As the Colchester Jazz Club recently celebrated 60 years in operation, its chairman Dave Bailey speaks about realities of financial challenges for a venue hosting traditional jazz today. Committed to keeping the genre relevant, strategies are discussed to appeal to a wider and younger audience, yet without jeopardising existing interest from people who don't necessarily see ‘modern’ and ‘trad’ as easy mixers.
|26th October 2016
|National Jazz Archive
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Interviewer: I’ve got with me Dave Bailey from the Colchester Jazz Club, among other things, who I first met about eight months ago or something like that, when I popped up the club. Let’s start with you first: what got you into music?
Dave: I had an elder brother who was fifteen years older than me and Chris Barber was his idol, and I’m afraid he sort of brainwashed me into the Chris Barber era. I carried on and first went to Colchester Jazz Club when I was 20 and continued on a few sessions there at the Colchester Albert Hotel. Then obviously married, family, and the last ten years, got back into it and joined the club and heavily involved now.
Interviewer: So, the club itself was started in ‘fifty-six.
Dave: Nineteen-fifty-six, October.
Interviewer: If you were going there when you were 20, when would that have been?
Interviewer: ‘Sixty-two… The jazz revival, then, was pretty much at its peak, just about to collide with The Beatles. How did you feel about that?
Dave: Yes, I was just pre-Beatles. But still the trad jazz is the music, as far as I’m concerned.
Interviewer: You were saying about Chris Barber, of course, Chris Barber used to have the skiffle.
Dave: That’s right. He had Lonnie Donegan as a banjo player in his band. I understand – well, I haven’t seen that act – but when Lonnie was still alive, they still did a little skiffle number when he put on a concert up to a few years ago. [00:02:07]
Interviewer: I was just thinking that you know, The Beatles, of course, started out as a skiffle band.
Dave: That’s right.
Interviewer: Did you see The Beatles as a continuation?
Dave: Yes. In Colchester, the skiffle era, they used to have Jim Dale skiffle competitions where local skiffle groups used to play at the old hippodrome in Colchester and that. A lot of the famous names, like Wally Whyton and The Vipers, them sort of guys were pre-trad jazz, you know the skiffle era. There was a lot of skiffle going on. I’ve seen Lonnie Donegan at the local theatre on a Sunday evening and all the trad jazz bands like Alex Welsh, Terry Lightfoot - all of those guys - Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball. So, it still always falls back to the trad.
Interviewer: So what sort of venues were there around here in those days?
Dave: Well, the hippodrome used to have a few jazz gigs. I’ve seen Chris Barber at the local hippodrome in the high street. And mainly what is now called the Odeon (and its closed down), was the Regal, it was called, and every Sunday night – well, not every Sunday but most Sunday nights – they’d have live music like big bands or trad bands or skiffle groups. So we used to go there on a Sunday evening.
Interviewer: So, in a sense you’ve got all these live venues and also got the clubs sort of starting up as well.
Dave: That’s right. Yes, Tony, who’s our live president of the club, he would tell you that on a Sunday evening, when they were teenagers, there was not much going on so they said ‘well, you know, let’s form a club of our own’ and a few of them could play instruments and they just formed in a local pub in Colchester in a top room somewhere, a trio, or a quartet and away they went. And I’ve only learnt over this last…eight years ago, our old member, who’s now since died, George Allen - he was the key man of Colchester Jazz Club - suddenly I was told by him that a guy called John Adderman was a pianist and he was one of those members who started Colchester Jazz Club and it turns out I was taught by him at the local secondary modern school. He was our art teacher and I didn’t know that until about eight years ago. So, another interesting point that comes back to the jazz. [00:04:59]
Interviewer: One of the things I think about sort of traditional jazz in particular is, with a few exceptions, it tends to be semi-professional/amateur. Not very many people have managed to make a living out of it. Perhaps that’s one of its charms, in a sense.
Dave: Yes, like Garth, who’s playing here tonight. One o’clock he got home this morning from a gig and he’s playing, I think, again tonight. They’re just devoted to the trad jazz and they don’t seem to worry what they get out of it as long as they’re playing that music.
Interviewer: Yeah absolutely. It’s a different attitude. And presumably, a very different attitude from the people promoting the clubs as well, it’s not like being a professional venue.
Dave: That’s right. I’m afraid that, sadly, the youngsters are not interested in the trad jazz scene anyway and we’ve found that our club, members sort of get… age goes on and they die and they don’t get replaced by youngsters so we struggle with our audiences now. We’re averaging 65 and to break even we need 80 really. We’re struggling a bit there. But we’ll keep plodding on.
Interviewer: I suppose the other side of that is that people are travelling further now because there’s just less musicians around as well.
Dave: The bit that stumps me Vic, is that a guy who’s on our committee, he lives at Notley, Black Notley, and he said that he went off to Harlow last Saturday evening to see Elkie Brooks and the ticket was twenty-seven pounds and she started, I think it was seven forty-five, and the concert finished at nine-thirty with an interval of fifteen minutes and it cost him twenty-seven pounds. They come to our club and you get three sets of three quarters of an hour, you get two-and-a-quarter hours of solid music for ten pounds. To me, there’s no comparison you know. That’s where the professionalism and the charges come in when they’re fully professional and they’ve got overheads, obviously. But sign of the times, I’m afraid. [00:07:37]
Interviewer: Do you think you’ll be able to keep going?
Dave: Luckily, the clubs over the last few years have got money behind them, but we’re probably, currently, at the moment losing roughly one-hundred pound a week so that’s five-thousand pounds gone in a year. We couldn’t keep that up for more than a couple of years but we’re lucky in that our recent sixtieth anniversary gig we had four people donated one-hundred pounds each to help sponsor the evening so we made a slight profit on that evening and we have one guy who lives in New Zealand and he was a member of Colchester Jazz Club years ago and he insisted that we have one-thousand pounds donation as long as we encouraged youngsters to get involved with jazz and that’s hard work. Thus, we’ve got your Essex Youth Jazz Orchestra, that makes us… well, for his sake-
Interviewer: -at least you can show that you’re doing something! -
Dave: -A bit of leeway to say that we are encouraging youngsters.
Interviewer: Have you looked at all at perhaps getting some jump jive type bands and things like that involved?
Dave: Well, that’s possibly the route to go. We might encourage a few younger…
Interviewer: I know that Southend Jazz Club have started doing that and find they get quite a good audience.
Dave: We have a certain element of people who are, you know, strictly… stuck in their ways. Strict jazz. [00:09:21]
Interviewer: Do you find that - that you’ll get folks will turn up for specific bands?
Dave: Yes, we do. But, what I say with trad bands Vic, is that we put a brochure on the tables of who’s gonna to play in certain bands but you cannot rely on that bit really because you’ve only got to have a couple of the guys in the band who are not available, through illness or whatever, and you get a totally different band on the night, they play totally different. So it’s good to come regardless because you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get.
Interviewer: I’m trying to remember when I was at your club. Would you say it’s more of a listening club or more of a dance club or is it a bit of both?
Dave: We pride ourselves on being a dancing club and a lot of the bands who come say they never experience the dancing side of it so strong as Colchester Jazz Club… obviously we have got elder people who don’t get up and dance, but there are a lot who just come to listen to the music.
Interviewer: And I guess that’s going to influence the kind of bands that you book.
Dave: Yes, that’s right. One guy who lives at Stock – he’s on our committee - he’s eighty-seven now but he still dances every Sunday night, so he’s a good advert for retired people if you can keep active. [00:11:07]
Interviewer: So… you think you’re going to move more towards the sort of jump jive, perhaps?
Dave: Well, I wouldn’t sort of bank on that short term but it looks like if we’re going to keep the club going we’ve got to do something drastic to try and encourage the youngsters. Already in the same hall as we use at Marks Tey, they have a couple of salsa clubs running and we do get a few cross-over and adapt their salsa dance to the trad jazz jives and that. So we get a few from that sort of people but I think you’re right that it’s got to move somewhere along the line otherwise it’s just going to fade right out, the whole club. Which is a shame after we’ve just celebrated sixty years.
Interviewer: Yes, absolutely. Because of course, it does seem that the modern jazz – although that seems a ridiculous term after half a century or more – and the trad jazz never can meet.
Dave: No, no. I’ve got LPs at home of Oscar Peterson and Dudley Moore Trio, Dave Brubeck, those sort of people. I can accept it, you know, mainstream stuff but at the club that wouldn’t go down too well.
Interviewer: No, I can well imagine that. One of the things we were talking about earlier was your own sort of musical activities. You were playing drums at one time.
Dave: Yes, I had a drum kit when I was 21 but like I was telling you… I bought it when I was 21 out of the local music shop, brand new kit and played around with it. Obviously, self-taught. But then, of course, you get married, family comes along and the drum kit goes in the loft and stays there…
Interviewer: Okay, well thank you Dave, good to have a chat with you.