|The Hampshire saga began on the morning of November
23, 1945 in Dulwich Hospital, London, England. He was a pretty English baby and
at 10 pounds, 12 ounces, a big one.
By the age of 4, Keith was being spoon fed on strong doses of ballet and tap dancing lessons. He made his theatrical debut that year in a children's dance show for parents. It wasn't exactly the big time.
"I was the star of the show," said Keith dryly. "The show was based on the circus and I was the ringmaster. I also played Georgie Porgie."
From then on, apparently, it was all downhill A good flaming finish. His glittering debut evoked sufficient disinterest to ground his stage career for over twenty years.
"But, I've got some nifty pictures of me dressed in some really weird get-ups," Keith says. "I can remember kicking my leg up against the wall and all that." Two years following his stage triumph his family sailed to New York and took the train to Toronto, Canada, where they bought a battered sedan and made the long trek west to Calgary, Alberta.
Keith recalled the cross-country family jaunt with a certain ironic, but fond detachment. "I stood up the entire way! My sister would get car sick so she got the window that would open. My window was covered up with clothes and suitcases and I had to stand and lean against a trunk for support."
While growing up in Calgary, Keith sang in the local Anglican Church choir and took weekly vocal lessons for three years. He learned enough to earn prizes in a number of Kiwanis sponsored singing festivals. The same as many people, he spent a lot of time with late night radio, dial-switching around to pull in a favourite station.
At sixteen, he was still an honest-to-goodness soprano as well as being frustratingly short. "I was five foot one," he moaned, "a midget. I didn't develop until very late in life. I was called Shorty, Runt, and Chubby, among other things."
Any lingering suspicion that he was becoming a nobody vanished when, at seventeen, his voice (thankfully) changed. At that stage he started going through all the clumsy motions of teenage romance, a distraction that occupied most of his out-of-school activities.
At the same time, The Depression Coffeehouse operated by John Uren, was spawning an entire generation of high calibre folk talent like David Wiffen, Donna Warner, Will Millar and Joni Mitchell. During one Sunday Amateur Night, Hampshire sauntered into the club and requested to sing a couple of numbers.
His presence there that evening was probably unforgettable. Keith, who is not an instrumentalist, sang three songs a cappella to a shocked club of folkies. He returned to The Depression the following week and soon was performing there regularly on amateur night. Eventually, he sang (sans guitar) on the local coffeehouse/college/folk hootenanny circuit.
When blaring rock 'n' roll became popular, he stopped cutting his hair and quickly auditioned for a band named The Intruders.
"We had exactly one practice," Keith smiled, "in someone's basement. We plugged a microphone into the guitarist's amp. I sang Kansas City. They said, "Yeah, you'll do," and gave me a blue-sequined jacket that came down to my knees with white shiny lapels. We never played any gigs, so I gave the jacket back."
A second group, Keith and The Bristols, folded almost as quickly. Keith explained: "Little did we realize that Bristols has other connotations. We thought it was nifty because it was very English-sounding." His next incarnation, Keith and the Variations, however, did thrive for over three years to develop a fervent following in Alberta. A band with a definite English influence they played everywhere they possibly could, including as opening act for a Roy Orbison concert at the Stampede Corral (Calgary's Hockey Arena) and a local weekly Calgary TV show called, Whoopee-A-Go-Go.
Following graduation from high school, Keith was hired at CFCN Radio and Television as a cameraman. Soon he was working at an overwhelming array of things: Camera work, acting, announcing, operating. Chafing restlessly under CFCN's MOR radio format, Hampshire began programming never-heard-before British music on the weekend after-midnight program. He was one of the first Canadians to pick up on Brian Poole & The Tremeloes, the Swinging Blue Jeans, the Animals and the Searchers.