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Some Recent U.K. Experiences
Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning
for Jazz Advancement and Socialization

Some Recent U.K. Experiences (October 2015)
By Bert Thompson

   For over forty years a small, free monthly publication called Jazz Guide has been
issued in the U.K., to be found in record stores and at jazz sites (clubs, festivals, etc.)
throughout the country.  In it one can find just about every jazz gig that’s occurring
that month all over the country.   

        The contents of the recent September and October numbers would indicate a
thriving traditional jazz scene, judging by the plethora of entries, although I have
heard some talk of diminishing audiences and a declining number of active bands.  
However, this little magazine does not seem to imply an impending calamity,
judging by the number of festivals listed and the fact that the many jazz clubs seem to
meet on a weekly basis, not monthly as they do here in the Northern California area.

Bude Jazz Festival

         On a visit to the U.K. last September, I managed to take in two festivals and one
jazz club meeting.  The first festival, at the beginning of the month, was the yearly one
held at Bude in Cornwall, a small, picturesque town situated right on the coast.  This
was my third visit to that festival, my last having been some ten years or so ago, and I
noticed a few changes.  First of all, the length of the festival has been reduced.  The
first two times I attended it the festival lasted a full week, but now it is a four-day
affair, this year’s beginning on the Tuesday and ending on the Friday.  (The Monday
was a “bank holiday,” roughly equivalent to our Labor Day.)  Before, the bands
would appear either in the first half of the festival or the last, but not both.  This time
most were present for two days, usually back to back.  Some were first and second,
some second and third, and others third and fourth days.  A couple were there just
one day, and one at least was there all four days.  There was a total of 57 musical
groups, ranging from duos to a big band with all other configurations between.  The
majority, however, were traditional jazz bands, of varying styles, of six or seven
pieces.  There were 20 venues in all, with a free shuttle bus provided to get from one
to the other for those like me who were without cars.  Some venues had some area for
dancing, but quite a few did not, and the odd one, such as a school gymnasium, was a
bit of an acoustic challenge, to put it kindly.
       It was impossible, of course, to take in all of the bands.  I managed to see and
hear several that I was already familiar with,  but I also managed to take in a few, as I
always try to do, that were unknown to me, often making some rare discoveries, as I
did again this time.   Of these “new” bands, the two that I was most impressed with
were the Golden Eagle Jazz Band (not the group, now defunct, out of the L.A. area
that many of us knew), and the Black Cat Jazz Band.
       The Golden Eagle Jazz Band is a six-piece “pianoless” group, as so many British
bands are, led by the banjo player, who played a solid four-to-the-bar and who had an
effervescent personality and fine wit, as his repartee with his fellow bandsmen and
the audience showed.  The trumpet player laid down a definitive lead, and the rest of
the front line provided support, especially the clarinet player as he wove all around
that lead.  The trombone player was a guest of the band for the festival, and I must
admit I was not too impressed with him as he seemed too fond of “growling” in the
lower register.  The string bass player was strong, and the drummer was unobtrusive,
yet proving just the right accents where needed and demonstrating how good pressed
rolls are.  So the whole band managed to swing (despite the trombone player’s efforts)
in typical New Orleans style.  Luckily they have a couple of CDs available, and their
purchase helped weigh down my bag some more!
            The other band that I had not heard before, the Black Cat Jazz Band, also plays
in the New Orleans style and has the same instrumentation.  It’s new on the jazz
scene, having started up a year or so ago, the string bass player told me, and is co-led
by the bass player and the banjo player, who is the widow of the fine New Orleans
style trumpet player Norman Thatcher.  Unfortunately they had only one set at the
festival and had no recordings yet, so I couldn’t hear as much of them as I would have
liked.  But what I did hear was most positive.     
       The format of this festival is that the bands play three-hour sets with a couple of
fifteen-minute intermissions.  Most groups play two days, one set each day.  That is
enormously convenient for the bands, especially as the drummer must provide his
own drums and he only has to move once per day.  However, not wearing my
drummer hat, I had a small problem with it since too often bands I wanted to take in
were playing opposite each other and that meant only being able to get a part of one
set, then losing time as I had to take the shuttle bus between venues, some of which
were quite far apart.  If, as was the case with the Black Cat Jazz Band, the group was
there for only one set, that presented a real quandary.  But all in all, I did enjoy the
      The attendance was, I think, adequate—in some venues a bit sparse, but in others
quite robust.  A few years ago there seemed to be some problems with both the
organization and, perhaps, the attendance, resulting in the organizing group’s pulling
out and threatening to cancel the following year’s festival, but another group stepped
in to avert that outcome.  And to date it seems to have been successful in keeping the
festival alive.  
      One makes his or her own arrangements for accommodation in Bude, but there
are a number of hotels and B&Bs in the town.  Still, one must be off the mark early to

Autumn Jazz Parade

       Among the many festivals listed in the Jazz Guide are a number often called
“jazz breaks.”  These are usually three-day affairs, Friday through Sunday, with fewer
bands and almost always a single venue.  The price of the badge or ticket includes
accommodations and, usually, breakfast.  In some cases half board (breakfast and
dinner) is included, others full board (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).  The Autumn Jazz
Parade that I attended was one of the latter, with the three nights’ lodging, dinner on
the Friday, three meals on Saturday and Sunday, and breakfast on the Monday
morning, and the music (seven bands) included—all for around $300.00.  The meals
were served in the large restaurant on site, with full service and a menu which
provided several choices per course.  There were specific music breaks for the meals,
everyone being catered to in the restaurant at the same time, and the food was of
excellent quality.   The bands played on a stage in the big ballroom, with a large area
for dancing in front of the band and many tables and chairs surrounding the dance
floor on three sides in front of the stage.  Along the back wall was a fully stocked bar
with, joy of joy, real ales.  Acoustics were excellent, the sound being run by the
organizer and his son.  Judging by the fact that all of the tables seemed to be full, as
was the dance floor and the bar, it appeared that the event was a sellout, or nearly so.  
This festival, one of several each year organized by Pete Lay, drummer and leader of
the Gambit Jazzmen (there are quite a number of others throughout the year
organized by other people), was held at Seacroft Holiday Village, Hemsby, Norfolk.  
This “village” is a resort, admittedly somewhat dated, situated on the Norfolk coast
in the town of Hemsby.  
        The format here was that five of the bands played for two days, the other two on
the last day only.  All of the bands, except for Lay’s own, played three sets, Lay’s just
two, the sets being hour-long with fifteen minutes between to allow for change over,
including again the moving of drum sets.  Once more the Golden Eagle was in
attendance, to my delight—this time with their regular trombone player—but on the
last day only; so I was able to hear their entire performance.  Another band, one that I
had heard for the first time a good many years ago at Bude, was Dave Rae’s Levee
Ramblers—then called the Rae Brothers Jazz Band, but one brother, Mac, has since
retired and there have been some other personnel changes—but the band still plays
the same New Orleans style, and very effectively.  Lay’s own band is in transition, as
it were, undergoing personnel changes at the moment so carrying quite a few “subs,”
but still worth hearing.  The others were good, but nothing to rave about.  Again,
however, I did enjoy the weekend.

Edinburgh Jazz Club

             Between these two festivals, my visit to the Edinburgh Jazz ‘N’ Jive Club,
located in Edinburgh, Scotland, and which meets every Friday evening at Heriot’s
Rugby Club, was a bit of a disappointment, solely because the band, Shirt Tail
Stompers, was not to my liking.  They were a fairly young five-piece group (no
trombone) from London, likely on tour, and probable cause of a rather hefty
admission of around $15.00.  They played a type of funk/fusion, etc. jazz—and
loudly.  I would say there were some fifty or sixty in the audience, and some brave
souls did get up to dance.  The applause the band received after each number was not
of the same decibel level as their music, and I was somewhat relieved to be able to
leave early to catch the last train back to Dundee, where I was staying.  
        And that about sums up the jazz portion of my trip.  I never cease to be amazed
at the number of jazz bands, jazz events, and jazz related activities that occur in the U.
K.—a country which would fit into California with plenty of room to spare—and has
done for years.  Perhaps it is because the U.K. population is just under double that of
California, but even so there is a good bit more than twice the jazz activity in that part
of the world than there is in this.  It certainly seems it’s easier to get a jazz “fix” there,
and jazz that gets the toes tapping.


        For anyone thinking of attending either of these festivals, here is some info. on
getting there.  I did not drive, but took the train.  Since I was going to do some
considerable traveling while in  the U.K., I bought a BritRail pass, which was very
convenient and cost effective, considering what separate tickets for each journey
would have cost.     
      To get to Bude, one takes the train to Exeter, and from there the double-deck bus
to Bude—a journey of about two hours.  The bus stop is conveniently located right
outside the train station.  The terminus in Bude is within walking distance of several
of the hotels and B&Bs, and there is also a cab rank right there.
       To get to Hemsby, one takes the train to Great Yarmouth and a cab from there to
reception at Seacroft Holiday Village.  The cab ride is a fixed fare.  (Apparently there
is a bus between the two locations, but the Hemsby stop is a good distance from the
festival site, as I discovered later—I would not care to walk it with bags—and I have
no idea if there is any stop near the railroad station.)
One can, of course, obtain information on travel and accommodations by “googling”
same on the internet.