Elton and Bowie mourn Mull's secret pop star

AS FAR as the people of Tobermory were concerned, she was simply the "wee woman who did her garden".

• Tobermory's Lesley Cox was one of Britain's most in-demand session singers. Picture: Moira Kerr

But yesterday at a Celebration of Life gathering for Lesley Cox, the floral tribute from Sir Elton John and message of condolence from David Bowie hinted at a remarkable musical past of which few of her neighbours were aware.

Unbeknown to the majority of residents on Mull, where she died last week, the 66-year-old graced the soundtrack of a generation, appearing on seminal albums by the likes of Pink Floyd and Dusty Springfield, under the name Lesley Duncan.

She recorded a duet of her track Love Song with Elton John, which featured on his 1970 album Tumbleweed Collection. It has since been covered by more than 150 artists.

Sir Elton later asked her to sing on his 1971 LP Madman Across the Water, returning the favour by playing piano the same year on her debut solo album, Sing Children Sing.

Among the tributes from all over the world on internet fan sites, Charlotte Mellis, of Torloisk, Mull, said: "Your friends on Mull know you as a friendly, warm and fun person. You are missed. The facts about your talents in the music business are just being revealed to some of us now."

In a statement, Sir Elton said he was "very sad" to hear of Mrs Cox's death. He described Love Song as a "sultry atmospheric ballad evoking the summer seaside" and "one of the very few songs" recorded in his early career that he did not co-write.

Ms Cox's backing vocals can be heard on some of the most successful albums of the 1970s, including Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and Jesus Christ Superstar. Others stars she recorded with include Ringo Starr, Donovan, the Alan Parsons Project and the Dave Clark Five.

"Whispering" Bob Harris, the DJ who showcased some of the biggest names in music on BBC2's The Old Grey Whistle Test, was among those to mourn Ms Cox's death.

He said: "This is a deeply sad moment. I have wonderful memories of Lesley, who was an important part of my arrival into the music business.

"She appeared on the first-ever Whistle Test and recorded many sessions for my Sounds of the 70s Radio 1 shows. I thought she was a gentle and hugely talented artist and a genuinely lovely person."

Ms Cox and her husband Tony, who produced several of her albums, moved to Mull in 1997. Her cheery manner quickly won the affection of locals, who nonetheless remained largely oblivious to her musical career.

Gordon Chalmers, an independent councillor for Mull on Argyll & Bute Council, said: "I am sure there were only a few people who knew about it. She was so self-effacing she would never say that she had met all these people and been to all these places.

"She kept it to herself; she never advertised the fact. I don't think she was widely known in the community for her music work. She was not a publicity seeker, she was just the wee woman who did her garden at Aros Lodge. Any time I was out that way she was in the garden tending her vegetables – she was a really enthusiastic gardener."

Mr Cox said his wife, who had two sons from a previous marriage, had endured a long illness and died in Mull's Dunaros Hospital last Friday from cerebrovascular disease.

At her bedside he played her Love Song and described feeling tremors of recognition pass through her body. "It was as peaceful, I think, as death can be, and a relief after her years of struggle."

He added: "She was a very popular figure in Tobermory, but I think few people knew about her career. She was popular for being a cheerful, smiling person."