Feature/Interview

Tough Times for Jazz Promotion (Interview No. 5 with Wendy Kirkland of Chesterfield Jazz Club)

“I remain hopeful that the lack of live performance this year will increase the appetite of audiences who have missed seeing live music,” says Wendy Kirkland of Chesterfield Jazz Club. She and Pat Sprakes have been presenting jazz since 2012 at The Olde House in Loundsley Green Road in Chesterfield. In this occasional series, we are asking promoters from up and down the country to give their perspective on this very difficult year:  

LondonJazz News: It’s an achievement to still be there as a venue/ promoter. How have you managed it? What keeps you going?

Wendy Kirkland: As always, it’s got to be the music. We set up Chesterfield Jazz Club for a few different reasons, but one of these was so we could play with all the great touring artists around in the UK and occasionally the US. I can’t see an alternative now to not running the club, it would have to be a big decision to stop it now. This year’s challenges have been difficult but we have managed a few club dates to live stream when the restrictions were relaxed in September and October. Now we are back to not being able to access the venue, which contains my Kimball grand piano, bought from Chesterfield Library in December 2019 when they upgraded to a newer model. One of the major factors keeping us going is the community that we’ve created. Back in 2012 when we first started, we knew there were jazz fans in Chesterfield. I saw a statistic that said “only 4% of people like jazz”, and I suppose that’s a bad thing in a way, but I thought if we could reach 4% of the people of Chesterfield, surrounding towns and villages and maybe beyond, we’d have a very decent audience! We succeeded with that one, and now have a whole host of supportive and friendly patrons which make it worthwhile.

LJN: Who has helped?

WK: It’s me and my husband Pat Sprakes that do the majority of the work but we’ve had constant support from our parents and in laws, other family members on occasion, and regular club goers. There are some that have attended every single concert. In addition we’ve had help from local and national radio stations all over the UK, who help to publicise the events. Then there are the review and news sites such as The Jazz Mann, Jazz Views, London Jazz News (of course!), Jazz In Europe, Bebop Spoken Here, Jazz Matters, Kind of Jazz….I know I will have forgotten someone, sorry! All these have helped publicise the club as well as reviewing our albums and live performances too. We also have listings from a great local magazine called S40Local, and as the club is situated in this postcode it’s especially relevant.

LJN:  Name a low or high point this year.

WK: High point – there are several; being allowed to return to live performances in September with guitarist Carl Orr and then a live stream in November featuring Roger Beaujolais, then the inevitable low point as we were locked down again and prevented from performing in November altogether. The latest high point is being offered a gig at Ronnie Scott’s – in the upstairs club in January 2021. I’m trying to remain positive so don’t want to add too many reports of gig cancellations, which every single musician in the UK has had to endure. I suppose a positive side effect would be the ‘pulling together’ of musicians, a feeling of camaraderie, keeping us all going in the hope of better times.

LJN:  What’s been the biggest challenge of the thing you’re finding it hard to get used to?

WK: Lack of funds. We can cope with gigs being cancelled per se, as we can always find creative outlets such as composing and arranging, even if they are not being paid for, but the lack of funding for more creative work, as well as the cancellation of paid gigs has hit hard. Many musicians, us included, have forgone all earnings from these, with no help from the government. For us it’s been really hard to get used to a life of lockdown and later a sparse gig diary when we’re much more accustomed to preparing for, and performing on tour, whether locally, nationally or internationally. Speaking from personal experience, although I’ve had a lot more time to practise this year, there has been less of a motivation because for me practise is spurred on by projects involving performance, rather than to improve my playing for playing’s sake alone.

Wendy Kirkland

LJN: What will success look like a year from now?

WK:  I’d obviously like to see the return of performances for all musicians, but it’s really hard to predict! In an ideal world, I’d like to see all concerts reinstated and possibly a more buoyant scene created in order to involve more artists than previously, to try and offset the losses of 2020. When I say losses I don’t just mean financial losses, I mean the loss of the outlet that creative people have from performing, and that the very important gig-goer has from experiencing a live performance from musicians at the top of their game. I remain hopeful that the lack of live performance this year will increase the appetite of audiences who have missed seeing live music and other performance arts.

LINK: Chesterfield Jazz Club website

2 replies »

  1. Thank you, Wendy, for your frank account of life for a jazz promoter and performing musician during the pandemic. What shines through is your belief in the value of live jazz music for the local community, your resilience in the face of obstacles (e.g. the inaccessible piano) and lack of financial support during this period of enforced in activity. All the best for a brighter 2021.

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  2. Dear Wendy,
    If the response to a live modern jazz gig put together by local professional musicians in Deal, Kent, is anything to go by, your hope that the lack of even live jazz will generate a greater enthusiasm for live performance than before the pandemic will be fulfilled.
    An astonishing three quarters of the socially distanced £18 seats in the local theatre were sold within days of the announcement – and then we had to cancel yesterday!
    Everyone is hugely encouraged though, so we’re going to re-schedule ASAP, expecting a theatre packed with the inoculated elderly nodding away in time and yelling, “Yeah!”, after every solo. Let’s hope we’ll be booking you too.
    All the very best, Jan May, Deal, Kent

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