Jazz Promoter - Malcolm Cookson

Sailing, Vintage 3-Wheelers, & Cooking with Jazz


Malcolm with his late wife Val


For 25 years, Malcolm Cookson was the genial host at Roa Island Boat Club where many great jazz names played including George Melly four times between 2003 and 2006 and also Tommy Burton twice, and Brian Carrick's Algiers Stompers who played there every year from 1998 to 2016.

Malcolm tells me he wasn't really interested in Jazz until the late 1970s but was then really taken with what he calls the, “Rhythm of life”.

He said, “I attended big time events in Kendal and Barrow with my late wife ,Val.  We saw Chris Barber, George Melly, Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk, Terry Lightfoot etc.

Val joined the social committee at the Roa Island Boat Club where they needed help, as their events were on the decline. I too joined the committee and we introduced them to The New Riverside Jazz Band. Alan Duckles, Delia Glaister, Barrie Marshall etc. . The New Riverside Jazz Band started playing at the Roa Island Boat Club in 1988. This was as a Boat Club Social event. Val was an enthusiastic cook and so we developed "Cooking with Jazz". The combination of the band and the food proved very successful. Audiences shot up from 30 to 100.

By 1994 we had become The Roa Island Jazz Club and introduced other bands as well as The New Riverside. Val particularly liked Brian Carrick and his St. Phillips Street Breakdown. We all greatly enjoyed Tommy Burton, George Melly, Keith Nichols and Spats Langham. We used to go to The Outgate Inn at Hawkshead, where live jazz was played, It was mainly New Orleans jazz put on by a sympathetic landlord, Graham and his wife. They also put on very good food, and it was there in the early 90’s that we met Eric & Jazzy Joan Lawton, who also lived in Barrow.

Many people will remember Joan Lawton as the jazz promoter at The Whitewater Hotel in Backbarrow. Joan worked at the hotel as an accountant. She and Eric started their Sunday evening/ jazz weekend events in 1994 and ran them very happily until 2008 when a management change refused to pay ANY MONEY AT ALL for jazz. Joan felt that the option of a door charge would be very difficult to run on the Sunday evenings. Joan and Eric were very heavily committed to New Orleans jazz. Val, myself,  Joan and Eric were all very happy to attend each other's events.

Eric & Joan didn't particularly like the hard edged British Trad. History might well prove them right. Eric died in 2011, Joan in 2012. Val's death in 2007 was indeed tragic. I was flattened for a few months but then decided that I owed it to her to carry on. I love the music and am myself, now, an enthusiastic cook. The punters were, and still are, very supportive. Norman Gibson organised a Joan Lawton Tribute event in late 2011 at The Crown,. High Newton, and I continued to organise the event until Nov 2014. The Rae Bros, one of Joan's favourites, was one of the bands that played. Very successful. Things were going very well until, shortly afterwards, a new manager arrived and absolutely refused to move his 'office' of a table and 2 chairs into a back room in order to allow the jazz to take place. The previous manager, a women, had been only too pleased make room. I haven't been to the pub lately being pre-occupied with the transition from Roa Island to the Malt Kiln.


The Rae Brothers new Orleans Band at The Crown, High Newton.
 Photo Barrie Marshall


The Roa Island Boat Club then changed. The club house became more of a business, employing their own paid staff to put on Sunday lunches etc. In 2018 the jazz club had a catering accident. Intense sunlight through two windows heated some rice salad. 6 punters suffered short lived stomach upsets. In familiar managerial fashion the Boat Club sent me a violent letter saying that this risked putting their own cooking into disrepute and that
I could no longer do any cooking on the premises. No argument”.  However, by 2019 we had been made very welcome by the Bardsea Malt Kiln Village Hall. The jazz club landed on its feet with a very well equipped kitchen, and rice salad replaced by Cabbage/Date/Apple Coleslaw. The kitchen at the Malt Kiln is absolutely superb. I can serve my popular Cooking with Jazz very, very easily. The music room is ideal. Spacious, built in stage on which my upright piano resides. Roll on Keith Nichols in March. Whilst we are proud of the Big Name performers, all the bands have made a very valuable, committed contribution.

Prior to organising jazz events, Malcolm built a 37ft wooden sailing catamaran in the 1970s. The boat is ashore at the Roa Island Boat Club and he’s currently replacing large chunks of wood, “More basic carpentry than fine joinery”, he says. “It's a James Wharram designed boat. Enthusiasts for these boats are like ocean going hippies. You can find about them on the Internet. I enjoy working on my boat. A complete change from cooking and trying to play the piano. I get help from a like minded friend, Les McAdam, at the club”.

If that wasn’t enough to keep him occupied, Malcolm also has an interest in historic Morgan 3-wheelers. He says, “I have another friend Sid Omerod who lives at Silverdale and who is heavily into historic racing three-wheelers. Racing three-wheeler Morgans tends to be very expensive. Sid races a BMC mini based special, a cheaper and very effective alternative and eligible Vintage Motor Cycle Club events alongside the Morgans and sidecar outfits. In the spirit of the thing I have organised the building of a three-wheeler based on Morgan principles. A steel backbone frame with wood and aluminium bodywork. However, the engine is at the rear. A 980cc BMW motor cycle engine but with a Shorrock Supercharger. Five of us have been involved at various stages and only now have we got it running properly! We plan to enter Vintage sprints and hill climbs. A little known fact is that Spats Langham has a Morgan three-wheeler and enters sprints and hill climbs, including the historic Prescott venue. Probably via the Morgan Three-wheeler Club”.

Now you and I would probably think building a boat or a Morgan look-alike was a step too far, but Malcolm says, “More difficult is my struggle in trying to play the Bad Penny Blues, on my home keyboard, to sheet music. A very formal way of playing the blues. I am getting some help from Percy. Perseverance! For myself I am sympathetic to the Jazz and Blues concept. I'm very pleased to say that my jazz will continue at the Bardsea Malt Kiln, Ulverston once Covid rules permit. Three bands pencilled in for Jan/Feb/ March

If you wish to discuss any of the above, you can contact Malcolm at morganist@outlook.com

Sunday October 04, 2020

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