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Mick Hamer reflections on the piano
On reflection: working on a number before a gig

In the days before Britain had any formal jazz education aspiring musicians had to cobble together suitable courses from what was available. So Mick Hamer studied classical music at the Guildhall School of Music in London coupling this with two years of masterclasses from Michael Garrick, who was then one of the country’s foremost jazz pianists. But perhaps the most long-lasting influence on his playing was the great American pianist Aaron Bridgers, who was in turn a protege of Art Tatum. He first met Aaron at a Paris jazz club called The Living Room, off the Champs Elysées, in July 1965. Aaron became a good friend and his mentor.

In a varied musical career he has worked in sprauncy West-End night clubs, concert halls, recording studios, restaurants, pit bands in theatres, plush hotels and East-End pubs as well as jazz clubs. This was at times a gruelling apprenticeship. A fairly typical week could consist of six nights in a West-End club, working from 9 pm to 3 am. On top of that there would often be another two gigs on the day off—a Sunday lunchtime at an East-End pub and maybe a jazz club in the evening.

The name checks are almost endless. There was a tour of East Africa with the American cabaret artist Lisa Carroll, who was understudy to Carol Channing in the original Broadway run of Hello Dolly. He also played for Eartha Kitt.

The cartoonist David Austin's view in 1986
The cartoonist David Austin’s view in 1986

This was followed by several tours of the northern club circuit as an accompanist to Julie Rogers before spending six months on the road with Sid Phillips. Then there was a summer season with Arthur Askey, a spell with Bob Monkhouse and a series of variety shows with Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. In among all this rather well-paid commercial work there was still time for jazz. There were airings on the BBC and appearances at Ronnie Scott’s Old Place and local jazz clubs throughout the home counties. He worked with many of the leading modernists of the day, including trumpeter Dick Pearce, John Williams, the saxophonist, and the singer Maggie Nicols.

For a period in the 1980s Mick was jazz critic of The Listener, the BBC’s cultural magazine. He also contributed record reviews for the BBC’s Radio 3 show Kaleidoscope.

In 1985 he started playing in the brasserie at the trendy Soho restaurant L’Escargot accompanying the singer Kay Clark. The gig lasted for six years. One night the film director Mike Figgis was among the diners. He liked the music and asked Mick if he would play the piano in his next film. The result was a brief solo spot in the 1988 cult thriller Stormy Monday.

Mick Hamer at the Gargoyle Club
Early days: an after-hours session at the bohemian Gargoyle Club in London’s West End.

The jazz gigs continued. As part of the rhythm section at a long-running jazz gig in Sunbury-on-Thames Mick backed some of the leading figures in British jazz. Among the regular guests were Dick Charlesworth, Mike Pointon, Lew Hooper, Mike Piggott, Al Nicholls, one of the best swing tenor sax players in the country, and Karen Sharp.

A move to Brighton in 2003 brought regular gigs at the Havana Restaurant in Brighton as well as a number of ad hoc gigs at the major seafront hotels such as the Grand, the Metropole and the Old Ship. A long running residency at the Cavendish Hotel in Eastbourne, with the Terry Giles Sextet, began in 2005. Mick also makes regular appearances at The Paris House, the city’s premier afternoon jazz spot, in the company of musicians like Al Nicholls, Nils Solberg and Dave Quincy.