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MIKE COLLIER

 

Trombone player Mike Collier was born on the 10th June 1929 at Vincent Square, Westminster in central London. Like Mike, his father was a dentist, and sadly Mike lost his mother to multiple sclerosis when he was six. Mike had a sister, Sue, who would later marry jazzman Ronnie Ross.

In his late teens, Mike discovered the jazz of Bix Beiderbecke and the cornet player would become a life-long inspiration – Mike was one of those who wore the ‘Bix Lives’ T-shirt (along with 'Bird Lives', jazz’s answer to rock and roll’s 'Elvis Lives') - and yet, Mike did not pick up the cornet or trumpet. In his twenties he started out on saxophone before transferring to trombone where his other idol was Jack Teagarden. Despite Mike following in his father’s professional footsteps, his father did not approve of his son’s interest in jazz and when Mike went away to public school in Dulwich, took the opportunity to throw out all of Mike’s collection of jazz 78s!

On leaving public school, Mike continued to live in London and, despite his father’s disapproval, increasingly continued to play gigs in the London area. Not only did he play with many bands on the scene in some of the most popular venues, he was also a natural organiser, forming bands and arranging gigs. When Louis Armstrong paid his historic visit to London, Mike was there to welcome him with the other musicians.

Despite his energy and organisational skills, his second wife Erica remembers that he was not focussed on financial reward: ‘Mike was hopeless with money,’ she says. ‘He was quite happy to play for next to nothing. He was a Gemini of course, so there were two sides to him. He was gentle, understanding, kind and quite shy but at times, perhaps because of his self consciousness, he could be firmly critical and dismissive of people. It was very difficult for him to forgive people who had slighted him.'

Eric Wilson in Australia remembers that during the 1950s: 'There were some fascinating moments during the Mike Collier years including playing in the Blackpool Tower and annoying a lion tamer who was trying to calm his furry friends backstage! We once shared the stage with Humphrey Lyttelton at the Croydon Town Hall, but one of the best stories regards Gerry Salisbury borrowing the guitarist's car. Gerry can tell you this one!'

Gerry says: 'I had forgotten the car incident, apparently Eric and I borrowed the guitar player's car and turning a corner, the driver's door decided to drop off and we managed to screw it back on and kept it between ourselves! I daresay the guitar player has passed on, or is still with us aged about 120, so if he's still alive, sorry Bill.'

After Mike’s first marriage ended, he moved from Cuckfield in Sussex to Brighton where he soon became part of the local jazz scene. He played regularly at the Fox and Hounds pub in Haywards Heath and his trombone was heard regularly with many bands in the area. He also began to present jazz programmes for Radio Brighton.

Chris Duff in Canada says: 'Mike Collier? Now there's a name to conjure with! - a phrase Mike used frequently when given a name from the past. The photo attached was taken by the late Chris Worrall, landlord of the Fox and Hounds, Haywards Heath on October 23rd, 1968 on the occasion of the recording of The Good Life, an LP on 77 Records featuring The Fourteen Band. Shown from the left: Danny Moss, Terry Whitney (piano), Derek Middleton (drums), Jack Jacobs, Mike Collier (trombone), Alan Kennington (bass) and Ted Ambrose (trumpet).'

Mike Collier

 

Mike Collier and the Fourteen Band
Photograph © Chris Duff

 

'The Fox and Hounds was the "headquarters" of the Sussex Jazz Society, a loose organisation of jazz lovers from South Sussex and the Brighton area loosely headed by Mike Collier. Some half-dozen musicians and other interested parties, including Derrick Stewart-Baxter, helped finance the sessions at the Fox and elsewhere and no one made any money! However, the jazz was great most of the time and often superb, especially when Mike invited soloists to help front the Fourteen Foot Band. Sandy Brown was a frequent visitor, as was Danny Moss, Ronnie Ross, Dave Carey, Mick Mulligan, Bruce Turner, Nevil Skrimshire, Alan Cooper, Jimmy Skidmore, Pete King, Kathy Stobart and many others. International stars like Bud Freeman, Bill Coleman, Al Sudhalter, Captain John Handy, Eddie Miller, Albert Nicholas, Peanuts Hucko and Teddy Wilson were guests with Mike and the band, and Alex Welsh would also bring down his band with the latest touring American musician. Halcyon days!'

'I knew Mike during the mid-late 1960s when I took the money at the door at the Fox and Hounds. Mike had asked me to help with promoting the band and the various sessions, which led to me producing a monthly newsletter on my work-place Roneo machine and writing a weekly jazz column in the local Mid-Sussex Times. However, all the promoting in the world couldn't stop falling attendances and after about five years Mike and his friends decided to close down the Fox and Hounds sessions in June 1970.'

'Mike continued to play with many of the local bands in the Brighton area. The Brighton jazz scene was always a vibrant one and became the subject of a book, The Brighton Jazz Line, edited by Keith Samuel and Peter Simkins, with contributions from many other musicians. It was published by Evergreen Graphics (ISBN 1-900192-05-5) in 2002 and records the story of the Sussex Jazz Society and the death of Mike Collier. A memorial seat for Mike was placed in the churchyard of Brighton's St. Nicholas Church, the cost being borne by his many friends who were generous in their contributions. The book has a selective discography compiled by Brian Hills, and shows Mike on a Tribute LP to Les Jowett, with early tracks from Les in the 1940s and later tracks with Les and Mike recorded in 1957'. 'Mike's happiest years were the ones he spent with the Les Jowett band,' Erica says.

Eric Jackson also remembers those days in Brighton: 'I have a good recording from the Brighton Jazz Festival of George Chisholm dueting with another trombonist who could be Mike Collier. There was a band in Brighton led by Ted Ambrose and I wonder if Mike Collier filled the trombone chair?' Erica says that she is sure that Mike did fill the chair as Ted was really Mike’s very best friend: ' ... they loved watching the Ziegfield Follies together. Mike really admired Ted and was heartbroken when Ted died of a brain tumour.'

Busy on the jazz scene, Mike was also carrying on a thriving dental practice and the time eventually came when he was ready to stop doing both. His wife, Erica, had spent many years living and working in France and had dual-nationality. It was decided that Mike would give up his dental work and they would move to France where Mike could continue to play and Erica could teach English, so they moved to Dieppe. Mike still had elderly relatives in England and wanted to be near the Ferry so that he could visit them, and the family soon settled down in their new country.

‘Mike never learned to speak French,’ says Erica. ‘That did not stop him playing – he had never learned to read music either. He was soon playing with local French bands but he was always disappointed that he was never invited to play by the Rover Big band, a well-known band in France at that time.’

As the mid-1990s arrived, Mike was in his sixties and although he was now retired, he started to get tired more quickly. He was still walking and playing and following his interests in ley lines, films and aviation, but eventually he was diagnosed with cancer and died on the 1st June 1999, not from the cancer, but from a brain lesion. His sister, Sue, died soon after in December of the same year.

Mike left ten children, a boy and three girls from his first marriage and a boy and five girls from his marriage to Erica. Their musical interests have not followed their father’s into jazz, but into a lot of other pop, rock and electronic fields. His son Ben writes for a Paris/Rouen newspaper on Brighton cultural and social events and he has also inherited his father’s trombones and magnificent scrap albums.

Erica Collier remembers that: 'Jazz and ley lines were the most important elements of Mike’s life and even if he was ill, he would always go to a gig even if he didn’t go to work!! He was a very loving father and his philosophy on parenthood was, ‘Have ‘em, love ‘em and let them be!’. His relationship with his wives was not quite so simple!'

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2012 - 2015

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