Belfast Telegraph

Jackie Flavelle, Northern Ireland jazzman who played with the greats, dies aged 78

By Ivan Little

A Belfast-born giant of jazz music, Jackie Flavelle, who played with one of the world's most famous bands and counted Rod Stewart and Paul McCartney among his musical allies, has died at the age of 78.

Tributes have been pouring in for the legendary musician, who spent ten years playing bass with the globe-trotting The Big Chris Barber Band before returning home to Northern Ireland, where he became a presenter and press officer for Downtown Radio in Newtownards.

But all the while, Jackie continued to play music in a host of different bands with very different styles, including the Ulster Scots Folk Orchestra and a country and western group.

And yesterday, Jackie's former colleagues called him the best in the business, a genius and a legendary musical guru.

Jackie was still gigging until quite recently and only a few weeks ago a 'who's who' of the Belfast music scene staged a benefit concer t in Balmoral Golf Club to raise money for him as he fought illness.

Jackie was born in north Belfast, but he was orphaned at the age of five - his mother died when he was a baby, while his father was killed during the Second World War.

Jackie's introduction to music was via the flute. He played in the school orchestra at Royal Belfast Academical Institution and with the Ulster Amateur Flute band, which won world championships under conductor Billy Flavelle, who was his uncle.

But in the Fifties, Jackie - along with other Belfast youngsters of the time like Van Morrison - was caught up in the skiffle boom pioneered by Lonnie Donegan and he took up the bass guitar while working as an accountant.

Jackie first came to real prominence as a teenage musician while part of the Dave Glover showband, playing to packed houses right across Northern Ireland, including a residency at the Arcadia ballroom in Portrush.

However, a number of disagreements saw Jackie switching to Johnny Quigley's showband in Derry/Londonderry and another one in Galway before he returned to the Glover fold.

It was a move which was to change his life, as internationally-known jazz band leader Chris Barber - who was married to Co Down singer Ottilie Patterson - happened to see Jackie playing with Glover at a gig in Newtownards in 1964.

Shortly afterwards Barber offered him a job on double bass and bass guitar, which took him and his wife Noreen to London.

Jackie once recalled: "It was an exciting time to be part of the music scene and I met a lot of international stars like Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney and David Bowie. Rod was a friend, as he knew Ottilie well and used to get up and sing with the band. I played on the Dixie Toot track on his Smiler album.

"But I don't like talking about my past or name dropping - I live for today and tomorrow and always have done." Jackie once auditioned for the seminal American rock band The Doors, who were led by Jim Morrison, but another bass player got the gig.

With the Barber band, Jackie played with some of the world's finest blues musicians, including Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Dr John, (below left) and Sonny Boy Williamson.

He also played on the same bill at the Reading festival as Jimi Hendrix (bottom left).

However, after Jackie's two daughters Lisa and Melanie were born, he quit the Chris Barber band to return home "to give the girls a better life".

Jackie described his decision to swap London for Donaghadee in 1977 as the best he ever made, even though initially he was selling everything from TVs to record players back home.

However, he eventually started work as a DJ with Downtown Radio, where he presented his own programmes including Jackie's Jazz and Blues, before working in the promotional department too. Jackie's daughter Lisa was to follow in her father's footsteps as a radio presenter.

Nothing could stop Jackie from playing music. He worked on studio albums with Belfast singer Duke Special and Ciaran Lavery from Aghagallon in Co Antrim. But he always appeared happiest on the road, even in tiny pubs as far away as Co Donegal, where he gigged with a band called the Half Stoned Cowboys.

He also played occasionally with the Chris Barber band and appeared on Radio Ulster in July accompanying singer Muriel Day and guitarist Colum Arbuckle, who both commented on social media about how much they'd enjoyed playing "with such a great musician".

Ian Killoran, who plays saxophone and clarinet in the Barber band, dedicated a show to him last night which he hoped Jackie could "hear in heaven" adding: "He was a great bass player and such a nice man."

Belfast-born musician Rod Demick, who played with Jackie and with the Yardbirds, the Strawbs and the David Essex Band, tweeted: "We had a lot of laughs when we worked as a duo. An amazing player and a true gent. A lot of people are going to miss him and his stories of a lifetime on the road."

Former Them musician Jackie McAuley also paid tribute and blues musician Ronnie Greer thanked Jackie "for everything you contributed to my life. You were one of the greats".

A celebration of Jackie's life is to be held at Roselawn Crematorium on Thursday at 5pm.

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