Let me tell you a story…
Back in 2005 I was a young and naive first year student at LCM, too nervous to really perform and just starting to dip my toe into the great pool that is ‘Jazz Music’. I remember shying away from singing in public, and not taking the full advantage of the wonderful musicians that College had to offer by starting a band of my own.
Luckily, not all the folk in my year were as hopeless as I was, and two talented young guys from The South – Johnny Tomlinson and Tommy Evans – set up a new Jazz Club in the centre of Leeds, mainly to provide a gigging opportunity for those who were more confident than I, and who were creating exciting new music with no real place to showcase it. They called the Night ‘The Spin Off’ – a nod to a previous Night down South called ‘The Spin’, I believe..
The club, based in Bar Santiago in the Grand Arcade, put on a gig every Thursday night, and became a huge success – not least because of the massive amount of effort put in by Tommy, Johnny and various others. Soon it was attracting non-LCM bands, and has since played host to some big names on the UK Jazz Scene and abroad, with over 100 gigs under it’s belt.
Back then, Santiago was buzzing with LCM students. In fact, someone last night described it as ‘pretty much LCM’s Student Union’ at the time. The staff were made up of our students, the cocktails were tasty and well made, the booze was reasonably cheap (depending on how well you knew the staff 😉 ) and there was just a nice vibe about the place.
The Spin Off was, of course, central to all this. It had been something Leeds, and Leeds College of Music, had needed, and at £3/£4, if you liked fresh, original and progressive jazz and improvised music – which we all did – it was impossible to resist.
This need was recognised by Jazz Yorkshire, and soon the flyers became of a better quality and the promotion slightly more widespread than Tommy handing out listings to those leaving the Wardrobe Jam on a Monday evening, as they gave some much-needed funding to the club.
.. What a lovely story, eh? But of course, that’s not the end..
6 years down the line, and TSO is still running. Johnny and Tommy handed the reigns to the talented Joost Hendrickx, and the bands booked are still as exciting and as innovative as ever. But those of us, myself sadly included, who used to frequent this night on a weekly basis, seem to have forgotten about it.
Blame it on the fact that many people moved away, or that we’re all gigging ourselves, or even that some of us are just a bit rubbish, but it’s a sad turn of events.
Last night, ‘The Halcyon Quartet’ and ‘Eyes Tight Shut’ were on the bill. The former, a newly-formed all-alumni band who are now based in London and whom I haven’t seen in many years, and the latter, still Leeds based and equally talented – so I popped along to say hello and have a listen as I found myself gig and WI-meeting free.
(*NOTE: if you try and google ‘Halcyon Quartet’, the string quartet that appear is not them!*)
I arrived around 9pm to a near-empty bar. Not to worry – although the doors were at 8:30, we jazzers tend to take our time.. 😉 Slowly, old friends wandered through the doors – it was like a reunion, and apart from the fact that there were a lot less of us, you could have thought it was 5 years ago..
The HQ started their set just before 10pm to a select but enthusiastic audience, and played some beautiful compositions. It was interesting, creative, complex, lyrical, accessible, and completely enjoyed by everyone there – not least the boys on stage, whose love of the music and of playing was palpable; a true joy to witness.
The sad thing, however, was that 7 LCM friends and alumni of incredible talent did not seem to manage to attract the swarm of current music students that TSO once did. No reflection on the musicians, nor really of the night itself.. But I do wonder where all today’s music students were, as they missed something pretty special.
And it’s only going to get harder to keep this evening running if it carries on unsupported.
As I’m sure many are aware, announcements were made at the start of this week regarding the Government’s Arts Funding Cuts. I’m afraid I can’t pretend to fully understand the reasonings behind the choices, nor fully grasp the impact that this change to a ‘National Portfolio’ will have, though I found out last night that Jazz Yorkshire have lost their funding. (Jack Davies illustrates a fuller Jazz-Funding story HERE for those interested.)
This is a huge blow for the region, and even in my relatively short time in Leeds I have brushed up against JY’s presence time and time again – through gigs they support, bands they promote, awards they arrange. Solaris in fact, are lucky enough to be recording this month for free, thanks to Jazz Yorkshire’s ‘Demo in a Day’ Scheme. 🙂
But let’s just focus on what this may mean to The Spin Off story.. and let’s allow for a small amount of panic before we take action..
I think it’s time for a larger audience to return to TSO – be that by alumni (myself included) making a pointed effort to attend when they’re able, by current students realising that if they don’t support this gift then it might well be lost to them, but also by reaching out to those people who maybe aren’t aware of the night at all. The non-musicians, who enjoy good music, who are maybe affected in different ways by the cuts, and who want to support Leeds and the community that we have here.
Yes, Santiago has changed significantly from what it once was, and it may not feature on your map anymore, but don’t let that stop you! – the best music is often found in the most unassuming, or perhaps surreal, venues! Remember it, and visit on a Thursday evening!
Yes, TSO was initially set up by Jazz Students for Jazz Students, but by no means is that what defines it. Music is Music, and there’s something to be said for hearing it live and seeing it performed with love and enthusiasm, whatever the style.
Yes, it will cost you £5, but that’s only one less glass of wine at the weekend, or packet of cigarettes, or 3 bags of mini-eggs (or whatever your vice!)
I urge you to support The Spin Off. Even if you’re one of those folks who think “but I don’t like Jazz” – the beauty (and arguable flaw) of ‘jazz’ as a genre is that it is so encompassing, there’ll always be something that will speak to you when you immerse yourself in it. And if this Thursday’s music is not for you, you can pop along the following week and see how you feel about the next band.
We’ve already lost Hifi’s Sunday Joint afternoon jazz sessions in the past 12 months, let’s not lose this too. Please.
Visit www.thespinoff.org for listings and more information.