Born in Dulwich, London in 1945, by the time Keith Hampshire and his family had moved to Calgary (via New York, then Toronto), he’d already taken ballet and tap dancing lessons. Growing up, he also took vocal lessons while singing in the local Anglican Church choir, and became a young local hit, winning contests at provincial music festivals.
At 17, he sang three numbers a capella during an ‘open mic’ Saturday afternoon at The Depression Coffeehouse, the same dimly lit club that gave birth to the careers of The Irish Rovers and Joni Mitchell. Soon after, he was a fixture at the club while still in high school. After graduating, CFCN TV and Radio hired him as an apprentice cameraman and a general lackie. That morphed into a wide array of jobs around the station, including acting in commercials, announcing, and some soundroom work.
While on air on their MOR (middle of the road) AM station, he began programming British music on the weekend graveyard shifts unbeknownst to the station’s management. Hampshire’s generally credited as being one of the first Canadian DJs to regularly play the likes of The Animals, The Shadows, and The Searchers, among others.
All the while, he was moonlighting in rock bands, beginning with a couple of short-lived groups while he grew his hair and out of the clean-cut choir boy image. Developing a style of a rockin’ crooner in bell bottoms, he formed a back-up band called Variations, and became a fixture on the emerging club scene around Alberta over the next three years. Blending his English influences with what was happening on the airwaves out west at the time, they were regulars on the weekly Calgary TV show called “Whoopee A Go Go,” and also opened for Roy Orbison’s Calgary concert at the Stampede Corral in 1966.
But still unable to catch his big break, he set sail back to England to gain some new musical inspiration. Less than two months later after touring England, Scotland & Wales in an old Morris Minor, he found his way to his aunt and uncle’s cottage in Epsom. He applied for and got an on-air position at Radio Caroline, a floating pirate radio station in the summer of ’66 on the North Sea. For a little over a year, he hosted the show “Keefers Commotion” (later “Keefers Uprising”). Despite being a pirate ship (literally, if you think about it), average audience share was over two million at any given time – and as much as 8 million during peak periods, and blanketed much of Europe.
While still doing his floating, spinning gig in ’67, he recorded a novelty record “Millions of Hearts” b/w a cover of Paul Anka’s “Lonely Boy” released unbeknownst on the King Record label in Britain. Because pirate DJs were treated like celebrities rivalling the attention received by some rock stars, the song did relatively well in the UK market. But British Parliament was cracking down hard on pirate radio, and were pushing hefty fines and even jail time for offenders, even just the on-air personalities. So Hampshire abandoned ship, swam to shore, and a month later was back in Canada.
After drifting to Toronto via Montreal and Expo ’67, his radio career continued, when he turned down a job in Toronto at CHUM, in favour of working across town at CKFH. That gig lasted two years, after which Hampshire got a part on the musical stage show, “You Better Believe It” with Jack Duffy, Julie Amato, and Almeta Speaks. From there, he began doing bit parts in commercials and productions in radio and TV, including being a regular on “The Wayne & Shuster Comedy Hour.”
Through a friend, he met Keith met Bill Misener, local record producer working for RCA, and former member of The Paupers. Hampshire recorded Misener’s song “I Wish I Could Wish Away,” which they talked the RCA label into releasing, after re-titling it “Ebenezer” in 1971, but without much support. Not surprisingly, the song failed to make an impact, stalling at #81 on the Canadian singles chart and getting next to no airplay outside Toronto.
In 1972, the original cast of “You Better Believe It” released an album called OOPS! based on the stage review. Hampshire hooked up with Misener again shortly after, and played him a song called “Each And Every Day” by Manfred Mann-alumni Mike Hugg. While Misener set up his own production company, Pig Weed Productions, they laid down a rough demo and approached A&M’s Canadian arm. They renamed the song DayTime, NightTime and backed with a Misener original “Turned The Other Way,” the single made its way to #5 nationally also getting a bit of regular airplay from the Detroit market, which in turn led to the song reaching #51 on the U.S. Billboard chart.
Hampshire topped Canada’s singles chart in 1973 with his cover of Cat Stevens’ “The First Cut Is The Deepest.” On top in Canada for five weeks, it made the top 10 in Australia with releases all over the world.. More singles success continued throughout the next few years, with “Big Time Operator” peaking at #5 in Canada, and top 100 in the U.S. and several other countries. The next two singles, “Forever and Ever” and “Hallelujah Freedom” didn’t fare as well, however, and Hampshire parted ways with A&M.
By early ’74 he was back on the airwaves, hosting the national CBC TV program, “Music Machine,” where for over two years some of Canada’s hottest rising stars were featured. Some of the artists that owed Hampshire for their first television experiences included the likes of Rush, Lighthouse, The Stampeders, Klaatu, The Bells, Copperpenny, and Valdy, among others.
By the summer of ’76 he was looking for something new to do again, and released “Something Good” b/w “Just Another Fool” on the Axe Records label to minimal airplay or interest. For the next few years he kept busy doing on-air TV and radio production work.
He worked out a deal with indie Freedom Records and returned to the studio in 1981, releasing the VARIATIONS album later that year, named in tribute to his old band. The first single “I Can’t Wait Too Long” b/w “Nobody’s Child” was met with fair results around the Greater Toronto Area at first, but soon stalled. It also featured a remake of “I’m Into Something Good,” another track he’d recorded in the ’70s. Hampshire was now assisting in A & R at the label and also helped sign upcoming artists like David Wilcox and Lee Aaron to their first recording deals.
In 1983, Hampshire and some friends released a song under the guise of ‘The Bat Boys,’ entitled “OK Blue Jays.” The song became his first gold single and became the anthem for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, regularly sung by the fans during the seventh inning stretch. The song was remixed in ’03, and still plays during the Jays’ home games. While still popping up on the local circuit now and again, he also went back to his roots in ’95, hosting an oldies show on CHAY-FM in Barrie, Ontario.
That same year, CBS released a compilation in their ‘Millennium’ collection, featuring a wrap-up of Hampshire’s career, including hits from his two studio albums, and those released individually. Over the years, he’s done a considerable amount of studio work singing jingles, as well as doing voice-overs and character voices for radio and TV commercials, motion pictures, cartoon series and radio plays.
Another memorable performance came at the Canada Day 2000 celebrations on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill when Keith sang “Daytime Night Time” to a crowd of over 100,000.