Matt Raw is Cheshire’s ’go to’ man when you have locked yourself out of your house or car but, as Barry Hook finds out, there’s more to this multi-talented man than picking locks.
The key to success for Matt Raw probably came when he was 10-years old. His father brought home a desk with three drawers. The drawers were locked and there was no key. “I can’t remember how long it took me to pick the lock but it took me longer to whittle down a blank key with a file until it fitted.”
The interval between that episode and Matt setting-up Locksmiths of Knutsford in 2012 has seen a life that has been more varied than the number of permutations on a combination lock.
City College, Manchester is where he trained as a sound engineer and, having worked in most of the bars in Knutsford, he met and married an Australian girl. They went to Australia on honeymoon and started running a jazz bar. “It was tremendous fun. At the time I was also co-presenting a jazz programme on radio in Melbourne.”
But, as you will learn, he’s not one for keeping his feet firmly planted for too long. He started studying for his commercial pilot’s licence. That took 2-years and he spent the next 4-years as a bush pilot. In between his take-offs and landings he became the resident pianist of The Cairo Club Orchestra in Melbourne – a 1920’s style big band. “I started playing the piano when I was 2-years old. I’ve probably played it for longer than I have spoken English. I had lessons from Richard Aldridge in Knutsford before he moved south.”
When Matt’s first wife ran off with the double bass player, he decided it was time to move on … to Canada where he met his second wife. At the time I was converting my Australian pilot’s licences to Canadian licences but she got offered a teaching job in a tiny native community on the coast of British Columbia. There was no road access and the nearest store was a 4-and-a-half hour boat ride away. “I would put my waders on and catch salmon to store for the winter.”
After a year in the wilds of British Colombia the couple moved on to China. His wife was still teaching and somehow, because ‘I get on rather well with machines’ he became technical director of foreign trade for a Chinese manufacturer of industrial lasers.
“Not having a degree, when I separated from my second wife, that was the end of my visa.” But it certainly wasn’t the end of a so far very colourful life for the eccentric Knutsfordian. He decided that a return to Canada was his best choice. En route he stopped off to visit his mother in Knutsford and since the house next door was available, he stayed.
But he still feels an attachment to China. “I’d go back there in a heartbeat.” That explains why he is currently studying for a degree with the Open University in International Business and Chinese (Mandarin).
Even that does not stop him being on call 24-hrs as someone who is very adept at picking locks for people who have lost their key; whose marriage has gone sour and all the locks need changing or they think a disgruntled employee has copied a key.
Groceries, and even babies, locked in cars are not infrequent requests for help. “We can help motorists with keyless entry systems, key replacements, and we gain access to cars without using destructive methods.” Matt specialises in opening the latest BMWs and Volkswagen/Audi Group cars.
I wanted to know if there was any lock he couldn’t pick. “It’s possible. Every lock has a weakness and there will always be ways of opening them. One of the most common problems I encounter is locks that have given up the ghost after people have been forcing them month after month. When you first notice a lock being stiff or difficult to close or open, you have a problem. If it fails altogether, it will take a lot of time for a locksmith to open it.
“Whatever you do, don’t squirt WD40 into it. That stuff kills locks because it evaporates and washes out the oil.” Use 3 in 1 oil instead is Matt’s advice.
“There’s no such thing as a typical day. I could be cutting keys for a client from the back of my van or gaining entry into a motor home or removing all the locks in a property and fitting new ones. “
I hesitated to ask what someone with such proficiency in so many things does in his spare time.
But ask it I did. “I’m married to my piano plus my other instruments (drums, double bass, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, tenor sax and squeeze box) and I have a massive soft spot for the mighty Wurlitzer. When I was at Derby University (for one term), I used to travel to Burton on Trent and play the Wurlitzer there.
“I often take my golf clubs in my van so that if I finish a job quickly, I may be able to play a quick nine holes at High Legh Golf Club.” Matt is a sponsor at High Legh. Otherwise he likes shooting. “I have clients who are overrun with rabbits and ducks. I have the shooting rights on their land so I like to pop out and collect something for the pot. I only shoot what I need to eat. There is nothing better than a nice fresh wood pigeon cooked in the pan with some red wine.”
Then there is his star-gazing, his motor biking and winding-up his neighbours with pranks I really don’t think I should repeat. He’s not had a TV for 13-years, doesn’t listen to the radio and has no time to read newspapers.
What of the future? He drops another bombshell on me. “I’ve kind of got a Chinese fiancé. She lives in the apartment under mine in China. She teaches piano and I used to sit on my balcony and listen to her teaching Rachmaninoff to 3-yrs olds. I’m exaggerating a little there but the system of education in China is so different to here – and I would say – much more advanced.
“Anyway, she has asked me to marry her. In China, it is considered much more romantic if the woman proposes to the man. We have conversations over a messaging app. Her English is very bad and my Chinese needs improving but we get by.”
So what’s the next step? Well Matt is studying for his degree in Mandarin which, if he achieves it, means he can get a visa to go back to China. “I have some business to conduct over there. It depends on that as to how long I stay.”
It has been such a whirlwind of an interview that at this point I need to sit down and take stock of my own life. I never thought my life had been dull and ordinary. I now know that it has.