said, as if he saw me every day - even though I hadn’t seen him for at least ten years.

That’s the sort of guy Simon was a true Winchester character who is very sadly missed by colleagues, friends and family.

The wake will be from 5pm onwards at Winchester Rugby Club on October 24 with live music, followed by the Railway Inn for more live acts and music.

Contributed: Oliver Gray