Colin Miller

On Wednesday 23rd of March, 2005, at the Big Chris Barber Band's concert at the Swan, High Wycombe, Colin Miller played for the last time before retiring from the band. The following is the text for the web page constructed for Colin when he was a member of the Big Chris Barber Band:

Colin joined the Chris Barber Band in 1998, replacing Alan “Sticky’ Wickett. Colin has had a long and varied career in the music business, both as musician and record company executive.

Since he was six years old Colin had wanted to play drums, and used to use cake tins and other suitable items at home in Croydon. However, his parents decided he should learn the piano, and for two years he took lessons, which looking back he realised was good as it taught him to understand chords. The first instrument he actually bought was in fact a clarinet, as he wanted to play like Monty Sunshine! But he still had the desire to play drums and sold his clarinet and bought a snare drum. His parents were not keen for him to be a musician, and did not encourage him.

When Colin was about seventeen he joined his first band, the Apex Jazz Band, led by Brian Jeeves (a good friend of Chris’s), who left soon after to become a businessman. He was replaced by Don Weller, and the musical emphasis moved from traditional to mainstream. This gave Colin the chance to broaden his experience, and at twenty he took his first professional job in Dave Keir’s Band for about six months. (Richard Hill, Chris’s collaborator on their Traditional Jazz in an Orchestral Setting, had been in the band previously.) Colin’s first public engagement was at the Civic Hall in his home town of Croydon.

It was now the early 1960s and he played in various bands, including Eric Allendale’s New Orleans Knights, the Len Baldwin Band, and the Dauphin Street Six. He replaced Viv Prince in the Ed Corey band, but by this time (the mid-1960s) the number of bands playing full-time traditional jazz was decreasing and he was offered the opportunity to go to Germany and play, and to record for CBS in the Leathertown Jazz Band for a year.

On his return to England in 1965 or 1966 he turned down the chance to play for the pop group the Herd (they had three Top-Ten hits six months later!). Colin then worked in the motor trade, and for John Collier Tailors. However, he did not stop playing, and joined, in a semi-professional capacity, Dave Stewart’s band (Alexander’s Jazz Band), a band that included the late Pete Strange on trombone. The band used many clarinet players, including Archie Semple and Sandy Brown, and did some BBC broadcasts, including Jazz Club, which they shared with the Chris Barber Band.

In the 1970s Colin worked in theatres, cabaret, and dances, playing a variety of styles of music, and further broadening his repertoire. Then came a complete change: he was recruited by CBS to work in their sales and promotions department, specialising in classical music, selling to the big chains (HMV, WH Smith, etc.). He stayed with CBS for some 20 years, during which time the company became part of the Sony Corporation. Latterly he was in charge of the classical department. When he was 54, a reorganisation in the company gave him the choice of a different job with the company or taking early retirement. He chose the latter.

During his later years at CBS Colin had been playing with Brian White’s “Muggsy Remembered” Band. Brian had various bands playing different styles, and on leaving the record company Colin went full-time with Brian. The band toured mainly throughout the UK, but also the United States. Colin was then approached by another large record company and asked to join them, and he could “write his own ticket”. It was a very tempting offer, which he provisionally excepted, but there was a three-month wait before the job would be available. During this time Colin continued to play, and one night noticed that Paul Sealey (then Chris’s banjo/guitarist) turned up to listen to him. So he was not completely surprised when a month later Chris telephoned and offered him the drum seat in his band. He accepted, and has now been with Chris ever since. He still plays with various groups in the breaks when asked.

It was always an ambition of Colin’s to play with Chris, and he has found both enjoyment and fulfilment in his role. His current showcase number (shared with Vic Pitt, the bass player) is the normal closing number of the first half of a Chris Barber concert, ‘Big Noise From Winnetka’. Listen on Timeless TTD628, Cornbread, Peas and Black Molasses.

(Transcribed from an interview with Colin, to whom many thanks; Copyright © Julian Purser, 2 October, 2004; licensed to chrisbarber.net.)

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