Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
Trumpeter and bandleader Mick Mulligan was a leading light of Britain's traditional jazz revival of the 1950s. A larger-than-life figure renowned for his irresistible charm and boozy insouciance, his antics often overshadowed his music, but also guaranteed that his celebrity far outlasted the more fleeting fame afforded the vast majority of his contemporaries. Born Peter Sidney Mulligan in Middlesex, England, on January 24, 1928, he discovered jazz while a student at Merchant Taylors' School, and in time took up the trumpet. After serving in the Rifle Brigade, Mulligan worked for his family's wine-importing company, but his desire for drink, coupled with his habit of inviting his many friends to the firm's upper-crust wine-tasting events, eventually forced his relatives to pay him an £8 weekly stipend just to stay away from the business. In response, he formed Mick Mulligan & the Magnolia Jazz Band in 1948. At open auditions he met singer George Melly, and though he never intended the lineup to feature a vocalist, he hired Melly anyway and for years after the two men were inseparable, closing pubs and deflowering maidens across the British Isles. Their legendary debauchery was later documented via Melly's 1965 memoir Owning Up, a volume that solidified Mulligan's reputation as the so-called "King of the Ravers." ("George owned up about everyone but himself," the trumpeter later muttered.) The good times rarely equated with good music at the outset of the Magnolia Jazz Band's career -- approached to manage the group, critic Jim Godbolt instead suggested they simply give up -- but their talent and fame quickly grew thanks to the additions of players including trombonist Roy Crimmins and clarinetists Ian Christie and Archie Semple, and by the early '50s, only Humphrey Lyttleton's band was a more popular exponent of the fast-growing trad-jazz boom. An impassioned if technically limited player, Mulligan was further undermined by his love of the bottle. Countless Magnolia Jazz Band gigs were derailed by drunkenness, and as his already limited finesse dissipated, the trumpeter responded by blowing harder and louder than before. The group recorded irregularly, mostly for small enthusiast labels, and after years of nonstop touring, Mulligan finally called the venture to a halt in 1953. Eighteen months later, he formed a new Magnolia Jazz Band. Despite more lucrative offers elsewhere, Melly signed on as well, and the revived group remained on the road until 1962, when the rise of rock & roll eroded consumer interest in early jazz to virtually nil. When Melly made plans for a solo career, Mulligan signed on as his manager, and while he continued playing the occasional club date into the late '70s, he largely abandoned music in favor of operating a Sussex-area grocery store, making his final public appearance at the 1987 wedding of son Guy. In the autumn of his life Mulligan joined a racing syndicate and owned several horses, including the prize-winning Forever My Lord; he died December 20, 2006, at the age of 78.