TRIBUTES have been paid to the “heart and soul” of a community ukulele band who has died in his 100th year.

Bill Blewitt, who played regularly with the band, based at Age UK North Yorkshire and Darlington, passed away peacefully at home with his family around him and his favourite music being played.

The day before he died, his spirits were raised by a recording sent by members of the band during their weekly rehearsal. It included a rendition of one of his favourite songs “Travelling Light”.

His daughter Ann said: “When we played it to him, he smiled, raised his hand and started to strum – it was just so lovely.”

His son Ron said: “When he joined the ukulele band, it gave him a new lease of life. He loved the people and they loved him.”

Bill, who would have been 100 in October, had a big surprise in December when Strictly Come Dancing lead judge, Shirley Ballas, called in at Age UK while starring in pantomime at the Darlington Hippodrome Theatre. He and Shirley enjoyed a dance while the Ukulele band played.

“He really enjoyed it because he loved female attention – he had lots of adoring female fans,” said Ann.

Bill was born in Thornton Street, Darlington, and was a joiner by trade. When he left school, he worked at Faverdale Wagonworks before joining The Army during the Second World War, driving amphibious vehicles while serving in North Africa and Italy.

The year after the end of the war, he married his sweetheart, Nancy, who died in 1989. They had five children – Anne, Sheila, Ron, Jacqueline and Marie. Bill also leaves six grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

His family have paid tribute to the “wonderful” care he received from the district nursing team, as well as rapid response nurses from St Teresa’s Hospice.

Lol Crallan, musical director and founder of the Age Uk Ukulele Band, said: “Bill was such a gentleman and it was a privilege to know him. We made his dreams come true and he made ours. He was passionate about his music and was in his element whenever he was asked to do a solo.”

Bill made two CDs of his favourite ukulele tunes, with all proceeds going to Age UK.

Lol’s wife, Maxine, recalled helping him to make the latest recording: “We drove him home and, on the way, he was singing ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’ at the top of his voice. He just lived for music,” she said.

Lol and Maxine visited Bill at home three weeks ago and the three of them strummed away on the ukuleles. “He was failing by then but he told us that music is the best medicine,” said Maxine.

Bill was a lifetime member of Hopetown Workingmen’s Club, in Darlington, and his life will be celebrated there following his funeral.

The date of the service has not yet been confirmed but one thing’s for certain – his friends from the Age UK Ukulele Band will be helping to make sure he gets a musical send-off.