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Tribute to Brian Blain

A tireless advocate for UK jazz and its musicians, the union official, promoter, writer, and activist Brian Blain has died aged 92.

Published: 24 November 2022 | 2:17 PM
Brian Blain with Keith Ames
Brian Blain (on the right) together with MU PR and Events Official Keith Ames (on the left).

Latterly prominent as the programmer of the yearly jazz series at Lauderdale House, the arts centre in Highgate, London, Brian Blain had previously chaired the Jazz Centre Society, been a director of Jazz Services and a valued contributor to Melody Maker and Jazz UK magazine.

Born in Salford in 1929, he taught at a junior school in Lancashire before moving to London, re-training as a PE teacher and working in the East End. He then became an official of the Musicians’ Union staying in post for the rest of his career. He helped launch the Union’s ‘Keep Music Live’ programme, travelling the length of the UK organising big band and rock workshops, with Val Wilmer as the scheme’s supporting photographer.

The EC had appointed a Sub-Committee in May 1965 to promote a ‘Campaign for the Advance of Live Music.’ Brian was immediately engaged to act for the Sub-Committee as Campaign Secretary, and he succinctly outlined the summary of the campaign’s objectives in his article published in Musician - as the magazine was then called - in January 1966: “To improve the quantity and quality of situations where the work of musicians may be heard.”

He recognised the Committee was “a kind of pressure group to create a greater awareness of the necessity for their work as a basic pre-requisite for the continuance of music of the highest quality in all fields.” This work led to the legendary Keep Music Live phrase and logo, which proved to be one of the longest-running and most-recognised campaigns of the late 20th century.

Alert to newer and more adventurous forms of jazz and always open-minded, he saw to it that jazz and rock musicians joined the Union and pushed to ensure that female musicians and non-white players received their proper due. Brian also edited this very magazine for several decades, continuing to do so well into his full retirement in 2004.

A habitué at Ronnie Scott’s - they hosted a party for his retirement - he was known at every other London venue, however small, where jazz was happening. Left-leaning, an ardent Manchester City fan, loquacious - no conversation with Brian was ever short - and always questioning, Brian’s love of jazz modernism dated from his schooldays when he first heard the youthful Tubby Hayes with Kenny Baker in a local dancehall. Once in London he wrote reviews for Melody Maker as ‘Christopher Bird’, also contributing to other outlets, one highlight being his memoir of legendary drummer Phil Seamen, ‘I Remember Phil’, which was widely reproduced.

More recently, he reviewed for Jazz UK, first under John Fordham’s editorship, then for Roger Thomas, Fordham often driven to distraction as he sought to decipher Brian’s rather ramshackle copy. Although self-deprecating about his journalism, Brian didn’t need to be. He knew what he was about, loved the music and its practitioners and thought deeply about its future. A regular at Swanage where his concert introductions were often anecdotal yet always illuminating, Brian was the most convivial of companions. It was just a joy to be in his company and as Richard Williams said, “He was the best friend jazz in London could have had.”

Keith Ames and Peter Vacher, with many thanks to Jazzwise.

Read further accolades to Brian, published when he turned 90

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