Wednesday 21 November 2018

Mike Nolan

Hugh Buckley

MIKE Nolan, musician and composer, has died aged 61. He had a varied and often turbulent career spanning 40 years, which included jazz ensemble, orchestral, theatrical, TV and radio work.

Born in Dundalk on August 6, 1943, Mike received his early musical training when, after lying about his age, he moved to Belfast to join the British Army Band training school. It was at this time that he obtained his reading skills and developed his tone on his chosen instrument, the trumpet. This also allowed him to travel and he subsequently spent some time in Germany.

His work touched all genres, but jazz was his first love. Trumpeters like Bunny Berigan, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan and Art Farmer were among his favourites, although the 'post bebop' and 'cool school' sounds of Miles Davis and Chet Baker were probably the more influential on his own sound.

Mike projected a very warm and confident on-stage persona. Among his early jazz dates was a Monday night session in Slattery's, Capel Street, Dublin, with a group called Jump. Among the musicians on this gig was his longtime friend Keith Donald, Ken Stewart on piano, Dessie Reynolds and Brian Dunning. In that same year, 1971, he went on the road with Billy Brown. A year later he joined the Pacific Showband and went to Canada, spending two years there. While in Canada the bandchanged its name to The Dublin Corporation.

While there, Mike studied harmony and composition. Back in Ireland he got the opportunity to play some jazz and also to write some jazz compositions. In the mid-Seventies he was a member of Jim Doherty's Spon, a 10-piece jazz ensemble which allowed him to feature as a soloist and also to contribute some of his compositions. In the late Seventies he was a member of the Noel Kelehan quintet with Keith Donald, Frank Hess and John Wadham. The group recorded and released an album, Ozone, in 1979.

Mike featured greatly on this recording, playing trumpet and flugelhorn. He also contributed one original, Spon Song, to the session. The following year that same group played a two-week engagement at Ronnie Scott's Club in London as part of the Sense of Ireland celebration.

Besides his jazz compositions he wrote some commercial jingles. His tunes had often strong, song-like melodies with a more complex underlying harmony. He continued to play these tunes when possible, and did so with Louis Stewart and Richie Buckley.

Throughout, Mike continued his involvement in theatre and orchestral work. He worked under Shostakovich with the symphony orchestra and played musicals, including West Side Story. More recently Mike hit on some hard times and did not perform in public. He maintained his creativity through writing poetry and prose, something he had done since his early days.

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