Where can you find a professor of education, a renowned doctor, an international business consultant and a leading shopfitter? In a jazz and swing band, of course!
And the members of the 17-piece Neil Coley Big Band will be putting all their talents together when they perform at Velvet Music Rooms on Birmingham's 'golden mile' of Broad Street next month. The band, formed by keyboard player Neil in 1998, will be entertaining Velvet’s music lovers with their exciting mix of swing, big band music and jazz from the 1920s up to the present day on Sunday 11 June.
Among the impressive collection of musicians playing saxophones, trumpets, trombones, keyboard, drums, bass and guitar are numerous additional talents that go unnoticed on stage. They include Professor David Hawker, once director of education at the Welsh government but now playing saxophone with the Neil Coley Big Band.
Meanwhile, one of the band’s saxophonists is Robert Morley, a former Birmingham GP who served as executive secretary of the city’s Local Medical Committee for 16 years until 2020. He was also the founding chair of the Midlands Medical Partnership and a member of the BMA General Practitioners Committee from 2006 to 2021.
Another top sax player with the band is Justin Holcroft, who away from the stage heads up the sales team of a bespoke digital marketing agency. He previously ran a management consultancy in South Africa for 16 years, worked as a manager in Austria and Switzerland with Proctor & Gamble, and headed the Austrian business development team for Coca-Cola.
Justin also taught jazz saxophone at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Band leader Neil Coley himself still works as a shopfitter, which involves helping to transform stores around the country.
Dani Hadley, co-owner at Velvet, explained that it was the band's second session at the venue, and that they were back by popular demand. She said: “We’re so excited to have Neil Coley Big Band playing here.
“It’s thrilling to find out their background professions, as the band clearly has a lot of hidden talent within its ranks, apart from their excellent musicianship.” David Hawker, who still does consultancy work, has been with the band for five years. He played the clarinet when he was young before taking up the saxophone about 10 years ago and learning to play swing.
He said: “All the band members have got other work, many of them full-time, so we don’t want to put too much pressure on their jobs. So, we do about one gig a month on average, when we get everyone together, although we rehearse every week.”
As well as the Neil Coley Big Band, here are Velvet’s full music night listings for the rest of May and June:
Henry’s Blueshouse, on Tuesday nights
- 30 May, The Terraplanes
- 6 June, The Shufflepack
- 13 June, The Rigmarollers
- 20 June, Jamie Thyer & The Worried Men
- 27 June, The Shakedown Brothers
Bandit Fridays music:
- 26 May, The Delray Rockets
- 2 June, Unsung Heroes
- 9 June, The Heels
- 16 June, Vaseline
- 23 June, Big Jim & the Alabama Boogie Boys
- 30 June, Eastwood
Birmingham Rocks! on Sunday nights:
- 28 May, The Journeymen
- 4 June, The Washboard Resonators
- 11 June, Neil Coley Big Band
- 18 June, Chick Wren’s Rollin’ River Band
- 25 June, to be announced
Performances on Tuesdays and Sundays are free admission. Friday night admission charges are dependent on the band scheduled to play.