|The trio Naima at the Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club|
AJ Dehany visited the Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club and spoke to owner Steve Coxshall about his aspirations to make the venue the “home of Jazz in North London”.
“It’s a big, big risk changing a 300-year old pub into a jazz venue,” says Steve Coxshall, owner and director of the new Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club. In 2008 he took early retirement from finance and managing pop acts and in 2010 he bought the Duke of Hamilton pub in Hampstead. Since 2012 the Rabbit Hole venue has hosted regular jazz with a house band led by pianist Will Bartlett, championing some familiar names including singers Emilia Mårtensson, Sara Mitra and Kate Mullins. In May this year there was a flood, and Steve decided “Why not let’s make it into a proper jazz club and have a lounge bar upstairs”.
In the first week of the new venture I spoke with Steve among the French-inspired opulence of the beautifully refurbished lounge bar. “It’s brought a really young audience for jazz,” he said, “and that’s really surprised me! It’s amazing how a word can change perception. By calling it a lounge bar, people have a different view to calling it a pub. We changed the chairs and put in chandeliers and gave it a sexy feel and a relaxed vibe. That seemed to help; we got younger people in and couples and you can see that in our wine sales—the whole dynamic of the business has changed. 40% of our business was ale sales, now 10% is ale. Jazz changes the dynamics.”
Inspired by New York City, the 50-capacity basement club, with its blue brickwork and twisting low arches, has a special intimacy and atmosphere such as you find in London hideaway the Camberwell Crypt. Steve made a deliberate decision not to put in tables but to face the seats out so as to highlight the intimacy of the connection with the musicians and the audience. “The musicians respect that. They love coming back because they’ve connected. I want people to touch their souls through music. I can’t express how much that happens here. Because the energy is so great from the music and the atmosphere, people open up with emotions of happiness. To do that the bar’s very important because it funds the downstairs but literally any door proceeds all go back to the artists.”
The response has been less enthusiastic from certain members of the local community. “I’ve had people hate on me. I’ve had abuse. I’ve had people try to hit me. In the last four months they’ve gone mental: ‘You’ve ruined this pub!’ They never even came to the pub before! It’s still a great pub! You try and do something good and some people want to shoot you down. This is good for Hampstead! I had one guy come in on Saturday, old boy, must have been 60, he said ‘You’ve ruined this pub! Where’s the dartboard?’”
Steve aspires to develop the Hampstead Lounge & Jazz Club into “the home of jazz in North London”. “I’m pretty committed to jazz,” he says. “I take a lot of shit for it… I can only do my best! I’ve put a lot of money into the place, hopefully I’ll pay it back. I’ll pay it back in happiness. If I can make people happy from an experience in the very negative world we live in today, I’ll feel like I’ve given something back to people, and in helping young talent. We haven’t had anything easy. It’s gonna be a hard slog, but hard work didn’t kill me so far…”
He is driven by his passion for the music and its power to connect people. “I’ve got to be careful not to let the passion overrule the business! It is a business, that’s why every time I stand up I thank people and say ‘You’re keeping an industry alive.’ Elton John, Sting, they’ve all said it, if you want to hear the great talent go to pubs and you can find them before they’re famous. So that’s my vision and I’d love to become recognized as the most intimate, focused jazz venue in London.”
AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk