John Kelly first sang in a folk club in 1968. Since his first paid engagements in 1969, he has performed solo and with various folk groups, ceilidh bands, early music groups and dance teams, in clubs, concerts, festivals and on radio and television. He is currently working as a solo singer, performing mainly British traditional material. He uses various instruments, including harmonium, guitar, cittern, waldzither. Indian harmonium, harmoniflute whistle and harmonica. He has even been known to throw in a bit of clog dancing. He plays with two ceilidh bands; Flaxmere and Saraband. He dances with Rumworth Morris (men’s North West Morris side based in Bolton); dances both clog and longsword with Seven Stars Sword and Step Dancers, based in Wigan; and is a member of the Abram Morris Dancers, performing the famous Abram dance around Abram and surrounding districts on the last Saturday in June. He also plays for Mind The Step, who perform mainly Appalachian stepping, with a bit of clog and Irish thrown in.
Starting out as a solo singer performing mainly his own songs with some traditional material, he joined The Wakes (with Tom Brown, John Howson and the late Frank McCall) in 1970. (After the end of 1972 until 1980, this was reduced to a duo with Tom Brown). From about 1972, John and Tom played with The Radstock Country Dance Band, with Ross Ward, Charlie Bryce and Steve Burgess. After the demise of this band in the late “70s, John and Tom formed a new band with the Late Ken Dickinson. This became known as Tom Brown’s Band. John dropped out of the ceilidh bands around 1980., until the early ‘90s, when he played in Wind in the Bellows, again with Tom Brown, and Lesley Hood. He has been with the current bands since the mid ‘90s. His involvement in Early Music started in the mid ‘70s, with Musica Inebriata. During the ‘80s, he played with the Chester Waytes – specializing in 16th and 17th century consort music. In the mid-‘70s, he started doing summer season work at McTavish’s Kitchens in Fort William, originally with Bill Bracken, and in 1979 with George Faux. This led to the formation, in 1980, of Ildanach. which also featured Shay Black, Tony Gibbons and John Murphy. After this group disbanded, in 1983, John dropped out of the folk clubs suffering from disillusionment and frustration. Eventually, in 1990, being unhappy not singing, he returned to the affray. For a few years he was operating in a limited way, but since 2006 has been trying to get established nationally as a solo singer.