Sunday, 16 November 2014

Britain is no longer a country for and said "Farewell" to an old Brummie saxophonist called Mike Burney

Mike, renowned and accomplished saxophone player, who gave pleasure to innumerable audiences, working with diverse artists from both sides of the Atlantic in a career which spanned over fifty years, has died at the age of 76.

What you possibly didn't know about Mike, that he :

* was born in 1944, during the Second World War in Great Barr, an area staddling the boundaries of Birmingham, West Bromwich and Walsall and went to Hamstead Junior School, followed by Churchfields Comprehensive School in
1955 and at 16 in 1960, for two years to the Bromsgrove College of Further Education which had been built with a good hall and music facilities.

* came under the influence of the Music Department headed by Joseph Stones who started the 'Bromsgrove Festival' in 1960 and with little money, brought distinguished artists to the town, including the great cellist, Paul Tortelier, the composer, Dame Janet Baker and legendary pianist John Ogden and by the time his later, fellow-saxophonist, Nick Pentelow (left), attended seven years later, was run by Harold Taylor who brought in the then, unknown artists, Ravi Shankar and Julian Lloyd-Webber.

* in 1965, at the age of 21, played in 'Everett's Blueshounds' (right) and in 1968 joined Billy Fury's backing band (left) and remained for two years, then had his life change forever in 1972, when, as he later recalled : "I'd been doing really boring big band gigs on the ballroom circuit, so when Roy (Wood) offered me a job in Wizzard  I was just knocked out" and made his debut with the band at a Rock ‘n’ Roll Festival at Wembley in August, followed by an appearance at the Reading Festival later that month.

* became part of the most picturesque group in the British Glam Rock Era, with Roy's distinctive warpaint make-up and colourful costume and the band's regular appearances on BBC TV’s 'Top of the Pops', in which members and friends appeared in pantomime horses, gorilla costumes and roller-skating angels, often wielding custard pies for good measure.

* later recalled repeated conversations in which he said : '"Roy, being in this band, it's like Christmas every day" and, as far as I know, Roy picked up on that as a song title' for the 1973 Christmas single he had decided to make because "they'd been unfashionable for years. We thought it would be worth trying a real rock'n'roll Christmas song " : 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday'

* had already provided the sax along with Nick Pentelow, for their fist 'Top Ten' hit, 'Ball Park Incident' in 1972 : and for their biggest hit and second single : 'See My Baby Jive' in 1973 : , Roy's affectionate tribute to the Phil Spector 'Wall of Sound', which made No. 1 in the UK singles chart for four weeks

* the following year played 'Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad)' : , wrote the 'B side' to the Christmas hit with : 'Rob Roy's NIghtmare' : and backed “This Is The Story Of My Love (Baby)” : and 'Rock 'n' Roll Winter' in 1974 : and worked in the band for another two years before it disbanded, when he was 32, in 1976.

* formed 'The Old Horns', named after the Great Barr pub where they first played, with Wizard' saxophonist Nick Pentelow and keyboard player Bob Brady.

* could look back on a career in which he toured, accompanied and sessioned with   :

From the States :
- Rat Pack star, Sammy Davies Jnr
- rock band, The Beach Boys
- jazz singers : Mel Torme and Sarah Vaughan
- swing band leader, Billy Eckstine
- bluesman Gene, 'The Mighty Flea' Connors
- guitar legend, Mickey Baker
- blues singer and pianist, Memphis Slim
- blues singer and harmonica player, Sonny Boy Williamson
- singer song-writer, Chaka Khan
- singer Dionne Warwick

- Jamaican R and B and soul singer, Ruby Turner,

From Britain :
- Adam Faith,
- Matt Monro
- Cliff Richard
- Cilla Black,
- Engelbert Humperdinck
- Petula Clark
- Stevie Winwood

* appeared on Morecambe and Wise shows in the 'Syd Lawrence Orchestra' where he played on the extreme left :

* in 2013 and four years into his treatment for cancer, married his partner Sue in Walsall, who he had taught to play the flute when she was 12 years old :

* in 2013, unable to play the sax and recovering from surgery, was absent from the 'Birmingham International Jazz and Blues Festival' for the first time for 29 years, which saw the Roy Wood and Steve Gibbons Bands and The Old Horn Band and R&B combo, King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys, put on a benefit concert for him at the Asylum Club.

* had Roy remark, in his absence : "I learned a lot from him and sincerely hope Mike will get back to form and make a full recovery" and Nick Pentelow, who was 21 years old when they met : "I always loved trad jazz, blues and rck 'n' roll, but when I met Mike he had so much knowledge of all the modern jazz music, he completely opened my eyes to it."

* after his passing on Thursday had Jim Simpson, from 'Big Bear Music' pay tribute to him : “Saxophonist Mike Burney was probably the finest jazz musician this region has produced, but more than that he was self effacing regarding his talent, generous with his time, advice and support and with a monumental never-dimmed enthusiasm and love for music and for life. He never knowingly passed-up an opportunity to play music, whether paid or otherwise. He put no store on financial gain which he disdained, music and friendship and family were his priorities."

* had once seized such 'opportunity to play' in a version of Ray Charles's 'Mess Around' with 'The Old Horns' in 2009 :

* had his stature acknowledged by Jim who said : “Visiting American musicians, knowing of his reputation as a world-class player, would seek him out and get to play alongside Mike, who was totally unphased by their reputations and revelled in playing in top company."

* and his stoicism, when he : "faced his long battle with cancer with strength, optimism and his indefatigable sense of humour. Only a few hours before the end, when pianist Andy Peate passed him a drink of water, Mike commented ‘I’d settle for a half of Bathams’.”


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