George Melly

Home » History Greatest People » George Melly

Alan George Heywood Melly (17 August 1926 – 5 July 2007) was an English jazz and blues singer, critic, writer and lecturer.

His parents were unusual for their time.

His mother, Maud, a talented amateur actress, Jewish and flamboyant, had a close circle of homosexual friends whom Melly’s father Tom, an open-minded and undemanding man, was happy to have in the house: “I learned to equate wit and creativity with homosexuality even before I knew what it was,” George Melly later recalled.

Melly once stated that he may have been drawn to surrealism by a particular experience he had during his teenage years.

A frequent visitor to Liverpool’s Sefton Park near his home, he often entered its tropical Palm House and there chatted to wounded soldiers from a nearby military hospital.

It was the incongruity of this sight, men smoking among the exotic plants, dressed in their hospital uniforms and usually deficient a limb, that he felt he later recognised in the work of the Surrealists.

After the war, Melly found work in a London Surrealist gallery, working with E. L. T. Mesens and eventually drifted into the world of jazz, finding work with Mick Mulligan’s Magnolia Jazz Band.

This was a time (1948 onwards) when New Orleans and “New Orleans Revival” style jazz were very popular in Britain.

In January 1963, the British music magazine NME reported that the biggest trad jazz event to be staged in Britain had taken place at Alexandra Palace.

The event included Alex Welsh, Diz Disley, Acker Bilk, Chris Barber, Kenny Ball, Ken Colyer, Monty Sunshine, Bob Wallis, Bruce Turner, Mick Mulligan and Melly.

His singing style, particularly for the blues, was strongly influenced by his idol, Bessie Smith.

While many British musicians of the time treated jazz and blues with almost religious solemnity,

Melly rejoiced in their more bawdy side, and this was reflected in his choice of songs and exuberant stage performances.

He recorded a track called “Old Codger” with the Stranglers in 1978 specially written for him by the band.

There was, though, a serious side to the funster and jazz singer.

Surrealism, along with jazz, was the great passion of Melly’s life and he lectured and wrote extensively on the subject.

But lewdness was never divorced from scholarship, and serious research was always spiced with saucy anecdotes about encounters with prostitutes and seedy metropolitan low-life.

The young Melly was subsequently astonished to learn that this pleasurable activity was in some way associated with procreation.

He would later recall these early years in Scouse Mouse, his third volume of autobiography, published in 1984.

He died at his London home of lung cancer and emphysema (which he had for the last two years of his life) aged 80 on 5 July 2007.

His Humanist funeral was held at the West London Crematorium, in Kensal Green.

The hearse was led by a jazz band, including Kenny Ball on trumpet, playing a New Orleans funeral march.

His cardboard coffin was covered with old snapshots and cartoons of Melly by his friends, as well as hand-drawn decorations.