Bobby Wellins was born Robert Coull Wellins in Glasgow on 24th January 1936. His father, of Russian and Polish extraction, was a saxophonist and clarinet player; his mother a singer. Together they had appeared in the Sammy Miller Show Band and later performed as a duo.
During the war Bobby was evacuated to stay with relatives at Ferryden, Montrose on Scotland’s east coast a locality which still holds a place in Bobby’s affections.
Bobby’s father started him on lessons on alto saxophone at 12 years of age, teaching him not only music notation and saxophone technique but introducing him to harmony, teaching him chord progressions at the piano.
Bobby then moved south, taking a three year course at Chichester College of Further Education studying keyboard harmony. He then spent a spell at the RAF School of Music in Uxbridge, studying clarinet.
On leaving the RAF, Bobby entered the world of the Palais bands, including spells with Malcolm Mitchell and Vic Lewis. His tenure with Lewis included a trip on the liners to New York where Bobby, emerging one afternoon from his hotel recognised a passing Lester Young. Bobby picked up enough courage to approach his idol and spent the next two hours in a bar introducing his fellow band members to the great man.
Bobby’s recording career started in 1956 when he joined the legendary Buddy Featherstonhaugh’s piano-less quintet, the line-up of which featured Kenny Wheeler on trumpet. Bobby was by now playing tenor saxophone, the instrument to which he has devoted himself to the present day.
In the early 1960’s Bobby was recruited by Tony Crombie for his latest band, in the ranks of which Bobby began a long association with the great British pianist Stan Tracey.
Along with Bobby and Stan, drummer Laurie Morgan was a member of a loose co-operative of musicians and poets, including Michael Horowitz, who presented jazz and poetry concerts under the title of New Departures. In a bedsit with Laurie Morgan and using an old tape recorder, Bobby began work on his famous Culloden Moor Suite which culminated in its performance by the New Departures Quartet and a 14 piece orchestra. That quartet recorded an album of the same name in 1964.
This was followed in 1965 by the Stan Tracey Quartet’s recording of an suite of pieces inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. In a 1998 poll by Jazz UK magazine, readers chose this record as their all-time favourite British jazz album.
It is testament to the musical creativity of Bobby and Stan and the strength of the latter’s compositions that despite the thousands of records made in the intervening 33 years, this record was chosen.