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Smooth FusioneerCopyright © 1999The Scotsman, 1998
Webb, NicholasNicholas Webb was the founder and principal architect of the British instrumental group, Acoustic Alchemy. He formed the band
in the early 1980s as a duo devoted to the fusion of pop, jazz and classical music influences, and they went on to build a highly successful artistic and commercial profile in the USA.
Webb was born in 1954, and had a background in theatre, initially as a child performer (he worked on stage with Tony Hancock, amongst others). He studied drama at a college in London for a time, but gradually switched his attention to music. He both performed as a folk singer and ran a local folk club as a teenager in Berkhamstead, and his increasing interest in jazz and instrumental music eventually led him to enroll in the jazz course at Leeds College of Music, then still in its formative stages.
He attempted to make inroads on the pop world as a singer and a songwriter for a time before launching the first version of Acoustic Alchemy with his original partner, Simon James, who specialised in classical guitar. Their first, self-released album made little impact on British audiences, but when James left the group, Webb and his new partner, jazz guitarist Greg Carmichael, decided to try their luck in America.
After much persistant badgering of the company on Webb's part, Acoustic Alchemy were signed by MCA in 1987, but it was their subsequent association with the jazz-fusion label GRP which finally brought them success. The band's breezy, highly accessible jazz-tinged instrumental music chimed perfectly with the demands of the huge adult contemporary audience in the USA (and the widespread and influential radio format which supports it) for a sophisticated easy-listening style.
Their albums, although largely ignored in the UK, sold in large quantities in America, and especially in California, where they enjoyed a particularly large following (no other British jazz group has rivalled their figures). They were twice nominated for Grammy awards, and also won a significant audience in Japan, and in parts of Europe. At the time of his death, Webb was in the process of completing work on the group's tenth album.
He died of the effects of pancreatic cancer, and was survived by his wife, Kay, and daughter, Alexandra.