OUR JAZZ JOURNEY (2003 TO 2019)
"A pipe dream has turned out to be a success story..."
When trad fans Dick Loveridge and Joan Riley, started a jazz club in October 2003, and named it after the Four Oaks pub in Belwell Lane, where it was staged, it must have been more in hope than expectation.
Prevailing musical tastes were not on their side. The so-called trad boom' of earlier years had long since dwindled and almost died. Even 'modern' jazz had become old-fashioned. Newer genres had caught the imagination of younger generations. Several questions had to be answered.
* Was there sufficient demand for a musical style spawned more than a century earlier in America's deep south?
*Other jazz clubs had died, would a new one be supported?
* Would it last more than a few weeks?
Birmingham and its surrounds had been something of a jazz hub in the half-century after WW2 before a slow decline set in. One of the most popular of the outlets had been the Waterworks Club while many pubs, too many to mention here, were finding that changing tastes meant falling demand. One by one most had, sadly, closed their doors. Would this heritage, vintage music survive at all?
“Four venues, some 800 gigs staged” Background to that 'fingers-crossed' launch was the horrible build-up to war with Iraq, weapons of mass destruction and the 'shall we' or 'shan't we' invade controversy. A drink or two at the local and two or three hours of jazz must have been a most welcome escape just as, in 2019, leaving telly and Brexit behind for a while has an obvious appeal.
Now, happily, nearly 16 years on, we know the answers to those queries, and very much more. Some 800 gigs have been staged in four venues, average attendance has soared well into three figures, before receding into the still-healthy 80s per week and that tentative club of 2003 is solidly embedded among the most popular in the UK.
What could have proved to be a pipe dream has turned out to be a success story with entertainment and camaraderie provided week after week, year after year, for scores of jazz lovers, enjoying the music and dance of our youth.
“Bumpy ride to a perfect partnership” The seeds of an idea that grew and blossomed into weekly jazz pilgrimage, were sown among a small gathering of enthusiasts at the Plough & Harrow pub in Sutton. Some of those stalwarts from the subsequent Four Oaks launch that followed have remained loyal to this day. `
Any initial uncertainty about prospects didn't last long. Fast forward seven months to May, 2004, and the already-popular project had moved to the Royal Hotel, in the High Street to become Sutton Coldfield Jazz Club for what proved to be merely another short sojourn in the club's development.
By the following Spring it was 'itchy feet' time again as SCJC upped sticks and transferred itself to the town football club in Coles Lane.
In its new home, with exclusive use of the large club room, attendances continued to be healthy and entrance fee was maintained at what seems now to be a ludicrously low figure of £3. However, the venue was not ideal, especially for car parking at the back of the building and beside the pitch where football matches were sometimes taking place. It was proving to be an OK jazz venue though not ideal.
And so it was, only some six years later, on December 21st 2011, that an ideal 'marriage' began in terms of the inspirational transfer, from the football club ground to the fourth venue in a nomadic eight years,. It was to prove just another short hop in distance but mega-miles in suitability.
The Walmley Club was founded in 1901 as, it seems, little more than a shed with a snooker table. In more recent times it was re-built and then refurbished into a thoroughly modern, custom-designed establishment with large, comfortable functions room including stage, dance floor, bar and wall art displays depicting iconic musical figures from Frank Sinatra to Michael Jackson via Elvis and others.
Band leader after band leader on jazz nights say how much they enjoy playing at The Walmley Club with its welcoming , friendly ambience and enjoyable facilities.
The feelings are, of course, mutual, since the quality of these bands from across the UK and, occasionally, mainland Europe is of the very highest degree, as good as any such heritage jazz to be found anywhere in the world.
For this weekly treat the entry fee has risen in 16 years from the initial three pounds to five pounds, with no further increase on the horizon.