Blue Train Jazz & Blues Bar Opening Night Report

Al Cherry, Rob Mullarkey, Natalie Williams, Phil Peskett
Opening of Blue Train, 2nd December 2011
Photo credit: Gary Fox

Zena James reports on the opening night at the Blue Train Jazz & Blues Club, 56 Stamford St, London SE1 9LX:

London’s newest jazz & blues venue has arrived. Less than 10 minutes’ stroll from Waterloo, this compact club has plenty of potential and genuine warm enthusiasm.

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Easy to spot with its bright blue neon frontage, a packed Blue Train pulled out full steam ahead on opening night and jazz-soul vocal star Natalie Williams and quartet made sure it stayed that way. From the engaging R&B vibes of You Send Me to the groove-laden 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, this was the perfect choice of band for a celebration that sought to get a crowd on-side.

A cheerful, slightly overwhelmed young team, spearheaded by attentive owner John Dignam and entertainment manager, ex-NYJO trumpeter Ray Butcher, guided guests on arrival swiftly towards drinks and contemporary big band sounds in the upstairs bar (formerly an Indian restaurant). With waitress service, candlelight, a satellite screen to beam up the action from the jazz room beneath to non-paying upstairs customers (curious decision), cool metallic high cocktail tables and chairs, a low level comfy seating area and a late closing time – it bodes well, though it might benefit from more soft furnishings to soak up the boomy acoustics. Billed as ‘the restaurant’ with music duos Monday – Wednesday 6.30 – 9.30pm, it doubles up happily (and better in my view) as an atmosphere-setting bar.

The dark downstairs main music room is billed as ‘the jazz bar’ but was in fact the restaurant on opening night. Seating around 50, this former conference room is pretty intimate when full and wouldn’t look bare with 25 guests. A quirky Tapas-only menu cooked up by an ex-Gordon Ramsay chef ranged reasonably from £4.50 for fried Whitebait to £7.50 for beef fillet. And so to the music. The minimal stage is so far equipped with a Brodmann Baby Grand piano and house sound system, but there is talk of bringing in a house kit for (grateful) drummers (no car park and a narrow get-in).

From the outset, amidst a persistent excited chatter, Natalie Williams, Al Cherry, Phil Peskett, Rob Mullarkey and Martyn Kaine had a challenging night ahead. Opting for (possibly not their original intention) full-on soul & pop classics but only scarce glimpses of jazz (apart from a randomly popular rendition of Nature Boy), the expertly-delivered mainstream upbeat sets were one giant crowd-pleaser. Competing throughout with a few sound system issues and a VERY spirited audience, Natalie and her faultless soul-soaked vocals did an admirable job of keeping the energy train rolling. But the sheer volume of chatter suggested little respect in the room for her craft or the band’s collective swathes of talent and experience.

This may well have been an opening night one-off and could be eased in future by a gentle pre-gig club announcement, but is potentially a recurring challenge for busier nights at the Blue Train. Attentiveness and ‘jazz-familiarity’ of the guests it ends up attracting are still an unknown quantity and it’s a tough one at this stage for the club or interested artists to predict. In short, the band played what they knew would suit the room, but possibly not what the club ultimately wants to be known for long-term. Ray Butcher has booked well-established (mainly vocal) London-scene artists for the first month’s programming with an apparent vision to broaden this out to further-flung, less London-centric talent as the club develops.

It is as yet far too early to judge whether we have a true jazz club alternative joining the ranks of Ronnie’s, Pizza Express Dean St, the 606 and the Spice of Life, characterised by respect for the artists, or whether populist soul & blues and happily chattering crowds become the Blue Train’s way forward. Both are fine and are perfectly viable business options, but let’s hope it’s the former. Good luck, Blue Train.

Blue Train Jazz & Blues Bar

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17 replies »

  1. I wish it well and hope that the backers have the long-term commitment required to make it succeed. London is littered with failed attempts to bring sophistication to this City of ours. (I have now found over 200 which I have documented on my Lost London Jazz Venues Google map!) We cannot have too many clubs showing the full range of the music from the Blue Train to the “purer” music venues, such as The Vortex.

  2. Thanks for your comments Babel! The blue train will be trying all kinds of music, and we started with singers to sell tickets! Well, good marketing will help, but this is a very costly venture. If the world wants to see more jazz (esp in britain) I would suggest banning silly programmes like the x factor, and perhaps re-educating kids as to what good music is, instead of daft music that teaches kids three chords, and that's it

  3. hi there..also we're opening the 'basement', which will hold even more than the 'jazz lounge'!
    please bear with us

  4. And so I was right in thinking this would be a complete flop. It's already folded. London Jazz, you tried to come at me a bit when I posted my initial viewpoint. But now you see? One can't start a jazz club with such a pathetic vision as what they attempted by putting on all the same old acts that headline once a week down the same street. What a big waste of effort this was.

  5. Fred, I don't have it in my heart to deny you your moment of complete exquisite triumph on these pages

    – at others' misfortune

    – at the employment opportunities which will have gone

    -at the long term effect, i.e the marginal disincentive which this episode will provide against other promoters who might have been tempted to try their luck to try to defeat the odds.

    I'd be interested to know who, in your opinion, gets it right.

  6. Puzzled about these negative comments with little substance. The club is open, the reports are positive and the acts are listed on their website. What's the obsession with something not working even when it is? Perhaps it would be wise to validate facts before broadcasting fiction. If the acts aren't to your liking, it doesn't mean the club isn't going to be a success. 'Doom-monger'

  7. (January 27th) The club has just sent in its listings with dates going through to May. LondonJazz suggests that readers should check with the club for all updates of this information.

    DomPipkin & The Ikos – January 28th 2012 –

    Goin' Down to New Orleans” – February 2nd 2012 –
    Daisy Palmer – February 3rd 2012

    Tom Pilling & Friends – February 4th 2012

    Goin' Down to New Orleans” – February 9th 2012 – http://www.dompipkin.co.uk

    Helen McDonald – February 8th 2012

    Jane Parker Trio – February 10th 2012

    Zhenya Strigalev – February 11th 2012

    Goin' Down to New Orleans” – February 16th 2012 – http://www.dompipkin.co.uk

    Karen Lane – February 17th 2012 – http://www.karenlane.co.uk

    Zhenya Strigalev – February 22nd 2012

    Goin' Down to New Orleans” – February 23rd 2012 – http://www.dompipkin.co.uk

    James Morton's Porkchop – February 24th 2012

    Gill Manly – February 25th 2012

    Goin' Down to New Orleans” – March 3rd 2012 – http://www.dompipkin.co.uk

    Goin' Down to New Orleans” – March 8th 2012 – http://www.dompipkin.co.uk

    Frank Griffith – March 9th 2012

    Esther Bennet – March 10th 2012

    James Morton – March 16th 2012

    James Morton – March 24th 2012

    Janek Gwizdala – March 26th 2012 – Tickets £15 adv

    Janek Gwizdala – March 27th 2012 – Tickets £15 adv

    Denny Ilett – April 13th 2012

    Denny Ilett – April 14th 2012

    James Morton's Porkchop – April 20th 2012

    Partikel Trio May 2nd 2012 http://www.partikel.co.uk

    Denny Ilett – May 17th 2012

    Denny Ilett – May 18th 2012

    Fapy Lafertin – May 19th 2012 – Tickets £20 Adv

    CONTACT: http://www.bluetrainjazzclub.com / info@bluetrainjazzclub.com / 0207 928 9911

  8. I'm performing there on a weekly basis now, and working very very hard on promotion, with flyers, phonecalls, social networking , listings, all kinds. I love my band and our vision, and I'm paying my players out of door takings while taking no payment myself (yet). The new team is resolutely nothing to do with the old team, and is doing its very best. Some support would be cool. 🙂

    Dom Pipkin – piano player/ bandleader.

  9. I have never been to this venue, but I have both e-mailed and telephoned to enquire about tickets for March 26/27.To date nobody has had the courtesy to reply !!

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