Tributes paid to a popular South Hams journalist, poet and musican

By Ginny Ware   |   Totnes Reporter   |
Monday 2nd August 2021 5:00 am
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Nicolas Cottis Journalist, poet and jazz musician ()

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A POPULAR South Hams journalist, poet and jazz musician, Nicolas Cottis, has died at the age of 87 following a severe stroke.

Born in Dorchester, Nic won a scholarship to University College London to read German and French and while there met Slade Art School student, Sally Aspden. The couple married at a Quaker ceremony in 1956.

After his National Service, Nic pursued a career in journalism, working first on the Bolton Evening News, and then on Fleet Street at the London desk of the Birmingham Post – attending Winston Churchill’s funeral and going on election tour with Harold Wilson.

In 1966, Nic, Sally and their three young children moved to Devon where Nic took up a job as editor of the community newspaper, at Dartington Hall, where he embraced Dartington’s alternative ways of working and living.

He created the Dartington Hall News, South Devon Scene – an innovative entertainment and arts guide for the area – as well as the monthly Dartington Voice, a serious-minded journal covering arts and rural issues.

Nic also reviewed plays at the Northcott Theatre for The Guardian and, with his great friend, the late Peter Kiddle, who was a drama teacher at Dartington, formed The Asses Jawbone, a group performing live songs and poetry at local venues and happenings.

Nic also developed a poetry journal, the book without a title, and ran a series of local poetry readings with readers including the writers Brian Patten and Stevie Smith.

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

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.

His great love and talent was for classical jazz and the stride piano.

He also learned the trombone, was pivotal in a number of local choirs and built a career playing piano at festivals, hotels and restaurants, including Tom Jaine’s former Tall Ships Restaurant in Dartmouth.

For many years Pennies from Devon was the house band at the Burgh Island Hotel.

Nic was also a popular piano teacher, inspiring pupils of all ages, through his sensitive, collegiate approach to music.

Daughter Tamsin said: “Nic stopped performing in 2018 and, having lived very happily in Harbertonford since the late 1990s, he spent his final eighteen months in Totnes at Ridge Court Residential Home.

“He took with him two pianos, plenty of books and his subscription to the Guardian.

“He received excellent care and made new friends.

“His active Quakerism, photographic memory, fluent German and his fierce intelligence allied with a gentle, inclusive manner, was undimmed.”

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

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