Thursday, 9 June 2011

Martin Hollis - British bluegrass pioneer

The Down County Boys in the 1960s: (l-r) Mike Rodgers, Martin Hollis, Ken Harris, Mac (bass), Andy Smith (photo from DCB website)

Kevin Lynch reports:


On a January night in 1965 a new group - Ken Harris, Martin Hollis, Mike Rodgers, and Andy Smith - first stepped on a stage at a small club in Coventry, England. They surely could not have imagined that for over forty years, the band would be the preeminent British bluegrass band. A band that took their music all over the country, and the band that would be the #1 choice for a whole generation of BBC radio producers who needed bluegrass performers for their program. The Down County Boys were the first professional and successful bluegrass group in the UK. They are as much a part of bluegrass music history as the first-generation pioneers in America.

Sadly, founding member Martin Hollis passed away late last night, June 8, 2011. He and his wife Terry (formerly from Ireland) have lived for over two decades in Connecticut, USA. Martin had retired himself from performing music in public. However in recent years he enjoyed some quality time on the stage, playing the music he loved so much.

Besides our musical connection, Martin and I both came from a town called Coventry - he in England, and myself in Connecticut. I had the pleasure of playing music with Martin several times in recent years. Since coming out of his 'retirement' from music he had been a regular participant at a local gig in the capitol city of Hartford. Martin 'blamed' me for getting him back into the music scene.

Shortly before I relocated to the Netherlands, I convinced Martin to fill-in for the lead singer of a band I was playing in at the time. Our lead singer became too ill to take part in our festival shows that day. Martin & Terry were sitting in the audience and that is when I begged him to join us for the two sets. It was one of the best times in my music life.

Martin was a natural performer. Actually his stage presence never seemed like a 'performance' - but rather a few moments in his living room as he picked and sang and shared stories.

I wish we had known that we had this pioneer in our midst for some 20+ years in Connecticut. Knowing Martin was an education of sorts for me. He was a humble and talented man. If his wife had never told us about his part in music history, I doubt he ever would have told us.

Perhaps many of you are not familiar with the Down County Boys, much less any knowledge of Martin Hollis. Bluegrass and country music fans would do well to learn something of this part of our music's history. I urge you all to become familiar with Martin Hollis and his fellow British bluegrass music pioneers. A fine history can be found at this link: Down County Boys History

Today I will raise a pint to the memory of a fine man of music, family, and life; and for this loss to our small bluegrass world.

Update 13 June: A further account by Mike Rodgers can be found on UKBluegrass.com.