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Friends give fine musical send-off to Northern Ireland jazz favourite

By Ivan Little

One of Northern Ireland's finest jazz musicians, who was also a broadcasting pioneer with Ulster Television, has died at the age of 77.

Tony Martin's friends and former colleagues from the likes of the Apex Jazz band gave him a rousing musical send-off at his funeral yesterday in a south Belfast church.

An ex-member of the White Eagles jazz band, Tony became a well-known face after he played drums with pianist Tommy James in the long-running UTV show Teatime with Tommy.

He later formed his own jazz band, the Tony Martin All-Stars, before becoming a member of the famous Apex Jazz band.

Yesterday, jazz musicians Billy Dickson, Billy Richardson, Trevor Forbes, Ivan Black and Victor Staley played New Orleans spirituals as mourners arrived for the service at St John's Church of Ireland on the Malone Road.

As Tony Martin's coffin left the packed church, the musicians struck up with his favourite song - While We Danced at the Mardi Gras - which he used to sing.

Earlier, BBC broadcaster and jazz aficionado Walter Love paid tribute to Tony and his contribution over the decades to the music scene in Northern Ireland.

Walter knew Tony well and interviewed him on Radio Ulster about his illustrious career.

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Pianist Tommy Jamesat

Tony had received his first drum kit aged nine - his first step on a remarkable journey as a musician and band leader.

During his career, Tony, who once hosted his own show on local radio called Time for Tony, also came into contact with Count Basie's drummer Sonny Payne and Buddy Rich, who's still regarded as the world's finest drummer.

Among the mourners at his funeral were scores of members of Instonians Rugby Club and Royal Portrush Golf Club with which Tony had long been associated.

His children Stephen, Tanya and Jacqueline all paid emotional tributes to their father who friends said was a natural comic .

The story is famously told of how after a minister asked guests at a wedding reception to be upstanding for the Queen, Tony Martin jumped up in advance of the toast and said: "Nobody told me she was coming."

After yesterday's service, there was a private family cremation at Roselawn attended by Tony's wife Joan, her children and other relatives. Hundreds of friends also packed into Instonians Rugby Club at Shaw's Bridge to celebrate Tony's life.

Musician Victor Staley said: "We thought we might be playing again there for Tony, but so many people were present there simply wasn't enough room for us to play our instruments."

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