Boston Spa - A Success Story
by Les Brown - Jazz in the Spa
Reproduced from Just Jazz
Magazine Sept 2007 by kind permission of Les Brown & Just Jazz
My colleagues and I have read with interest the article, ‘Jazz Clubs et al’ (July edition), by Mick Welstead. We
can readily empathise with a number of the points raised, and clearly the issues faced by Jazz Weekend and major concert promoters are somewhat different and more in the ‘make-or-break’ category than those which must be addressed at Club level. Having said that, it seems that we here in Yorkshire at Jazz in the Spa are for the present running somewhat against this tide.
Make no mistake, we have been there, too. In November, 2004, Jazz at The Crown — which had been in existence since 1987 — was asked to leave the venue to make way for a new Sports Bar with Sky Screen and pool tables. Nemesis or a real opportunity? We then faced the realities of the situation — our audiences had been falling (familiar tale?) and the consequent rise in the entry fee was only exacerbating the situation. Ultimately, a recipe for disaster.
With the input of an energetic local entrepreneur, however, we identified our local village hall (under-utilised) as a potential new venue and decided to try out a free jazz evening, around Christmas, to see if we could attract an audience to what was an unlicensed and then relatively unattractive venue. The hall was packed — nearly 200 people turned up, bringing their own booze with them — which may say something about the Yorkshireman’s penchant for a free evening! So sessions recommenced in January, 2005. The new venue has proved to be highly successful, with audience figures rising rapidly and now up on average by at least 50%. The hall is converted weekly with new staging, individual tables and subdued lighting to create a ‘Cabaret Club’ atmosphere. Major changes from Jazz in The Crown include no smoking and no drinks licence — so patrons bring their own tipple, be it wine, beer, coffee or whatever. There is no doubt that the ‘bring your own bottle’ arrangement has been an enormous success
- reducing significantly the overall cost of the night out. There is now no way we could get this genie back into the bottle!
Though Jazz in the Spa is seen basically as a Traditional jazz venue, we have had a varied musical policy for many years. An extensive list of Traditional jazz bands from Yorkshire, the North East, the North West, the Midlands and abroad are interspersed with quartets and quintets playing in a variety of Mainstream styles. We have also promoted young musicians over the years such as Jonny Boston, James Evans, Tom Kincaid, Karen Sharp, Allison Neale and Esther Miller. We have recently introduced Big Bands as an experiment, and this has proved very popular indeed.
Jazz in the Spa is non-profit making. We charge a fixed weekly sum on a ‘swings and roundabouts’ basis — generally £6. (This becomes £8 in the case of Big Bands and visiting national/inter-national solo artists.) All monies are re-invested in the Club, and since the enforced move to new premises we have invested £5,000 in providing the necessary new facilities. To be even-handed, we were fortunate in securing an interest free loan for the majority of this expenditure, but this has now been repaid from income. Our expenditure has also included a dedicated website (
www.jazzinthespa.co.uk ). As well as the future programme, this publicises details of local accommodation and restaurants to encourage jazz fans from further afield. We are in monthly contact with local media, and circulate our programme to Yorkshire radio stations and newspapers. Up to 200 flyers containing the programme for the next two months are distributed monthly.
This is the key question. The most direct and effective means is to persuade members of the existing audience to bring along neighbours, friends and, failing all others, their relatives! This can be encouraged by means of ‘admit two for free’ as a raffle prize, or ‘two for the price of one’ tickets targeted at new patrons. We also run two/three Charity Evenings per year — Charities tend to benefit by around £500 — but the quid pro quo is that they bring along a significant number of supporters to the function. This generally results in new jazz fans and is helping to lower the age of the audience through working with local PTAs etc. And always offer half price entry to students and young musicians from local schools. For obvious reasons, we find that the rousing Traditional jazz nights are best suited to the charity evenings. On a similar note, offer a free pass for two to other local good causes as prizes for their raffles. I could go on at length on this topic.
The alternative to all this, as always, is to do nothing and hope that things will improve. They won’t. The key to our success at present is probably down to the following:
Energy and enthusiasm — there is no substitute
Creation of a cabaret-style, non-smoking atmosphere
Moving out of licensed premises (though there are many very supportive landlords) Bring your own tipple — massive cost reduction on the evening out, and we have, coincidentally, caught the rising tide of wine drinking
Involve as many of the audience as possible in organising and assisting during the evening — e.g. rotas for conducting the raffle
Vary your musical policy — think outside the box
Don’t forget— provide a pack of beer for the musicians!
I hope that our experience in Boston Spa will act as an encouragement to other promoters. We certainly can’t afford to be complacent. We do need to reach out to the next generation — but there does come a time when they, too, will begin to appreciate the joys of listening to jazz in a congenial atmosphere where many new friends are made. The trick, as always, is to create the atmosphere then tempt them off their settees, down the Street, and through the Club door. Good luck with your efforts!
If anyone wants more information on how we came to be here from where we were — just pick up the phone and call 01937 842636.