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Bobby Wellins

Saxophonist Bobby Wellins was born in Scotland in 1936 and grew up in the Gorbals. His mother and father were both in the variety side of show business, and his father played a big part in his early musical education. He heard a lot of jazz in the family home including Jimmy Lunceford, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, but when his father brought home a record by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie he was bitten with the bebop bug.

He played piano, alto sax and clarinet before joining the RAF as a musician playing tenor sax. After leaving the RAF and playing in a few Scottish bands he made the inevitable move to London for an apprenticeship with the big touring bands including a trip to the USA with Vic Lewis in 1955. He played with Buddy Featherstonhaugh in 1956/7 and other name bands in the late 1950s including Eric Winstone, Johnny Dankworth and Vic Lewis.

He joined Tony Crombie's renowned, but short lived, Jazz Inc in 1959, and met Stan Tracey with whom he was soon to form a musical bond that has existed for nearly fifty years. Already in evidence were the qualities that made Wellins stand out: the keen wounded tone, the long slow vibrato, the tactical use of space - at the time when most saxophonists aspired to sound like Tubby Hayes - and his ability to play solos avoiding hackneyed cliches.

Through 1960 he was with Bert Courtley in the Jazz Committee, a quintet with Ken Wray, and the Tommy Whittle Orchestra (1960/1). In 1965 he worked briefly in the Keith Christie/Jimmy Deuchar group. Working with Tracey he began to hone his skills and felt that the pair of them were developing something different and substantial but things started to go badly wrong. Hard drugs were part and parcel of the club environment of the time and Bobby succumbed to heroin addiction in the mid 1960s.

Towards the end of this period of ill-health Bobby stopped playing altogether. He took a long time to recover his health and return to playing and it was not until 1978 that he was back working regularly with the Jim Richardson Quartet.

In 1979 he rejoined Stan Tracey and led his own groups in the 1980s and 1990s and also active as a teacher, joining up periodically with Tracey to work and record.He has led his own quartet for a number of years.


Album Review

Bobby Wellins Quartet: What Was Happening

Read "What Was Happening" reviewed by Chris May

In 1965 tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins made an indelible mark on jazz history with his contribution to pianist Stan Tracey's Jazz Suite Inspired By Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood (Columbia). The exquisite “Starless And Bible Black" is the most frequently cited track (check the YouTube below) and is indicative of the album's overall beauty. For a while, things looked good for the Glasgow-born, London-based Wellins, but by the end of the decade “health problems" closed down his career until around ...

Album Review

Stan Tracey Quartet: Jazz Suite Inspired By Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood

Read "Jazz Suite Inspired By Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood" reviewed by Chris May

Pianist and composer Stan Tracey's Under Milk Wood, released in 1966, was among the first albums to prove that British jazz could, on a good day, stand as tall as its American parent. Over a decade would pass, however, before that fact was widely accepted by jazz lovers in either America or Britain. Indeed, it is only now, in 2023, following the international breakthrough of London-based stylists such as Nubya Garcia and Shabaka Hutchings, that British jazz has taken its ...

Album Review

Bobby Wellins and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Culloden Moor Suite

Read "Culloden Moor Suite" reviewed by Bruce Lindsay

It's over 268 years since the Battle of Culloden and yet the event continues to resonate in contemporary Scotland (which votes on independence just a few days after this album is released). Tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins wrote his Culloden Moor Suite in 1961, inspired by John Prebble's book, Culloden, released in the same year. The composition gets a new lease of life with this big band recording, from May 2013, which brings Wellins together with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. ...

Album Review

Bobby Wellins and Kate Williams: Smoke And Mirrors

Read "Smoke And Mirrors" reviewed by Bruce Lindsay

A title such as Smoke And Mirrors suggests there's trickery afoot: musical shortcuts, electronic skullduggery and all manner of subterfuge. There isn't: this is simply 45 minutes of beautiful acoustic music from two talented players who are, without wishing to sound too clichéd, in perfect harmony.Tenor saxophonist Bobby Wellins has been one of the UK's major jazz instrumentalists for over 50 years (he first recorded in 1956, aged 20). He is still a vital member of the UK ...

Album Review

Bobby Wellins: When the Sun Comes Out

Read "When the Sun Comes Out" reviewed by Bev Stapleton

It's a cliché of jazz commentary that live is best, yet frequently the recorded evidence of a recalled performance can be disappointing. The impact of atmosphere, personal mood and other extraneous factors in enhancing the enjoyment of a concert can often be overlooked.

When the Sun Comes Out was recorded at the Appleby Jazz Festival in July, 2005. I was lucky enough to be there and was delighted to find this recording lived right up to my pleasant memories. It ...

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