THE drummer of popular comedy folk band The Lancashire Hotpots has died, it has been announced today.

Tom McGrath, 38, known as Willie Eckerslike in the four-strong St Helens group, was found dead this week.

Merseyside Police confirmed they were called to an address in Nutgrove where they found his body.

A police spokesman said the death is not being treated as suspicious.

Tom, a St Helens College lecturer, was one of the sharp-witted band’s founder members.

The Hotpots’ quirky tunes – which include plenty of homespun lyrics – have secured them a growing national following.

In a statement the band said: “It is with great sadness that we have to announce the passing of our beloved friend and colleague Tom McGrath aka Willie.

“The sudden death of a friend is never easy to comprehend, when it’s someone who has profoundly affected your life since the minute you met him, then it hits you all the harder.

“Our thoughts are understandably with his family at this incredibly difficult time.

“What has been some comfort is the sheer number of friends and colleagues we have met and spoken to today who are just as profoundly shocked and upset as we are.

“When that happens, I think you know you’ve done something right during your brief stay on this planet.

“Right now, I can picture a scene outside the pearly gates with St Peter being played the theme tune to Bullseye and Postman Pat, and it makes me laugh and cry in equal measure.

“Nothing else is pretty much in our thoughts at the moment, nor should it be.

"If the man has ever made you laugh, have a drink (or ten) tonight and play some drum and bass at an unfeasibly loud volume, I think it’s what he would have wanted.”

Various internet messagesboards have been flooded with tributes from fans.

The band’s summer Ooh Me Knees theatre tour played to sell-out audiences across the North West.

They have previously supported ardent fan Paddy McGuinness on his tour, taking in 18 dates, performing to more than 20,000 people.

They have earned national radio play and support from BBC R2 Chris Evans, 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq and BBC R1’s Colin Murray.