James Reed - the ukulele strumming carpet salesman from Keighley

James Reed with his uke

James Reed with his uke - Credit: Archant

A carpet salesman is making a song and dance about his home town, as Paul Mackenzie reports. Photographs by Kirsty Thompson

Welcome to Keighley

Welcome to Keighley - Credit: Archant

In a county with so much to offer, Keighley may not be top of many people’s must visit lists, but James Reed hopes to change that. The ukulele strumming carpet salesman has written a pair of songs which celebrate the town, its history, scenery, pubs and local characters.

His first, Keighley Town Comedy Song, paints an affectionate picture of his home town, accepting its faults and revelling in its quirks. When that proved a hit on YouTube he wrote the Tourist Guide to Keighley, a more positive celebration of what the town has to offer.

‘The first one took the mickey and it went bananas,’ James said. ‘I was amazed how many people were looking at it and sending me messages about it from all over the world. It had something like 28,000 hits before I pressed the wrong button and deleted it by mistake. I couldn’t believe it. The second one is nice about Keighley and no-one likes it, people aren’t interested in nice things, they wanted to hear me slagging the place off again.’

James, a fan of George Formby who bought his ukulele for £20 from Argos, works for a carpet company close to Keighley town centre and added: ‘I’d love to get paid for singing but that’s a pipe dream. I enjoy the job I’ve got, it’s good fun and I get to meet all sorts of people and hear all sorts of stories.

‘I had a guitar for years when I was young but I could never play it, then I was listening to BBC Radio Leeds and there was a young lad on playing the ukulele and I fancied having a go playing one.’

The 28-year-old wrote his first song that night and sent the video to friends who persuaded him to post it online. The reaction was incredible and he has now written a third, the Keighley Bachelor.

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The Tourist Guide to Keighley song lists some of the town’s attractions – Cliffe Castle, Tinker’s Bridge and Keighley Gate get star billing. It was written with tongue firmly in cheek (although it’s hard to sing like that) but Keighley is well deserving of its musical tribute.

It doesn’t pretend to be pretty, genteel or refined but James is right when he describes it as ‘a cracking little town with loads to see and loads to do’. Fans of stunning scenery are in for a treat, lovers of heritage railways can’t get enough of the Keighley and Worth Valley line and anyone with a penchant for museums should make a bee line for town right away.

Keighley is home to some of the finest museums around – that’s not the result of an official poll, just our opinion, based mainly on their quirky appeal. The steam railway brings lots of transport fans to the town but the bus museum might ring their bell too. And if that’s not up your street, maybe you’ll leave your fingerprints on the door handle of the forensic science museum.

For a more traditional museum, head to Cliffe Castle, the imposing former home of millionaire textile manufacturer Henry Isaac Butterfield which now houses a collection of displays featuring everything from fossils to fine clothes. The house stands in parkland which will be the subject of a £4.5m restoration scheme later this year.

A spokesperson for Bradford Council said plans for the restoration are now being finalised, a shortlist of contractors has been approved and the contract for the work should be out to tender this month. ‘We are working with our funding partners at the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as The Cliffe Castle Conservation Group to finalise the plans for the exciting restoration of Cliffe Castle Park,’ they added. ‘As soon as the final designs have been completed they will go on display in the conservatory at Cliffe Castle Museum.’