Nicolas Cottis obituary

·2-min read

My father, Nic Cottis, who has died aged 87, was a journalist, poet and jazz musician who lived most of his life in Devon, where he taught and played music and documented the county’s arts scene.

Born in Dorchester, to Vera (nee Elliott), a dairymaid, and Arthur Cottis, who worked at Eldridge Pope brewery, Nic attended Bournemouth grammar school. In 1951, he won a scholarship to University College London to study German and French. In London met Sally Aspden, a student at the Slade School of Art, and they were married at a Quaker ceremony in 1956. Through Sally’s family he became interested in the Quaker movement.

After his national service, Nic pursued a career in journalism, starting in 1957 on the Bolton Evening News, and then in Fleet Street on the London desk of the Birmingham Post, for which he went on election tour with Harold Wilson in 1964 and covered Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965.

In 1966, Nic, Sally and their three children, moved to Devon, where Nic took up a job as in-house journalist for Dartington Hall centre for creative arts.

Nic embraced Dartington’s alternative ways of working and living. He created the weekly in-house Dartington Hall News and launched a Devon arts and listings weekly guide, South Devon Scene. He also created the monthly Dartington Voice, a serious-minded journal covering arts and rural issues.

He reviewed plays at the Northcott Theatre, Exeter, for the Guardian and formed The Ass’s Jawbone, a group performing live songs and poetry. He developed a poetry journal, called the book without a title, and ran poetry readings, with readers including the writers Brian Patten and Stevie Smith.

Home was a rambling, chaotic farmhouse on the edge of Dartmoor, where the barns of the farmyard were opened up to artists, musicians and craftspeople seeking studio space.

In the 1970s, Nic joined the South Devon Jazz Workshop and a number of musical collaborations followed – most notably with the bands Dr Jazz and Pennies from Devon.

In 1980 he and Sally separated and Nic left his job to take a music degree at Dartington College of Arts (now part of Falmouth University). His great love was for classical jazz and the stride piano. He learned the trombone, was pivotal in a number of local choirs and built a career playing at festivals, hotels and restaurants – including the Burgh Island Hotel. He was also popular as a piano teacher.

Nic stopped performing in 2018 and moved into residential care in Totnes, taking with him two pianos. He continued with his interest in Quakerism and read in German. His fierce intelligence remained undimmed, always allied with a gentle and inclusive manner.

He is survived by Sally, his children, Martin, Ben and me, five granddaughters and a great-granddaughter.

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