Memories of The Band: Sheila Collier

Memories of The Band: Sheila Collier


Sheila Collier photographed at Band on the Wall, late 1970s

When The Band on the Wall opened up its doors as a music venue in September 1975, Sheila Collier’s Smoky City Jazzband took up a weekly residency that lasted for six years. It was every Wednesday from 9pm to midnight. Prior to that we had a weekly club at The Midland Hotel [now The Metropolitan] in West Didsbury which became very popular, and where we had a wonderful array of guests, including The Alex Welsh Band, George Melly and Joe Harriott.

The Band on the Wall was very special for me. There was a real stage, good lighting and sound, a grand piano, and space to perform – a chance to dress up and ‘do my thing’. I would dream up fantastic ensembles to wear – and be teased by the band for my efforts! At that time I was a freelance fashion designer and worked on vintage garments with my friend Carl Twigg who had a boutique on King Street. I created some great outfits which I teamed with stretch black trousers and stiletto heels, over-the-knee, black leather boots! Years later I was having afternoon tea alone in Buxton when a lady approached me, she said she and her friends loved anticipating what I would be wearing on Wednesday nights.

Musically and artistically, it was a wonderful time for me. The Smoky City Jazzband was at its best. We had a great repertoire, and we were very creative in our choice of programme, varying it from week to week. We played New Orleans, Ellington, Gospel and Swing. We did not copy, but made our own arrangements. Entertaining too, with piano player Roger Godfrey’s dry wit on the microphone, Terry Brunt’s clowning [trombone] and John Hallam’s great virtuosity on all reeds and flute. In 1978 we recorded our first album, using the studio at the Royal Northern College of Music. Bill Smith, leading on trumpet, kept it all together, plus: Brian Morrison on bass; Bob Jones, drums; and various banjo players, Tony West, Roy Tweedie, Charlie Bentley. We also invited great guests to join us from time to time; I remember George Chisholm and Buddy Tate.

For me personally, it was a watershed. I said my week started on Wednesdays! I would get all dressed up and drive myself from my home in Bowdon, to my other life and self with my musician friends.

Our long residency at The Band on the Wall established the band and myself both professionally and artistically. The venue was hugely popular and the place to go for jazz fans, newspaper men, students, TV and radio people and visiting businessmen of all kinds.

From our residency at ‘The Band’ came our first album, programmes for BBC and Granada TV, Piccadilly and BBC radio, and our first visit to a jazz festival abroad – at ‘Jazz in Duketown’ in Holland. I gained my Equity card by singing at the Contact Theatre in ‘The Marvellous Magical Mystery Plays’.

The traditional jazz scene was very active in the North of England in the 70s. As well as our Wednesday night residency at ‘The Band’, I started my own Monday night Jazz Club at Brahms and Liszt on Upper King Street. The first band to play there was The Ken Colyer Band. Then came the Peacock Club (1978?) where I presented a mix of jazz, blues and folk. That was at Mauldeth Hall in Chorlton-cum-Hardy. I presented Stephane Grappelli, Mike Harding, Danny Moss and Humphrey Lyttelton, among others.

Other traditional jazz clubs I remember are:

  • The Birch Hall Hotel, Lees, Oldham, where I sang with Wild Bill Davison
  • The Grants Arms, Ramsbottom
  • The Bamboo Club, Hazel Grove, Stockport
  • Accrington Jazz Club
  • Also venues in Southport, Chester, Rochdale & Wigan

We did many of these as monthly residencies.

For personal reasons I moved out of Manchester to live in the village of Hayfield in North Derbyshire and, regrettably, left my band. Three years later, in 1983, I brought the music to the hills and created the first Hayfield International Jazz Festival, which ran for eight glorious years – but that’s another story.

– Sheila Collier, 21 February 2013, Helsingborg, Sweden