Bulls Head, Barnes: Happy 50th Birthday

In November 1959 the Bull’s Head in Barnes put on its first jazz gig. Nobody seems to know the precise date, but tonight, deservedly, they’ll be celebrating into the night down there in SW13. Apparently there has been a pub on this site with the Thames meandering past since 1684.

And since 1959, they’ve all played there:
Americans: Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Shorty Rogers, Al Cohn.
The regulars:Pete King,Stan Tracey
The late and lamented: George Melly and Humphrey Lyttelton
Local resident :Alan Price.
And the Bull has also served as a hatchery for young talent.

A player who remembers the early days is that inscrutable prankster of old, clarinettist/tenor saxophonist Vic Ash. He will be out tonight with John Critchinson on piano, and a host of others in the Yamaha Music Room to celebrate.

I rang the guv’nor, Dan Fleming, this morning to congratulate him. Dan has presided over 28 of the Bull’s fifty years. He tells me he quite fancies going for a listing in the Guinness Book of records as the longest continuously running jazz pub in the world. Eight sessions a week for fifty years this month. Any other contenders???

Dan and I reminisced over what Dan describes as without question the Bull’s darkest hour. It was in December 2004 and a single noise complaint was threatening to close the venue. Dan says he still occasionally wakes up thinking about it.

I had lined up the Radio 4 Today Programme to cover the story, which Richmond Council were trying to kill. A council official attempted to throw intrepid reporter Nicola Stanbridge off the scent with the transparently bogus claim that Dan only needed to spend £5,000 to soundproof the venue. Stanbridge smelt the rat, resisted, did the interviews, and the Today Programme ran the story. Humphrey Lyttelton made a wonderful contribution about the uniqueness and value of the Bull. Within a week, Young’s , then still family-owned, had agreed to meet the cost. Which, surprise surprise, was considerably more than £5,000.

Long live the Bull’s Head, and have a great night.

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