Jazz Cafe makes a comeback

  • Rock & Pop
Jazz Cafe makes a comeback


Thu, 21/04/2016 - 14:22


Portico are among the acts set to play at the new Jazz Cafe
Portico are among the acts set to play at the new Jazz Cafe
21 April, 2016

CAMDEN is due a resurgence,” says Steve Ball, one of the people responsible for some of the coolest venues in London and co-founder of the group that has taken over the Jazz Cafe.

Steve, who lives in Camden Town and has been going to the Parkway venue for 15 years, may be part of the reason that east London has eclipsed Camden’s music scene in recent years, being one of the people behind XOYO, The Nest and The Old Queen’s Head, but he is convinced big things are starting to happen for Camden – starting with the £3million refurbishment of Jazz Cafe, due to reopen on May 24 (25th to the public).

He said: “I want Jazz Cafe to be part of a wider trend of putting Camden back on the musical London map. We’ve seen the rise of east London and some of Camden’s amazing venues haven’t had as much love as they should have done, but we’ve got Koko, the Roundhouse, Electric Ballroom – I really believe that Camden is due a resurgence.”

The opening fortnight at the Jazz Cafe will showcase the mix of artists that will pave its direction, including Pantha du Prince, Dave Harrington, Portico, Mammal Hands, Just Blaze and Mad Professor.

“I’m confident that Jazz Cafe is going to be successful,” said Steve. “The key thing for me is that I honestly believe that Camden is due this resurgence. 

“There are other things happening in the borough. Teddy Sagi has bought the market. He wants to create an area that actual Londoners want to go to. He really wants to make music a centrepiece of what he does. Music venues were at the centre of Shoreditch’s success. There are a few people in Camden who are of the belief that we’ve got to encourage music spaces.”

Steve, who was one of the founders of Fabric in 1999, went on to co-found the Columbo Group, which also runs The Blues Kitchen, in 2006. He said: “At the time there was a reaction against mainstream clubbing. It was the era of the superclubs and at the time the superclub scene didn’t feel good. So we set up a small venue at The Old Queen’s Head and managed to achieve a late licence. We were able to create an exciting programme. It’s a stunning old pub, we got lucky, for that to be our first place it was a case of, right place, right time.”

The group has since grown, acquiring on average one venue a year, he said, adding: “Over the past 10 years it’s been very organic and haphazard. It’s been really passionate and emotional, rather than any sort of strategy, as and when buildings or businesses we’ve liked have come available. We try and create the best experiences we possibly can. Music underpins everything we do.”

And so the Jazz Cafe is more than just a commercial acquisition. Steve said: “I’ve loved Jazz Cafe for a generation. I live just up the road from the Jazz Cafe, I’ve been going for 15 years. It was part of my own musical education, seeing Terry Callier, Lyn Collyns, these are people I discovered through Jazz Cafe. I think that was very much Jazz Cafe in its heyday – showcasing incredible vintage acts but also showcasing new and upfront black music across the board, and it was my introduction to so many acts. So when we heard the previous owners were thinking about selling, we jumped at the opportunity to acquire.”

The intention is very much to stay true to Jazz Cafe’s musical origins, he said. 

“We’re not reinventing the wheel. Jazz Cafe has this wonderful heritage and essentially we want to restore the venue to its former glory. To me, it was the best live venue in London for a significant period of time. Sadly I think it lost its way a little bit in more recent years. But there’s no other plan other than to restore it to its former glory.”

It has taken “a lot of love and a lot of money” to refurbish the venue, which will look a little different when it reopens – the ground-floor bars have been moved, while the back bar has been moved into the kitchen, opening out the view to the stage. The upstairs seating remains the same, although the kitchen has been moved there. There is also a completely new sound system and lighting rig and, while Steve refuses to be drawn on whether or not the famous “STFU” message, which was painted over in recent years, will be reinstated, he says we will have to wait and see.

He added: “In its heyday, Jazz Cafe was the marriage of incredible vintage music with cutting edge of new black music, and that is exactly where we see our programming moving forward. 

“In our opening fortnight we’ve got some great established acts, such as Mad Professor, but also exciting up and coming acts like Just Blaze, Al Dobson Junior. 

“I’d like to think our opening fortnight, we’ve purposefully tried to show how we’re moving forward. We’ve got jazz acts such as Portico and Mammal Hands – it’s the full spectrum of music. We do the programming in-house. We’re doing the full spectrum – world, jazz, blues, funk, soul, hip-hop and electronic music.”

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