Nick Page obituary

Guitarist, composer and producer nicknamed Count Dubulah who was a co-founder of Transglobal Underground

Nick Page, who has died aged 60 of cancer, was a musician, producer, composer, bandleader and one of the most inventive, enthusiastic exponents of the British global fusion scene.

As co-founder in 1990 of the musical collective Transglobal Underground, blending live and programmed music with influences from Asia, Jamaica, and Africa, Nick set out, he said, “to attract an audience who wanted to dance – but not to techno”.

Also known as Count Dubulah, or simply Dubulah, he produced or performed with an array of experimental bands, mixing contemporary styles with influences from around the world. He told me he had worked on “about 250 albums and singles”, and that his aim was to “constantly surprise”. In 2008 he launched Dub Colossus, a bravely original band that mixed Ethiopian styles (and musicians) with dub and reggae. Further projects involved reworking and updating music from the Middle East and Greece.

Several of his albums were released by Real World Records, co-founded by Peter Gabriel, who described him as “a great artist and a great man who carved a unique and well-deserved spot for himself in the British music scene”.

Nick enjoyed bringing people together, and built up a core group of loyal friends who worked with him on his diverse projects. One was Mykaell Riley, a founder member of the British reggae band Steel Pulse and now a music academic and curator, who first played with him in the early 1980s and described him as “an experimentalist. He lived for the music. If there was a project that allowed him to express himself, he would jump at it. If there wasn’t, he would create a project, and then try to rope you into it. I never said no.”

It was a process that started while he was still at Woodberry Down comprehensive, north London. Nick had been born in Marburg, north of Frankfurt, to a Greek mother, Pelagia Oikonomou, an author who publishes under the name Billi Rosen, and David Page, a British painter and writer, who at the time was lecturing at the university there. After their divorce, Nick lived with his father and as a teenager was already a music-obsessed guitarist. He played in several school groups, including a reggae band in which he was the only white member.

Nick Page, left, performing with Dub Colossus at Womad in 2011.
Nick Page, left, performing with Dub Colossus at Womad in 2011. Photograph: C Brandon/Redferns

In 1976 Nick went on to study music at the Maria Grey College, west London, but quit, he said “before being thrown out”. After leaving home he became a motorcycle messenger, living in squats around north and east London. He began playing in a series of bands, first with Ahetas Jimi, his Greek cousin, and the violinist Simon Walker. Then came Bumble & the Beez, in which Nick and Simon were joined by Riley and the bass guitar virtuoso Winston Blissett. As a band of black or mixed-heritage musicians, their songs were often political and concerned with issues of identity, or, said Riley, “how we fitted into the UK”.

There were other bands. However, it was only when he met Tim Whelan and Hamilton Lee and formed Transglobal Underground that Nick decided: “I had found a home with like-minded people.”

Their original aim was to “record just one single of music we liked, and not to play live – but we failed”. Temple Head, released in 1991, became a cult hit with its unlikely blend of sampled Polynesian chanting, dance styles and Indian percussion, and they were encouraged to make an album. Joined by the Egyptian-Belgian singer and belly dancer Natacha Atlas, they became even more original, with some of the band hiding their identities – this is when Nick, who now played bass, wearing a mask on stage, became Count Dubulah.

Temple Head, came after their signing to Aki Nawaz’s Nation Records, which played a key role in the Asian underground scene. Nick became a session player for the label, working with Nawaz’s Fun-Da-Mental and other bands. He also took an increasing interest in production. Whelan said that “once in the studio he would camp in there, not go out, and pester the engineers for ideas”.

He stayed with Transglobal until 1997, leaving, Whelan said, “because the touring schedule didn’t agree with him – he liked making records”. He joined Neil Sparkes in Temple of Sound, a duo who mixed dub, dance and global styles, and produced albums by the Mexican band Los de Abajo and the Pakistani group Rizwan-Muazzam Qawwali.

Invited to Ethiopia in 2006 by the musician Dan Harper, then working there for VSO, Nick met up with local musicians, ranging from the veteran saxophonist Feleke Hailu to a brilliant young jazz pianist, Samuel Yirga, and female singers including Sintayehu “Mimi” Zenebe, hailed as “Ethiopia’s Edith Piaf”.

They played and recorded together in Addis Adaba and some of the musicians then travelled to the Real World studios for additional sessions alongside British musicians. The result was Dub Colossus. Their debut album, A Town Called Addis (2008), was a powerful blend of African, Jamaican and jazz styles that would prove equally successful when they performed live.

Dub Colossus performing Guragigna at Womad New Zealand in 2010

Five more full ones and five mini-albums followed, with the emphasis switching from Africa to dub when it became too expensive to fly in musicians from the continent. They built up a global following, and in 2012 and 2015 were invited to play at the Jaipur literature festival in India by the writer and historian William Dalrymple.

Other projects ran alongside Dub Colossus. The classically trained bass player Bernard O’Neill, who had worked on several of Nick’s projects, had been collaborating with the Syrian qanun player Abdullah Chhadeh. The trio decided to make a Middle Eastern-influenced album and travelled to Damascus to record with local musicians for what would become Syriana, released in 2010, before the civil war.

Nick had long wanted to explore his Greek roots alongside Jimi, and in 2015 they finally completed Xáos,, their band’s eponymous album, in which Jimi’s microtonally tuned keyboards and programming, and Nick’s guitars were matched against traditional Greek fiddles or bagpipes to create an epic, original fusion.

Nick was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, but refused to allow treatment to slow him down. The following year he played at Womad with Xáos and toured with the early lineup of Transglobal Underground for the first time in 20 years.

In May 2019 there was an emotional concert at Islington Assembly Hall in London, at which Transglobal appeared alongside Dub Colossus for the first and only time, with Nick playing in both bands. He also played on the latest Transglobal album, Walls Have Ears, released last year.

In lockdown, he continued working on new projects involving Atlas, Riley, O’Neill and Xáos, and added guitar to complete recordings made by Jimi and the cellist Matthew Barley back in 2005.

In 2013 he had moved to Malaga, Spain, to live with his girlfriend, Cristina Moran, whom he married in January this year. She survives him, as do his parents, and his sister, Boo.

• Nicholas Plato Page, musician, born 6 November 1960; died 11 May 2021


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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