The Vortex Club in Dalston, north London, recently celebrated 25 years as a jazz venue. For a quarter of a century, first in Stoke Newington and later Dalston, The Vortex has offered jazz of all genres to the world. Major names, as well as those starting out, are given the chance to reach audiences from all over the UK and a look through past and future programs gives an idea of just how varied the club's offering is, from poetry to mainstream, improvised to free form, and workshops.
On Saturday, September 22, 2012 I was in London and had been invited to the gig by three different people; what could I do? It was dubbed Vortex Outdoors as the daylight activities were held in Gillett Square, outside the club. Later, events would move inside and upstairs. The day's program, from 2pm until late, was to include free form, electro-jazz, Latin,a trombone workshop and the stages would be taken by local and international artists, known and unknowntypical of The Vortex's wide and varied programming. I could fit in only a couple of hours but it was well worth the effort.
It was my third jazz gig of the month and, so far, even the talent of saxophonist Courtney Pine
had not lifted my spirits, but at The Vortex, on that day, jazz finally hit the spot and my mood lightened, even as I reached the event with The People Band already on stage.
A welcome break in the wind and rain meant Gillett Square was bathed in cool but bright sunshine and people came out in small numbers at first, but the crowds got larger as time went on. There was food, real ale, second hand music and records, art and a mix of people. Most had been to jazz gigs before, but what was good to see was quite a few for whom the event was the chance to see if they liked jazz or not. Families with children, grandpas and grandmas, people from diverse backgrounds and cultures all came out to catch the atmosphere.
First up was The People Band. The lineup included George Khan, alto and soprano sax; Paul Jolly, alto and soprano sax, bass clarinet; Davey Payne, tenor sax; Charlie Hart, electric bass; Tony Edwards, congas and djembi; Adam Hart, electric piano; and Terry Day
, drums. Since the late 1960s, The People Bandmusicians from diverse musical backgrounds and professionshas gathered together and performed to amazed and often bemused audiences throughout Europe and the UK. Over the years, members of the band have played with an array of musicians and all have had success away from the band. Day formed the London Improvers Orchestra and played with Peter Cusack and Steve Beresford
. Charlie Hart played with The Kilburns, Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance, The Battered Ornaments and with Wreckless Eric, while Payne has played with The Blockheads. Playing sporadically until the late 1970s, the band reformed 30 years on to play projects at King's Place, Café Oto and The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The group's last gig as The People Band was over a year ago, but here they were.
Theset contained numbers of manic ferocity, contrasting with short, sweet moments of bliss when all went quiet and a soft sound of pipes or keyboards could be heard, tinkling a riff from afar, before that same riff was grabbed gleefully by a saxophonist and taken loudly and with abandon to its conclusion. What comes across more than anything, when The People Band plays, is its sheer delight in taking tunes and riffs, pulling them apart and then putting them back together as neatly as a jigsaw and playing them back again, like nothing had happened. All have an innate understanding of where the music is going. The players change tempos, rhythms and dynamics and are led by the moment, the crowd and fellow players, creating music of tooth-crunching discords alongside divine sweetness.
Tuned into each other and its listeners, The People Band produced a set which was just short of perfect to open the event. Subdued, perhaps, though its playing was, because of the occasion and the mix of the crowd, I found myself drifting in and out of the music, but then I willingly admit to having a penchant for speaker-breaking free form and maybe this was not the occasion for that. It was early and the band played to a moderately sized but appreciative crowd. Past descriptions of The People Band include "visceral," "freewheeling," "forceful" and "anarchic," and all of these were still true. It is the music which drives these musicians; free form players to the heart, they broke the door down for others in the late 1960s and were justly given the opening slot in this celebratory event.