I am very grateful to everyone who commented on my first piece about lost venues in Birmingham, see here. I am particularly grateful to Rob Walter, Steve Bradley, Richard Sealey, Ray Butcher, Chris Young, Brian Homer, Dee Hawley, Tom Chapman and Bernard Lyons for specific suggestions of venues I had missed. I knew I was bound to forget quite a few, and I hope to catch up with as many as possible in this second piece.
I want, however, to emphasise again that I remain optimistic that when we arrive at the ‘new normal’ there will still be a range of venues putting on top class jazz in Birmingham.
So here we go:
The Mermaid, Sparkhill
This pub, now demolished, was on the corner of the Stratford and Warwick Roads; in the 1960s it ran a series of gigs in association with Ronnie Scott’s London. This was very important for me in that I heard Dexter Gordon there, probably in 1962 just before I went up to London University. Dexter was in top form and this was a life-changing experience for me. I remember Ronnie Scott was also there, so I imagine he played with Dexter. I do remember Ronnie saying in mocking tones that they had to bring Dexter to see Birmingham.
Odeon New Street
This was of course for many years the main venue for touring rock acts and other big names. Again, this venue was important for me in that I saw my first live gig there in 1957: Bill Haley and the Comets at the height of the early rock ‘n roll craze. There was a packed audience and they clapped along with every number so I hardly heard the band! But I do remember the sax player, Rudy Pompilli who impressed me. Years later when I first heard Illinois Jacquet I thought his playing sounded familiar. I realised after a bit that what I heard of Rudy Pompilli in 1957 and on Bill Haley records was a more or less straight copy of Jacquet’s style. Some of the jazz big names played at the Odeon: I remember the Duke Ellington Orchestra there in 1963 and much later a version of Weather Report with Omar Hakim on drums.
The Opposite Lock
This venue, just off Broad Street by the canal, is still there, but is renamed and no longer has a live music policy. Back in the early 1980s it hosted Roland Kirk and the Mel Lewis – Thad Jones Big Band. I was abroad, but did later on catch guitarist Kenny Burrell playing in a trio setting.
The Custard Factory
Birmingham Jazz used a room at The Custard Factory for a time in the 1990s; at the time the Custard Factory was a very fashionable club and had this small ‘black box’ which, when full, had a really good atmosphere. There were some great gigs there: Bobby Previte with a young band Weather Clear Track Fast – I remember Bobby saying that they were ‘hungry to play’! Then we saw Ellery Eskelin, Guy Barker and a wonderful octet led by Paul Dunmall featuring Keith Tippett, Paul Rogers and Tony Levin.
For a time The Rainbow, a pub on Digbeth High Street, was a really good and popular music venue and when Birmingham Jazz started to book some of the young UK bands that drew a young club audience, it was able to run one of the best nights at the music pub. Gigs with Led Bib, Trio VD and Sam Wooster were very successful
Julio’s Wine Bar in Hockley
Julio’s Wine Bar was the home for Soweto Kinch’s Live Box for a time and I well remember a very young Shabaka Hutchings sitting in with Soweto.
Ty’s Jazz and Spice
Restaurant owner Ty is a great jazz fan and he created a unique setting for the music in this restaurant on the Stratford Road. Bryan Corbett was a regular there and I believe he lived upstairs for a time. At its best the restaurant presented top class jazz and excellent Kashmiri food including balti.
K2 Restaurant Moseley
A second Kashmiri restaurant with good food and excellent jazz often led by Tim Amann and his X-tet
The Foyer at Symphony Hall (Café Bar)
Although it is likely that the Friday 5pm sessions will continue when Symphony Hall reopens, the refurbishment of the entrance means that the former foyer can be considered a lost venue. The very popular sessions have always attracted a wide-ranging audience and are one of the top musical events in Birmingham. The sessions have been running for about 15 years or more. Bryan Corbett played the first one and has played there regularly since; The Destroyers were regulars in their early days and Steve Ajao has also been a firm favourite, both with his bop groups and his blues group The Blues Giants. Local bands led by Reed Bass and Delano Mills have been popular as has the final session before Christmas featuring the local big band The Notebenders.
Patrick Kavanagh’s in Moseley
After the Jazz Club Friday sessions at the Barton Arms and The Cannonball Tony Levin ran sessions in an upstairs room at the Patrick Kavanagh pub in Moseley Village. These were very popular, especially with students from the Conservatoire jazz course where Tony was now teaching. I remember a great session with Jean Toussaint and Julian Siegel sitting in with Percy Pursglove on bass and Tony on drums
Ort Café is another venue in Moseley; it’s a small art gallery which was supportive of the music, but the music stopped when management changed. Drummer Tymoteusz Jozwiak ran sessions for a time, and TDE Promotions presented a few gigs, notably the Deep Whole Trio with Paul Dunmall, Paul Rogers and Mark Sanders, and from New York the Tom Rainey Trio with Ingrid Laubrock and Mary Halvorson.
This is the comedy club in Hurst Street which has a music programme as well as the comedy nights. Birmingham Jazz used it for a number of gigs before moving on to other venues. The smaller room worked really well and I can remember fine gigs with a group led by guitarist Lionel Loueke and a gig where Steve Tromans paid tribute to the Chilean revolutionary singer songwriter Victor Jara
Acafess was a very popular club in Balsall Heath, the club to be at the 1990s. I recall that Steve Ajao and Andy Hamilton played regularly there.
Steve Ajao has run his Club Bebop at various venues round the city, most recently at the Hare & Hounds pub in Kings Heath.
Student Run Sessions
Students or graduates from the jazz course have always shown great initiative in setting up sessions round the city in pubs and cafes; these have usually involved a jam session as well as a band set. Percy Pursglove and Andrew Bain ran some great nights at the Yorks Café near New Street Station before management decided the sessions did not work for them. The Yardbird session mentioned in my previous blog was very successful as is its successor the Spotted Dog – still going strong up to the lockdown. Cogs run by saxophonist Chris Young worked well for two years, but I think the pub has closed.
Other venues included The White Swan, The Brown Lion, the Bash Bar, the Jewellers Arms. Now that the Conservatoire has its own venue, The Eastside Club, there is perhaps less pressure to find outside venues, but, as I say, The Spotted Dog sessions are very successful and popular. There are also sessions at Cherry Reds and the Second Cup café, both in the city centre.
PS How could I forget The Waterworks Club! This was the quintessential trad jazz club in a club that promoted folk on the Friday night and trad jazz on the Saturday. It had a great atmosphere and people often danced! Sadly the building was converted int flats some time ago.