PREVIEW: 606 Club 30 Years at Lots Road Festival (16-27 May)

Photo Credit: 606 Club

London’s 606 Club is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary in their current home at 90 Lots Road with a 12-day festival of gigs welcoming some of the most prized names in British jazz and improvised music. Many of the artists featured are longstanding affiliates and friends of the venue, a fact which speaks to the club’s legendary status in London’s jazz topography. Feature and interview with club proprietor STEVE RUBIE by George Crowley:

There is certainly a magical feeling connected with leaving the street and outside world behind and descending into a basement jazz club. Saxophonist Seamus Blake once wrote of New York’s Village Vanguard, “walking down the stairs… and hearing something that just cooks, is what it’s all about as a jazz lover and musician. It’s one of the most exciting things, period”, and this experience is doubtless something with which any attendee of the 606 would be familiar.

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Club owner and musician Steve Rubie certainly agrees, and while there are certain practical aspects which benefit a basement for a club (noise insulation and cheaper rent chief among them), the Lots Road site, derelict as it was (“there was just an old piano and a dead cat,” he quips) felt perfect from the start. With the work of Steve and his team it has grown from a derelict basement to one of London’s most consistent and essential venues, where audiences can be transported every night: “You want to be taken out of yourself, that’s why people go, to experience something different from their normal everyday lives, be taken to a different place by listening to music. Basements are good for that – it does help with that sense of just being taken out of the world for a short time.”

Thirty years of successful activity for an independent jazz venue is certainly no mean feat by anybody’s standards, and when I try to discover from Steve exactly how he’s done it, he is modest, yet categorical. “I have no idea!” he says, “It just kind of happened – I always say that my tenure at the club is a triumph of hope over experience.” Nevertheless he is keen to leave me under no illusion that this accomplishment is not one he has made single-handed: “I definitely have not done this on my own… One of the reasons we’ve managed to survive this long is the support, not only from the jazz community and musicians, but also the various teams that I’ve had working with me over the years at the club itself – I definitely can’t do this by myself! It’s like a swan, you know? – it may look like it glides along, but there’s a huge amount of paddling going on underneath!”

This sense of community feels key to the success and longevity of a venue like the 606. From my earliest days in London just over 10 years ago, walking down the stairs into the cellar always felt like a warm and welcoming experience, and a space where the relationship between management and musicians was always paramount (a relationship undoubtedly deepened by Steve’s deep experience as both musician and manager) while never losing sight of the audience in tow. Steve is quick to acknowledge that goodwill from musicians paved the way for a lot of what was to come – back in the day “nobody did that gig for the money, that’s for sure… in many ways having the support of musicians is one of the things that keeps us going” – and importantly the club still plays its part in fostering and supporting the younger generation of musicians, hosting regular gigs as well as final recitals from students at the Royal Academy of Music.

With such a rich and storied history in music, Steve is understandably reluctant to single out any favourites (“So many people have come through, I’ve got over 700 musicians on my list… and also my memory’s crap!”), and indeed many long-standing bonds will be reaffirmed over the course of the upcoming anniversary gigs.

As our conversation moves to the transition to the Lots Road site in 1988 though, he does offer a particular remembrance of the late, great London legend Ronnie Scott who supported him and the club so closely, remembering, “Ronnie always looked out for me. When we closed the old club he’d call me every week to see how things were going.” Ronnie ended up playing the opening night in the new location with his Quartet, as well as the second anniversary, and the fifth: “He was hugely helpful and supportive – that meant a lot, you know? I miss him, I miss him a lot.” Reflections such as this are an important reminder for a younger musician such as myself, not just about how much recent musical history there is in a city like this – which we constantly benefit from – but also how much of that history goes into a venue like the 6, the echoes of which can still be felt in the warm and convivial atmosphere – not to mention quality musical curation – of the club today.

The upcoming 12 days of musical celebration at the 606 Club offer a glittering and musically varied insight into exactly the kind of activity which makes the club so special, and I would warmly encourage anyone reading here to join the party and enjoy some wonderful music in very special surroundings. All of the musicians featured are longstanding friends of the club, which is why they have been invited to perform during the celebration.

Long live the Six! (pp)

On  23 May for the Basho Records Evening:
Publicity Photo


Wedneday 16 May
8:30pm Peter Rubie / John Etheridge w/ Lily Dior/ Glow Quartet

Thursday 17 May
8:30pm Hamish Stewart’s 10 piece band

Friday 18 May
9:30pm Natalie Williams / Tony O’Malley/ Beverley Skeete

Saturday 19 May
9:30pm Giacomo Smith/ Alex Garnett/ James Davison

Sunday 20 May
1:30pm 606 Gospel Group w Special Guests/ Noel McCalla
8:30pm Ian Shaw/ Polly Gibbons/ Liane Carroll

Monday 21 May
8:30pm The CrateDiggers/ Paul Stacey

Tuesday 22 May

Wednesday 23 May
8:30pm Gwilym Simcock/ The Printmakers (Basho Evening)

Thursday 24 May
8:30pm Anoushka Lucas/ Tim and Hattie Whitehead / Gwyneth Herbert

Friday 25 May
9:30pm Mary Pearce/ Vanessa Haynes/ Imaani

Saturday 26 May
9:30pm Clark Tracey/ Jacqui Dankworth/ Peter King, Art Themen & Mornington Lockett

Sunday 27 May
1:30pm Rachel Sutton w Special Guests / Alice Zawadzki
8:30pm Claire Martin & Jim Mullen/ Rachael Calladine/ Samara

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