From Russell Grooms – friend and musician.


'It's the hardest thing in the world to put into words my thoughts and feelings for Brian, not because there's nothing to say but because I really don't know where to start. From being a musical influence, a comical genius and to being the hip Dad I never had, when I cast my mind back there are so many moments that I could highlight, from gate-crashing a party in the Fens after a particularly successful spot at the Cambridge Beer Festival to just sitting in the pub on a Sunday afternoon shooting the breeze. The fact that stands out the most is that I never really saw Brian down or upset. Very occasionally I would see a flash in his eyes that said, 'things could be better at the moment' but it was almost instantly replaced by a look that said 'but then again, they could be a lot worse' That was Brian, smiling as the shit came down.

In the last couple of years, I was able to offer Brian a place to sleep when he came to Whitstable and I'm so glad that I was able to do this by way of repaying the favour for all the times he found me passed out in various places around his house. Even in his 50's he was the embodiment of the lifestyle we've all craved from time to time, a true individual looking for his true path through life, regardless of the sacrifice to his own creature comforts.

I was brought up to believe that we are all put here to fulfil a role and when we have fulfilled it, we are called somewhere else, somewhere where we are needed

more. With this in mind, I find comfort in believing that Brizy learnt his lessons quicker than most and in doing so fulfilled all that he was sent to do, on this earth at least. If one thought remains it was when I spoke to Brian after breaking up with a long term girlfriend. He turned to me and said 'No matter what you do, don't sit there and cry into your beer. It's a waste of good beer'.

They say that you judge a man by the company he keeps. I'm sure that there's no doubt that we are all lesser people for having lost our dear friend Brizy.

The Telegraph News - (Filed: 05/04/2005)


Brian Cookman, who has died aged 58, was one of the country's leading magazine designers, a pioneer of desktop publishing and also helped to launch Rolling Stone in Britain; among his other achievements, he taught tai chi at home and overseas, revived an ancient fertility tradition and had a career as a professional musician during which he had a hit record in Austria.

Born in India on November 22 1946, Brian Christopher Cookman lived with his parents in Delhi until he was seven; when the family moved back to Harrow, Middlesex, Brian showed his unconventional side early by heading off to his secondary modern school each morning toting a rolled-up umbrella.

By the age of 14 he was singing and playing guitar in a local restaurant. After studying graphic design at Harrow School of Art, he went to work for EMI, where he became promotions manager. He played gigs at folk clubs in the evenings and started his own band, Jug Trust, which made a couple of singles. His music connections and design skills helped him get a job as advertisement director on Rolling Stone magazine when it was launched in Britain in 1970.

The Jug Trust metamorphosed into Bronx Cheer "because we wanted groupies and vast sums of money from the pop world, the folk scene being rather disappointing in this regard", Cookman said in 1981. Neither of these benefits materialised, but the band made one LP, Bronx Cheer Greatest Hits Volume III, and a couple of EPs, with Hold on to Me released as a single.

Cookman decided to turn professional as a musician with the Brian Cookman Band, which included the former Chicken Shack guitarist Rob Hull. He toured with Gallagher and Lyle, becoming friends with other singer-songwriters such as Ralph McTell, Alexis Korner and Mike Harding. But management problems caused him to leave the music scene, disillusioned.

Cookman then started playing in the folk clubs again, and brought out his only solo album, Grinnin' (1981). For several years afterwards, he compered at the Cambridge Folk Festival, where he is still recalled as the only compere to win a standing ovation. He continued to work in graphic design, and wrote two books: Desktop Design: Getting the Professional Look (1990) and Essential Design (1997), both of which he updated three times.

For a time Cookman was group art director for Emap, but he left to run his own design business, producing work for a large range of publications, including the Financial Times. Like many creative people, he was not at his best with the business side; wrapped-up in the magazine design work, he would often forget to invoice the clients.

For the past 10 years, he had worked as head of design at PMA Training, teaching desktop publishing skills to hundreds of people and re-designing dozens of magazines, from What Car? to the British Dental Journal. He had a first-rate eye for design and a wonderfully relaxed teaching style.

Cookman was the only NHS-registered tai chi practitioner, with schools in Kent and Cambridgeshire, and was chairman of the Tai Chi and Chi Kung Forum for Health. He started learning it in 1981, and recently travelled to South Africa to teach its relaxation techniques to murderers and other violent criminals. "It was pretty scary," he said. "At first, they wouldn't talk but by the end, they were working together and shaking hands with each other."

Cookman also revived the old fertility dance of Plough Monday and the Molly Men in the 1970s. This ritual dated back hundreds of years, and was intended to ensure that crops in the Fenland would grow well.

It was traditionally performed by ploughboys; the black-faced dancers, carrying brooms and wearing tattered coats bestrewn with ribbons, would dance at farms and in every village.

The tradition had died out in the 1930s, but Cookman found two old Molly Men, learned the dances from them in 1977, and every year, on Plough Monday, he performed the dances in Cambridgeshire villages. His sons now carry on the tradition.

Brian Cookman, whose funeral took place in a brewery, died of cancer on February 18. He was separated from his wife Lesley, with whom he two sons and two daughters, all of whom are musicians. He is also survived by his girlfriend, Diana.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005

Delta Falshback


Brian and Leo Cookman – Delta Flashback- were booked last November to appear at Brook’s in April.  Little did we know, as Brian thumbed through his diary, and wrote in Friday 1 April, that the gig was going to be a tribute to his life as a musician and father of four prodigiously talented musicians; Myles, Louise, Philippa and Leo.  Leo, (who took over from Lee Wilson, Brian’s original duo partner), was also delighted he didn’t have to lug his keyboards in Dad’s car all the way from Whitstable, as Brook’s now had its own piano, paid for by the weekly raffle.

Delta Flashback – a Tribute on Friday 1 April became the day when friends and family gathered together at Brook’s, (which Brian co-founded), to re-affirm their love and affection for a man whose magic touch was felt by all those who met him - however briefly.

The evening had a buzz and energy which could only have been generated by Brian himself.  Friend and colleague Brendan Martin who was instrumental in introducing Brian to Tony and myself when we decided to start a blues venue at the Brook Green Hotel, became the MC for the evening.  He and Brian shared a similar sense of humour, and Brendan’s poignant and humorous quips and asides conjured up Brian’s inimitable talent in gathering up the audience for an evening of fun and music.

Myles, Leo, Mike Towner and Philippa sang Brian’s songs with sensitivity and a melodic power which was both moving and exhilarating. They were joined by Simon Prager and Kevin Stenson, Vicki Hume, Rob Mason and Dave Peabody, (who dared to play a few verses of 'Shave 'em Dry), who paid their own musical tributes.  John Challis ended the proceedings with a suitably inebriated solo spot. Wizz Jones sent his apologies, as did numerous other musician friends who were unable to be there, but who will be paying their own tributes throughout the year.

Brian was helped and supported in his last weeks by the wonderful nurses from the Macmillan Cancer Relief charity, and the generosity of everyone who bought handfuls of raffle tickets raised nearly £160 for them.  The collection will continue this season, so we hope to raise more funds for a worthwhile cause that gives so much comfort to sufferers and their families.

Ann

Email from Leslie Pitteway


Subject: Brian Cookman

I will keep this short and succinct - the exact opposite of Brian.

After months of pressure from younger people, I finally succumbed to the Siren power of Facebook. I think it says it all, when I say, that after not speaking to him for decades, the very first person I tried to find on Facebook was Mister Cookman. 

I am devastated to learn of his death.

He was the tallest usher at my wedding - back before the invention of fire - for the simple reason that it was impossible to be in his shadow and not feel grateful to be alive. 

The sun will shine a little less bright in my world today.

Leslie T Pitteway

BRIAN COOKMAN – RENAISSANCE MAN


I can’t remember the first time Brain Cookman came into my life. Somehow I woke up one morning and he was there. But I treasured his companionship, his humour and – oh, all right then, his musicianship.

I had the great honour to represent Brian through my management company for some years. By then he had been through the music mill once, come out the other side a bit bruised but wiser and I think the fact that I never had contracts with any of my artists – just a handshake on trust – was one of the reasons he let me ‘pimp’ for him.

One of Brain’s great strengths, as a natural teacher and communicator, was his innate ability to read an audience and, without them ever realising it, guiding them down his chosen path.

There was many a time I was cast in the role of producer or stage manager for some kind of festival or event and, without fail, it would be the Mighty Cookman on whom I would call on as MC. Not only would he always win an audience over but I knew he was good for my personal therapy. As the event unfolded and my stress level would inevitably rise, I knew I could rely on a large grin and a gentle, but humorous word to level me out and remind me of why we were all there. He always put the audience first and was one of the most natural entertainers I ever worked with.

I was always full of admiration of someone who could extend his talent to helping create one of the seminal rock magazines of all time in Rolling Stone, while championing the tradition of fertility dances in the Fens.

Probably as close to a Renaissance Man as most of us will meet.

Molly on Dear Boy, Molly on.

Kevin Wyatt-Lown

COLLEAGUE AND FRIEND WRITES


Although he loved the blues music of the Mississippi delta and although he was born, (I seem to recall him telling me) in India, Brian Cookman - Brizy to his friends - was an Englishman to his boots.

He enjoyed a pint of English bitter and in one of his last emails, he told friends of how was cheering on the England cricket team on his newly-acquired satellite TV.

It was typical of the Brian many of us knew to rejoice in the simple pleasures. He squeezed maximum enjoyment out of a meal with friends, a beer with a mate or just the beauty of nature. I was lucky enough to be a mate with whom he partook of the occasional beer. Our paths first crossed in 1997 through our day-jobs: training journalists. I doubt I'll ever look at another pecan Danish without thinking of Brian - wearing one of his many bright but tasteful Hawaiian shirts - arriving at the training rooms with a freshly-bought pastry for his breakfast.  We would enjoy some merry banter over our first coffees of the day. 

This positive energy that Brian exuded touched all who came into contact with him. He was someone who enhanced other people's lives.  Certainly those who were lucky enough to catch Brian's act at Brooks Blues Bar will know what I mean.

As Delta Flashback, Brian and son Leo were the act that opened BBB in May 2003. Since then they played many times, often over-running closing time because the audience wouldn't let them go. Why would they? Brian and Leo were giving us all such a wonderful time.

What many people who met Brian in the latter years of his life maybe didn't know was that he was a established song-writer as well as a fine musician. He packed a lot into the all too short 58 years he spent on this planet.

In 1962, he formed the Jug Trust, a trio renowned as much for their humour as their interpretations of rarely heard jug band music from outfits like the Memphis Jug Band, Clifford Hayes Jug Band, King David's Jug Band and Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers.

Brian soon established his harp-on-a-rack and authentic driving guitar style aping the great Jesse Fuller.

The Jug Trust toured the UK and Europe where their music was much in demand. Brian's song-writing was developing at the time and many of his songs were recorded by other artists as well as Jug Trust. The Trust added keyboards, bass and drums to their line-up and changed their name to Bronx Cheer.

Sharing the same management as Chicken Shack, Mungo Jerry and Savoy Brown, more years on the road followed, with two storming albums and five singles.

The band evolved again into The Brian Cookman Band which toured with such luminaries as Gallagher and Lyle. However, bands were becoming too expensive to maintain, so he began all over again, this time as a solo artist.

It was in that capacity that Brian had chart success: he went to No 1 in eastern European with a song called Barrel House Woman. (He played it on the opening night of BBB.) He told me once how this success behind the then Iron Curtain had made him a zloty millionaire...but that he never saw any of the money because he couldn't get it out of the country!

As a solo artist, Brian released three albums - sadly none of which are still available and that have been collectors' items for some time. No doubt they'll be even more sought after now.

Brian also had a career as a children's television presenter. Memory fails me as to the name of the programme. But I won't forget the look on his face when a group of trainee journalists met Brian and burst into the theme tune of the series.

What was he doing with trainee journalists? You may well ask. It was just another string to his bow. As well his musical career, Brian had a day-job as a magazine designer. He was, at one point, art director for Rolling Stone magazine in Europe. He was responsible for the look of many magazines. He also designed the BBB logo.

It was this experience that led him to become a trainer in desktop publishing and its associated computer programs. He even wrote several books on the topic.

And then there was his Tai Chi. He had practiced this for years - giving up a day a week to work as one of the first, not the first, NHS Tai Chi instructor.  Before he left us, Brian had been working with Ann and Tony of BBB on Tai Chi television series.

But of all his achievements, without doubt his greatest were Miles, Leo, Phillipa and Louise - his children. To them, his wife Lesley and partner Diane we offer our sympathy. And to the universe, we say thanks for Brian and the privilege of knowing him.

Someone once wrote of him: "Two metres of sartorial splendour, laconic wit and unflappable charm - that's Brian." That's how I'd like to remember him. Or as an Englishman with a big talent and even bigger heart. Or maybe even the old bugger who would never give me a bite of his pecan Danish!

Brendan Martin

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