Don Weller began learning clarinet at the age of 14, and was formally educated in classical music. He played clarinet in Dixieland bands around the Croydon area, until he switched to tenor saxophone.
Weller's jazz-fusion band Major Surgery was well known for its Brigadoon-like six-year stint at Croydon’s Dog and Bull pub in the early 70s. The band's only album--and Weller's first--The First Cut, was released by Last Music's Malcolm Mills in 1977. It featured Weller's own compositions, and enjoyed wide critical acclaim.
Mills describes his early experiences of Major Surgery's live performances: " It’s probably 1972... the 60s are done but The Dog and Bull is still the hang for Croydon’s hipsters. Unlike the nearby Star Hotel, this tiny, ancient Young’s pub in the heart of Surrey Street market, doesn’t book bands. It’s a typical smoke-filled, rowdy, market boozer, jammed tight with traders, art students, jazzers, drop-outs, drunks and hustlers. There’s a record player behind the bar and astonishingly, the album vis “The Inner Mounting Flame”. By popular demand, the guv’nor – Norman – regularly allows the miniscule space next to the stinking Gents toilet to be given up one night a week to Major Surgery. Squashed at the back with the open window behind him is Tony Marsh with his crazy assortment of old drums and cymbals. Sitting next to him on his right is bass player Bruce Collcutt with guitarist Jimmy Roche standing on his left. In front of them all is the barrel- chested, bearded, Tenor Titan, Don Weller and they are collectively raising the roof with their trademark racket. There is not an inch of space. Ale is swilled, fags are smoked and the jug is passed round for the guys. It’s very, very special and we’re all diggin’ it like mad..."
Weller went on to record nine more albums with various groups in his long and storied career; and along the way, contributed to recordings and performances of other luminaries, including those of David Bowie, Harry Beckett, Art Themen, Tucky Buzzard, Cat Stevens, Gil Evans, and Alex Harvey.
In the Spring of 2020, Mills stumbled upon some rare Major Surgery material in his archives, "After I recorded Major Surgery as a quartet for The First Cut, they regularly invited keyboard player Pete Jacobsen to join them for live performances. Although I never managed to get this exciting new format of the band into the studio, I did have a cassette recorder on hand when the opportunity to capture the quintet presented itself a couple of time sin 1978."
"In early May 2020, I dug out the cassettes from my archive and engaged Baz Farmer to recover the contents. On 29th May, Baz sent me the files that he and a couple of colleagues had restored, and it was indeed TREASURE. I was blown away with what I heard. Played alongside The First Cut, it was almost the entire Major Surgery repertoire...and the band were clearly at their peak for these live shows.”
Weller passed away the very next day.
Rare Live Performances 1978 serves as a further testament to the genius of Don Weller.
Don Weller, In A Sentimental Mood, Camden Jazz Festival, The Roundhouse, 1998.