Tough Times For Jazz Promotion (Interview No. 1 with Andy Williamson of Ashburton Arts Centre, Devon)

This is the first in a series of interviews with the jazz venues and promoters, which LJN is publishing in partnership with Nigel Price, featuring interviews with the promoters involved in his tour. The first date of the tour is Sunday 4 October. The first date is at Ashburton. We interviewed the Arts Director of Ashburton Arts Centre Andy Williamson Andy Williamson moved from London to Devon in 2009, and became (by accident, he says) the promoter of the Ashburton Live series. He then led a successful campaign to buy the town’s old Methodist Church which is now running as a community Arts Centre, putting on a wide range of live music, theatre, dance, magic and other arts. He has played sax (sometimes while abseiling) with the Honkin’ Hep Cats, formed the Big Buzzard Boogie Band with Ned Bennett, and also directs the Bristol Jazz Festival Chorus.

Ashburton Arts Centre

  It’s an achievement to still be there as a venue. How have you managed it? I’m writing now as the Arts Director of Ashburton Arts Centre – this is the town’s old Methodist Church that around 10 of us have been running as a community venue since we raised the money locally as donations and private loans to buy it in July 2017. Before that as Ashburton Live I became an accidental promoter in 2011, putting on concerts, mostly touring jazz artists, in another old church here. In Ashburton Arts Centre we’re attempting to be a place where arts of all kinds happen, not just jazz gigs, and in that until the pandemic struck in March, we’ve been very successful. Who has helped? To answer your question, we have very low overheads – no employees – so it’s pretty easy for us to just shut the doors and hibernate. After our last public gig in March (Gaz Hughes Art Blakey Quintet) we stopped everything. Then in June, started to run some online streamed live events with artists inside the Arts Centre, and some live outdoor events in a beautiful field 10 minutes walk away. Then in September, we started operating as a ‘Covid-secure’ venue, with some live music gigs to a reduced, spaced out audience. These are possible here, not just because of ‘the rules’ but because there’s a very low level of infection in Devon, and because the Arts Centre is a large space with loads of openable windows so it’s possible to ventilate it very well. Also, a £10,000 grant from the Government through the business rates scheme was definitely useful. Name a low or high point. High point: realising that with nothing but a laptop, a Zoom H4N digital recorded/interface, a phone and our wifi, we could put on live streamed gigs using Zoom & YouTube that were of a high audio quality and acceptable video AND that people were happy to pay to be part of the audience this way.

Andy Williamson by Mark Burley

What’s been the biggest challenge of the thing you’re finding it hard to get used to? The uncertainty – if I write something in a newsletter, or agree something with an artist today, will it all still apply in a week or a month’s time? What will success look like a year from now? Frankly, I fear that with the catastrophe of Brexit looming and the likelihood that our current political regime will still be in place, I fear we’ll all have bigger things on our plates than making gigs happen. I hope I’m wrong about that – if so, that would be some sort of success. LJN is doing these email interviews in partnership with Nigel Price. Ashburton Arts Centre will be the first gig on his UK tour.   LINKS: ashburtonarts.org.uk Nigel Price Organ Quartet  –  details and bookings FULL TOUR DETAILS HERE.

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