Sebastian writes: Sad news to report. One of the most effective and consistent supporters and enablers of jazz in the UK, Brian Blain, died on Sunday 9 October at the Marie Curie Hospice in Hampstead, at the age of 92.
We published a celebratory piece “Accolades and Anecdotes” for Brian’s 90th birthday in 2019. (LINK HERE). Rereading it today is a reminder of the affection and high esteem for Brian which has quite rightly existed for decades within the UK jazz community. The word “enthusiasm” appears nine times in that piece. Yes, his undimmed enthusiasm for the music, well into his tenth decade, stands as a exemplar for all of us.
The most commonly used phrase I have heard as the news has been filtering through this week is: “He did help an incredible number of people.”
At LJN we absolutely treasured his writing. Here is his last piece for us, a gem of a mini-review of Damon Brown in the 2021 London Jazz Festival:
Sympathies above all go to the remarkable, thoughtful and kind Maureen (Mo), to Sarah and Matthew, and to Brian and Mo’s four grandchildren. In sadness.
Sebastian, such a good idea to give that “gem” an outing and thereby raise a wee smile from so many of us. Wherever he is he will continue to put the world to rights, bless him.
I have so many good memories of Brian who did so much to help musicians and music generally with such good humour and respect
My sincere condolences to Maureen & the family. I knew Brian for 46 years. I thought of him often & intended to call him only last week, not knowing how unwell he obviously was. He will be missed by me & many others. 🎶🌈🌹🍷 xx
We also received a tribute/ obituary from Charles Alexander:
“Brian Blain, who died on Sunday 9 October 2022 was a driving force in jazz in the U.K. from the late 1960s onwards. After Ronnie Scott’s Club moved from its original premises in Greek Street, Soho, to its present home in Frith Street, Brian helped to persuade Scott and the club manager Pete King to allow musicians such as Mike Westbrook, John Surman, Malcolm Griffiths, Gordon Beck, John Taylor, and many others to use it as a performance venue until the lease ran out. At that time most jazz performances were held in pubs to small audiences. A meeting attended by many prominent jazz musicians decided to form the London Jazz Centre Society to create a centre specifically for contemporary jazz. Brian was invited to be its chairman. Warehouse “D” near Tower Bridge was due for redevelopment but the developers allowed its use as a jazz venue until, in 1973, the Jazz Centre Society found a more permanent home at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in the Mall. It also dropped the word “London” from its title.
Brian’s full-time job from 1965 was that of Music Promotion Officer at the Musicians’ Union and the circular “Keep Music Live” stickers which he commissioned became a familiar sight on car windscreens throughout the country.
In 1973, I was appointed Administrator of what was now the Jazz Centre Society (the JCS). Working closely with Brian, we presented jazz on Sunday evenings at the ICA featuring contemporary performers such as Evan Parker, Tony Oxley and Derek Bailey, concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and other venues including the Seven Dials Club in Covent Garden, the Phoenix pub in Cavendish Square and the 100 Club. With the cooperation of Camden’s Libraries and Arts Department, we launched a twice-yearly Camden Jazz Week first at the Shaw Theatre for several years and then at the Roundhouse, hosting many great jazz artists. Later the JCS opened a Midlands JCS branch, led by Paul Kelly, and a branch at The Band on The Wall venue in Manchester, led by Ian Croal, both presenting leading musicians, local and national.
Meanwhile, Brian also arranged and enabled Musicians’ Union events around the country – jazz workshops by Geoff Castle, Jack Bruce and others and occasional tours, such as the legendary one for Keith Tippett’s Centipede. Brian was Chair of the Jazz Centre Society from 1968 to 1982 and my boss from 1973 to 1982.
After his retirement from the Musicians’ Union, Brian launched a successful series of Thursday evening jazz concerts at Lauderdale House, Archway, North London, featuring a wide range of jazz artists. A deep thinker about the state of the world and the direction of jazz, Brian would typically launch a lengthy discussion while driving between 75 and 90 mph up north to the Lake District or Glasgow for an M.U. event. Our sympathies go to his wife Maureen and their two children Matthew and Sarah. “
Remembering Brian at Warehouse D. As a committee member of JCS at the warehouse 1969 to 1972 I have so many memories of Brian as Chairman, of Richard Letchford as the first paid administrer in the country plus all the hard work we had to do to make the building and performance area reasonably water proof after which on opening night the east end London police police raiding and closing us for several weeks because we did not have a late night cafe licence. Only yesterday on sorting out all my jazz memorabilia going back to 1952 and especially from the time I formed Birmingham Jazz Society did I think I must write to Blrian being unable to find a telephone number for him. an opportunity now lost forever.
George West email@example.com should anyone like to contact for old times sake, coming up to age 88
So sad to hear of Brian’s passing. I was privileged to serve on the JCS committee alongside him. I remember his passion, his energy, his deep commitment to the musicians he was serving/representing 24/7, his perpetual optimism, and, perhaps most of all, his ideas, one thing he was never short of! Vale Brian!
Very sad to learn about this. One detail missing from the comments so far is that, while he was still employed by the MU, he wrote many articles for the Melody Maker under the pseudonym “Christopher Bird”. It’s a cliche to say that we’ll not see his like again, but it’s true.
Brian this gets mentioned in the 90th Birthday Greetings – do take a look!
Jazz at Lauderdale House will not be the same without Brian introducing the artists. He has been such an important presence on the jazz scene for decades. We will miss him and will always remember him with great affection for all he did to promote live jazz in the UK. Condolences to his family, who I hope will be comforted in their loss by knowing how much Brian was loved and appreciated by so many.
Mike Westbrook has written an appreciation of Brian Blain on the Westbrookjazz notice board: https://www.westbrookjazz.co.uk/smithsboard/Oct2022.shtml#brian
Brian Blain was a wonderful and memorable person. He was completely devoid of prejudice and inspirational to many musicians, especially women, who frequently received short shrift in the musicians’ community. As the visibility of women players grew throughout the 1960s and 1970s, there was harsh opposition in some quarters, something that was totally unjustified but which elicited the comment from Brian that such nay-sayers were “dinosaurs who had no place in music today and really, just had to die out.” To which I could only say “Amen”.
Our paths first crossed in the 1960s when I started working as a freelance writer and photographer for Melody Maker and Brian was writing reviews for the Daily Worker, fore-runner of the Morning Star. He was soon writing for the MM, too, under the by-line of “Christopher Bird”, a name chosen in tribute to the great Charlie Parker.
In the early 1970s he launched the “Keep Music Live!” campaign on behalf of the Musicians Union, the organisation that paid his wages. He asked me to take a series of photographs for the exhibition assembled in order to promote this viewpoint, mainly of venues where music was played. These ranged from the bandstand on the seafront at Eastbourne to the Orchid Ballroom in Purley and various pubs, clubs and dives from Soho to Walthamstow. The exhibition toured for several decades and marked for me the first public display of my photographs, shot prior to this mainly for publications and record sleeves. He hired me to photograph MU officials and for certain presentations, too.
Brian was interested in music of every kind and was the person responsible for bringing large numbers of jazz and rock musicians into the union, including many prominent names in the pop world. His view was an inclusive one and so it was not surprising that he was the first person to tell me about a black musician living in Birmingham where he was well-respected, but unknown in the outside world. This was the Jamaican tenor saxophonist Andy Hamilton who, I am glad to say, went on to greater things after I wrote a half-page article about him in the Independent. The attention he received as a result was to change his life, lead to a recording contract and take him on tour to several countries, but I would never have known about him were it not for Brian and his desire that no talent remain hidden from the wider public.
So, right on, Brian. You will be missed by many who listened to your words of wisdom, learnt from your vast knowledge of the business, and experienced your kind and gentle nature at first hand — not least of all by me. Thank you for everything.