Mike Burney 1938-2014 R.I.P.

Jim Simpson, of Big Bear Music, has just let me know this sad news.

Here is Jim’s tribute:

It is with extreme sadness that the music community today learned of the death last night (November 13) of one of its best loved and most respected of its number.

Saxophonist Mike Burney was probably the finest jazz musician this region has produced, but more than that he was self effacing regarding his talent, generous with his time, advice and support and with a monumental never-dimmed enthusiasm and love for music and for life. He never knowingly passed-up an opportunity to play music, whether paid or otherwise. He put no store on financial gain which he disdained; music and friendship and family were his priorities.

Mike Burney with Everett's Blueshounds 1965

Mike Burney with Everett’s Blueshounds 1965

Never a household name, Mike Burney nevertheless enjoyed a worldwide reputation among musicians and in the music business. A brush with fame came as a member of Roy Wood’s Wizzard playing on the hits and making TV appearances, as he did on many Morecambe and Wise shows as a member of the Syd Lawrence Orchestra. But that is only the tip of the iceberg.

The list of leading names whose performances Mike Burney’s playing has graced include Jimmy Cliff, Chaka Khan, The Beach Boys, Sammy Davis Jnr., Petula Clark, Steve Winwood, Dionne Warwick, Billy Eckstine, Mel Torme, Cliff Richard and even Bob Hope. He has recorded with U.S. bluesmen Gene The Mighty Flea Connors and guitar legend Mickey Baker, Sonny Boy Williamson and Memphis Slim as well as with leading rhythm and blues combo, King Pleasure & the Biscuit Boys.

His determination to stay in Birmingham and live a comparatively normal life with his devoted wife Sue, was of inestimable benefit to our local jazz and blues scene, where he featured at his hometown Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival every year from 1985 until illness prevented him from doing so in 2013. Visiting American musicians, knowing of his reputation as a world-class player, would seek him out and get to play alongside Mike, who was totally unfazed by their reputations and revelled in playing in top company.

Mike Burney faced his long battle with cancer with strength, optimism and his indefatigable sense of humour. Only a few hours before the end, when pianist Andy Peate passed him a drink of water, Mike commented “I’d settle for a half of Bathams”.

His fellow musicians showed their respect by holding two benefit shows for Mike, the first during the 2013 Birmingham International Jazz & Blues Festival which featured Roy Wood Rock & Roll Band, The Steve Gibbons Band and King Pleasure & the Biscuit Boys and the last only two weeks ago at Nothing But The Blues at The Asylum where 14 of Mike’s band mates performed.

Birmingham musicians feel that Mike’s passing marks the end of an era.

Categories: News

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11 replies

  1. rest in peace Mike Burney Love Merryl

  2. It is with great sadness that I have learnt of the loss of Mike. I would like to hear of his funeral details please I will certainly miss the dear man.

  3. Sadly missed great sax player and human.A pleasure to work with for such a short time in the 70’s. David Donovan. xxxx

  4. it’s with great sadness I hear of my fathers best friends passing. RIP Mick, you’ll be sadly missed, love to Michael, Oliver and Caroline. Funeral details would be much appreciated.

  5. Hi Nick, nice to hear from you.The funeral is on the18th December at 2:30pm at Sandwell Valley Crematorium.

    • Hi Caroline, Lovely to hear from you, so sorry its under such sad circumstances. I’ll try my very best to make the funeral. Are you on facebook or anything (wasn’t sure of your surname)?

    • Caroline! It’s Lisa Whelan (now Sheehan) from the YWCA Birmingham. I’ve been trying to trace you since I left. Thinking of you at this sad time, I lost my Dad in 2004. please get in touch. You were my best friend and I remember all the fun at Ronnie Scotts, Edwards No. 8 and just great times. Life is veery different now. I’m on Facebook – my sister-in-law is called Lisa Sheehan too, but you’ll recognise my profile pic. It would bw so great to hera from you. xxxxx

  6. So very sad to hear about our loss of the lovely Mike Burney, a true gentleman and always the most pleasant of natures. I will enjoy remembering the little bluebirds he payed on his flute. Love to his family and friends xxxxxxx

  7. I am so sorry to hear of Mike’s death. He was such a life-force, and filled with humour that was delivered so pan faced, in fact, only ever pan faced!

    Mike was my travelling partner for quite a number of years when we worked together and those days are so well remembered and cherished. I always felt that a book written about jazz musicians that included Mike, should have a whole chapter reserved for him.

    He had respect for other musicians regardless of their style of playing, weaknesses or strengths, and appreciated what each individual was offering and his was a very pleasant, life-loving nature. His phrase as he left a venue at the end of a gig, miles from home, is just a little thing that has stayed with me. “I’m going to rock on into the night!” I want to say so much, even relate stories, but all that is left to say now, is the wish that Mike Rests in Peace.

    Geoff Poulton


  1. Mike Burney – funeral details | thejazzbreakfast

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