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George Melly

George Melly circa 1978
Background information
Birth name Alan George Heywood Melly
Born 17 August 1926(1926-08-17)
Liverpool, England
Died 5 July 2007 (aged 80)
London, England
Genres Jazz and Blues
Occupations Lecturer, critic and writer
Instruments Singer
Years active 1946 – 2007
Labels WSM
Associated acts John Chilton's Feetwarmers
Digby Fairweather Band
Website georgemelly.co.uk

Alan George Heywood Melly (17 August 1926 – 5 July 2007) was an English jazz and blues singer, critic, writer and lecturer. From 1965 to 1973 he was a film and television critic for The Observer and lectured on art history, with an emphasis on surrealism. [1]

Contents

Early life and career

He was born in Liverpool and was educated at Stowe school, where he discovered his interest in modern art, jazz and blues, and started coming to terms with his sexuality.

He joined the Royal Navy at the end of the Second World War because, as he quipped to the recruiting officer, the uniforms were 'so much nicer'. As he related in his autobiography, Rum, Bum and Concertina, he was crestfallen to discover that he would not be sent to a ship and was thus denied the "bell-bottom" uniform he desired. Instead he received desk duty and wore the other Navy uniform, described as "the dreaded fore-and-aft". Later, however, he did see ship duty. He never saw active combat, but was almost court-martialled for distributing anarchist literature.[2]

Post-war life and career

After the war, Melly found work in a London surrealist gallery, working with E.L.T. Mesens and eventually drifted into the world of jazz music, finding work with Mick Mulligan's Magnolia Jazz Band. This was a time (1948 onwards) when New Orleans and "New Orleans Revival" style jazz were very popular in Britain.

He retired from jazz in the early 1960s when he became a film critic for The Observer. He also became the writer on the Daily Mail's satirical newspaper strip Flook, illustrated by Trog. He was also scriptwriter on the 1967 satirical film Smashing Time. This period of his life is described in Owning Up.

He returned to jazz in the early 1970s with John Chilton's Feetwarmers, a partnership that only ended in 2003. He later sang with Digby Fairweather's band. He released three albums in the 1970s including Nuts in 1972 and Son of Nuts the next year.[3] He wrote a light column — Mellymobile — in Punch magazine describing their tours.

He was an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society and a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association. He was also a member of the Max Miller Appreciation Society and on 1 May 2005 joined Roy Hudd, Sir Norman Wisdom and others in unveiling a statue of Miller in Brighton.

His singing style, particularly for the blues, was strongly influenced by his idol, the American Blues singer Bessie Smith. While many British musicians of the time treated jazz and blues with almost religious solemnity, Melly rejoiced in their more bawdy side, and this was reflected in his choice of songs and exuberant stage performances. He recorded a track called "Old Codger" with The Stranglers in 1978 especially written for him by the band.

Melly moved from strictly homosexual relationships in his teens and twenties to largely heterosexual relationships from his thirties onwards.[citation needed] He married twice and had a child from each marriage, though his first child Pandora was not known to be his until she was much older. He married his second wife, Diana Moynihan (née Dawson), in 1963.[1] She brought with her two children (Candy and Patrick) from two previous marriages, though Patrick later died from heroin overdose in his twenties. Their own son, Tom, was born two days after the wedding. Diana recently published an autobiography of their life and (open) marriage together, which is included in the bibliography. In an incident that others might have considered hugely embarrassing, Diana and George participated in a televised celebrity couples quiz in the 1970s. Asked separately what made them decide to marry, Diana announced "I was pregnant!" and George, in his turn, merely said, "The less said about that, the better."

He was still active in music, journalism, and lecturing on Surrealism and other aspects of modern art until his death, despite worsening health problems such as vascular dementia [4], incipient emphysema and lung cancer.[5]

In addition to age-related health problems, Melly suffered from environmental hearing loss due to long-term exposure to on-stage sound systems, and his hearing in both ears became increasingly poor. despite these problems however, Melly would often joke that he found some parts of his ailing health to be enjoyable. He often equated his dementia to a quite amusing LSD trip, and took a lot of pleasure from his deafness, which he said made many boring conversations more interesting.

On Sunday 10 June 2007, George Melly made an appearance, announced as his last ever performance, at the 100 Club in London. This was on the occasion of a fund-raising event to benefit the charity supporting his carers.

He died at his London home of lung cancer and emphysema (which he had for the last two years of his life) aged 80 on 5 July 2007. [1]

On 17 February 2008 BBC2 broadcast George Melly's Last Stand (produced by Walker George Films), an intimate portrayal of Melly's last months.

His sister Andrée Melly is a film actress, living in Ibiza with her husband. His widow, Diana Melly is an author.

In the Channel 4 documentary 'Stoned in Suburbia' Melly compared a joint of cannabis to a fine port after dinner, and said "it should be passed round to the right you swines."

Bibliography

  • Owning Up (autobiography — trad-boom jazz career) (1965)
  • Revolt into Style; Pop Arts in Britain (1971)
  • Rum, Bum and Concertina (autobiography — navy) (1977)
  • A Tribe of One: Great Naive and Primitive Painters of the British Isles (1981)
  • Great Lovers (1981) (Text only - art and research by Walter Dorin)
  • Scouse Mouse (autobiography — childhood) (1984)
  • It's All Writ Out for You: Life and Work of Scottie Wilson (1986)
  • Paris and the Surrealists (1991)
  • Don't Tell Sybil: Intimate Memoir of E.L.T. Mesens (1997)
  • Hooked! Fishing Memories (2000)
  • Slowing Down (memoir) (2005)
  • Take A Girl Like Me (biography by his wife, Diana Melly) (2005)
  • Swans Reflecting Elephants A Biography of Edward James (1982)
  • Hot Jazz, Warm Feet (autobiography of long-time colleague John Chilton, with chapters devoted to Melly) (2007)

Discography

  • Nuts (1972)
  • Son of Nuts (1973)
  • The World of George Melly (The Fifties) (1973) DECCA SPA 288
  • It's George (1974)
  • Melly is at it Again (1976)

References

  1. ^ a b c Jazz singer George Melly dies, The Telegraph, 5 July 2007
  2. ^ The Scotsman, "George Melly" 6 July 2007
  3. ^ McGregor, Andrew , George Melly, "Nuts" and "Son of Nuts", BBC Review, 21 June 2007
  4. ^ Singer Melly has early dementia, BBC News, 27 February 2007.
  5. ^ Melly, Tom Truths, half-truths, and Wikipedia, The Register, 15 March 2007.

External links








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