Jazz Promoter - Sam Ashton

(Jazz in Hornby)

Joe Steels, Rob Steels, Sam Ashton, Chris Coull,  Jack Davies, Ed Kainyek, Neil Read, and Andrzej Baranek


I first became infected by jazz at the age of 14. I was away at school on the Cumberland coast and heard the music seeping out from a senior boyís study window: Hot Five, Red Hot Peppers, The Wolverines, Bunk Johnson, etc. The window shot up and I was told to remove myself. Later he said that if I wanted to listen to jazz to join the jazz club, which I did. We met on Sunday evenings in the arts room listening in silent reverence to the above bands plus Bechet and the early Humph records produced on his own label, London Jazz which, decades later I heard him describe as having a "chocolate digestive biscuit surface".

During national service, which came next, I was posted, after OCS (
Officer Cadet School training for the infantry at Eaton Hall), to the Lancashire Fusiliers, serving in Germany. I acquired a battered radio and enhanced its performance by adding an aerial (a stolen coil of tripe flare wire) which I hurled over the roof of the admin block, above which I shared a room with a fellow subaltern. I scoured the airwaves and among other mostly weekly programmes discovered the American forces network on which there was a daily jazz programme at about 5 p.m. hosted by one Willis Connover whose signature tune was `A Train with a distinctive piano intro` by the Duke which took me decades to track down....itís the one with the controversial vocal by Betty Roche.

After demob (we are in 1956) I was working on the land in Oxfordshire; a brainy school friend and jazz fan was just starting at Queens College and got involved with the management of the university jazz club. I had no business going to the gigs but he and his chums were very welcoming. Thus, in addition to hearing their own (trad band, all undergrads` and very good) I got to hear e.g. Sandy Brown, a very nice guy, and Joe Harriot. In 1958 I went with the OUJC on a coach to the Royal Festival Hall to see Count Basie and included in the package were also Lambert Hendricks & Ross, plus Joe Williams! I also went regularly to Reading Jazz Club and saw for example, Sandy. Alex Welsh, Nat Gonella, Harry Gold, etc.

Towards the end of the university summer term of 1959 the OUJC organised a `river boat shuffle` on a Sunday morning. They hired one of Salterís Steamers, famous for their regular service on the Thames between Oxford and Windsor.
The band, which assembled in a light drizzle on the after deck was led by Tubby Hayes, Terry Shannonís piano was sheltered by the roof overhang abaft the wheelhouse, as was Phil Seamanís drum kit. Jimmy Deuchar, trumpet, Don Rendell, tenor, Keith Christie, trombone and Jeff Klein, bass made up the band... After a while the sun came out, assorted macs and anoraks were shed and you can imagine how great it all was.

Living among south country people did not suit me and 1961 saw me back here, thereafter I went to see my hero Duke Ellington at the Free Trade Hall twice, also the MJQ, Gerry Mulligan Quartet, and Count Basie. At Southport I saw the wonderfully irascible Buddy Rich. Closer to home I saw the Duke at the Guildhall, which turned out to be his last tour. Later, in Stockport I saw the opening concert of the tour with the band led by Mercer; not quite the same thing, but Mercer tried his best.

But the job I got entailed my living away from home two weeks at a time organising hairy chinned lumberjacks and machine drivers clearing sites for motorway construction, for example, the M6 from Keele down to Stafford. Finding the local jazz scene was very difficult (and we worked very long hours) Then someone suggested that wherever I found myself I should seek out the local m.u. secretary, which I did, and thus saw the Tubby Hayes Quartet in a Sheffield pub, and in Nottingham Humph and Terry Lightfoot, in the Trent Bridge Hotel. Back here in Lancaster, in the 60`s and 70`s very occasionally the greats would appear, the Stan Tracey Quartet, and the Ronnie Scott Quartet, and once at the university Dakota Staton sang accompanied by a small band led by Peter King, depping for Tubby. By 1970 my job, still with the same firm (Thos Graveson of Carnforth), was local and I followed the local scene, such as it was. Fast forward to Feb 1996, now married and with two lads away at university. I went to my first gig at the Appleby market hall the youthful band in support was Chris Coull`s quartet. All the members were local teachers, but all of whom had been to music college in Leeds. I was very taken with Chris, have always kept in touch, and as you know we reunite his scattered musicians annually at Jazz In Hornby. the ranks now added to by the next generation with Rob Steels two sons having played with us, and hopefully young Joe, on Guitar will be with us in August 2021.

Our younger lad Charlie, having inherited my enthusiasm for the music was at the Leeds Met` and playing drums on the local funk/ rock scene. He tipped us off about a band led by Clark Tracey which was to perform at the Underground club. My wife and I went; I was knocked flat, and ,discovered that this band, which included Gerard Presecer, John Donaldson and Arnie Sommogy, were on tour and due to play at Appleby! Which was how I discovered Neil Ferber`s activities and the festival. Cutting it short that scene changed my life; I met people whom I hadn`t seen for decades and through them met one or two musicians. He's still living in Leeds en famille and now and again I've gone over to go to gigs with him at Seven Arts (e.g Alan Barnes doing his Christmas Carol) and to Wakefield to see a band led by Derek Nash and with David Newton.

From the Appleby scene I got to hear about Denis Dundon's `Rhythm Station` and the resident band then led by the late Tommy Melville, and including that astonishing pianist Dennis Freedman, alas now retired from the scene and whose last gigs were here with Chris. I got much inspiration from Denis D; as you know he brought in the very best musicians; it was a great joy to zoom down the motorways and dual carriageways the 50 miles and hear the very best of jazz; I could do it in just about an hour.

Hornby Village Institute. Photo courtesy of www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk

When in 2007 it had to fold I was devastated. But it coincided with our Edwardian village institute having a grant-aided one million pound refurbishment. The result was a venue that I thought was more than good enough to bring jazz musicians to. Very diffidently I approached the chairwoman (businesswoman with a positive attitude) I told her I was nursing a secret ambition to be a jazz promoter. Without batting an eyelid she said "Wow Sam, go ahead, letís do it. As you know I got Sue Parish to kick us off; which she did. The rest is history.

The remaining scene for me is Bruce Carnaffin's Kendal Jazz Club and I support it as much as I can and it has been a source of inspiration and a source of bands to bring here. I think it is jazz and my wife Sueís cooking thatís keeping me youthful.

Sam Ashton


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