Sheila Collier
Portrait of a musician
Reproduced by kind permission of Sheila Collier and Just Jazz Magazine

PART ll - The 1960s and '70s
(Click here for Part l)


'This is your music, Mummy' -
Manchester Evening News

With the advent of the Swinging '60s, the Trad Boom came to an end. Married, with three children - Jonathan born 1962, James born 1965, and Victoria born 1967, I was too busy raising my young family to really notice. We moved first to Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire, and I did a few gigs with the Ceramic City Stompers, led by Pete Browne on trumpet. Then, on returning to Manchester, I sang with the Ged Hone Ragtime Band for a while.

But New Orleans-style jazz retained its loyal following. When Barry 'Kid' Martyn brought his band from London to tour the North in the early-sixties, with George Lewis - what excitement! I followed the band to every gig possible, singing with them on occasion. To see and hear George Lewis play Burgundy Street Blues made me cry every time. A wonderful, tall, gentle, softly-spoken man. When I went to the airport to see him off home to New Orleans, he turned to me and said, " Sheila, never stop singing," - words which I treasure to this day.

Barry Martyn invited me to London to sing with his band at a concert to be held at St. Pancras Town Hall. Guesting with the band were New Orleans musicians Kid Sheik on trumpet, and Captain John Handy playing saxophone. The concert was reviewed in the Melody Maker - 'Sheila Collier... looking like a 'trad', Cilla Black.. .sang with feeling: I was hoping I looked more like Dusty Springfield, having made a dress copied from one of her TV shows especially for my appearance!

A new club opened in Manchester. Just behind the Cathedral, it was called the Manchester Sports Guild, and had two floors of music - one for folk music, and jazz in the basement. The 'folkies' and the 'jazzers' did not mix, and it wasn't until the mid-1970s that I achieved my ambition of opening a club with more eclectic tastes; the Peacock Club featured Jazz, Blues, and Folk music.

My love of Gospel music became strong. The Gospel show 'Black Nativity' came to the Opera House in Manchester, featuring the Alex Bradford Singers (with Madeline Bell) and Marion Williams. I was so overcome by the singing that after the show I went to the stage door and even climbed on the band bus to thank the performers and to shake their hands.

'Mahalia Jackson at Newport 1958' was my absolute favourite LP, and in the early 1970s I got to see Mahalia at the Albert Hall, in London, on her one appearance in England. Accompanied only by her pianist, Mildred Falls, she filled the packed auditorium with her power and passion. I shouted for The Lord's Prayer and like to believe she heard my call, for she sang it for her final number. It's fair to say my friend Danielle and I were in ecstasy all the way back to Manchester on the late-night train!

In 1965, the Smoky City Six was formed by clarinettist Tony Foulkes. The line-up was Tony Foulkes (clarinet), Geoff Wilde (trumpet), Malcolm Smith (trombone), Tony West (banjo), Bob Lever (bass), and Bob Jones (drums), soon to be joined by Sheila Collier, singer. For a while the band had two reed men when John Hallam joined the band in 1967, playing the gigs Tony Foulkes couldn't reach.

When the Smoky City Jazz Band, with Sheila Collier, did their first radio broadcast for Radios One and Two in May, 1970, from the Playhouse Theatre, in Manchester, the line-up was as follows: Dizzy Burton (trumpet - formerly with the Saints Jazz Band), John Hallam (clarinet, saxophone), Malcolm Smith (trombone), Roger Browne (piano), Jim Ash (banjo), Tony Pollitt (bass), and Bob Jones (drums). Called 'Jazz Club' and introduced by Humphrey Lyttelton, produced by John Wilcox. I sang Baby Won't You Please Come Home and Cakewalkin' Babies. I have the copy of this broadcast on reel-to-reel tape. The other band on 'Jazz Club' that day was the Mike Pembroke Hot Seven: Mike Pembroke (trombone), Bill Smith (trumpet), Martin Rodger (clarinet), John Featherstone (piano), Pete Bamfield (bass), and Pete Staples (drums).

After a spell with trumpet player Denis Gilmore, who then moved to Los Angeles, the Smoky City was joined by Bill Smith (trumpet) and Terry Brunt (trombone). I took over running the band and we had a great jazz club in West Didsbury, Manchester, at the Midland Hotel, with guests George Melly, the Alex Welsh Band, and Joe Harriott, among others.

From 1972 to 1997 the front-line of this great Manchester band remained unchanged. John Hallam left to pursue a solo career in 1997, and the Smoky City finally disbanded in 2007 - a span of 42 years.


Part lll - 'Miss Manchester Jazz'


Main Menu

Please visit my Home Page