Andy Lavender, owner of The Verdict, Brighton answers questions from SJM editor Charlie Anderson.
How long has the club been going?
“The club opened to the public on 2nd March 2012.”
How did you first get into running a jazz club?
“About 1970 I started going to the Brighton Jazz Club that had lately been started by bassist Adrian Kendon and which was having to move from venue to venue as landlords and their policies changed: the Richmond (now flats), the Springfield (now the Open House), the Hanbury, the Adur. During the Adur period I started getting involved in the organising, writing the monthly newsletter, and with Adrian and a group of volunteers forming a committee and a charitable company which could apply for funding. In the 1980s we enjoyed successful spells at the Richmond (again), the Brighton Belle, the Royal Escape, the Concorde I (a golden age, thanks to its genial and generous host Chris Steward) and twice at the Sussex Yacht Club (now annexed by Hotel du Vin). We also promoted several major jazz Festivals in May, presenting big concerts at the Dome and elsewhere. I quit the Club in 1992, handing the chairmanship on to Tim Haillay, who continued with successful spells at the Beachcomber, the Lift and Komedia. During all of this time the club built up a good reputation and a loyal audience, but as is clear, was always condemned to operating in other people’s venues who/which were not necessarily dedicated to or suitable for the music. It was therefore always at the back of my mind to find or create for Brighton jazz a dedicated home with good acoustics and a listeners' ambience, a home which after a year or two of searching I found potentially at 159 Edward Street. After several more years of battling with the Council over permissions, plans etc, and a year or so of building work, this became The Verdict with its 60-seater basement music room, something close to my ideal vision.”
With the economic downturn, have you experienced any problems in terms of audience numbers and funding?
“I am not sure that the economic downturn has affected the 'jazz market' so much, but it has certainly affected the cafe side, which was conceived as being the Verdict's main income-stream. John Easterby, who has taken a lease on the place, is also now battling the nightmarish Edward Street roadworks, which are further badly depressing all the businesses in the area. Regarding the jazz audience, the main problem is that it is steadily ageing without being replenished, that the younger generations seem to have completely lost an ear for the music. There is a veritable army of brilliant, dedicated, literate young jazz musicians emerging from the music schools who find themselves playing not to their contemporaries, but, if they are lucky, to small audiences of people old enough to be their parents or grandparents. This, it seems to me, is currently jazz's main problem. Solutions on a postcard please…"
“I am suspicious of state funding, which has a habit of corrupting everything it touches. On the one hand a small amount of well-aimed public money can make the difference between the viability and demise of valuable ventures: e.g. Southeast Arts' former small grants to the Brighton Jazz Club or Jazz Services' touring fund –recently axed – for new bands. On the other hand it can distort realities and generate too much dependancy and a great deal of resentment: the musicians who double their fees when they smell 'funny money', or the 'projects' that are specifically concocted to secure it (what Ron Aspery used to call 'grant music'). It can be a huge bureaucratic time-waste too: I was recently encouraged, against my better judgment, to apply for a grant by an Arts Council officer who was impressed by the venue and its programme, and who then spent many months urging me through the extremely tiresome application process, only to find that we were rejected in about ten seconds flat on the grounds that the Verdict is already up and running. Perversely, it seems that the only way for the Verdict to get any Arts Council money is for me to stop promoting the jazz there. Any volunteers?”
You’ve had a lot of different acts appear. What have been the memorable highlights? Tell us about the future gigs that you have planned. Who have you got appearing in the next few months?
“There has been so much musical joy in that room in the past two-and-a-half years, it is invidious to apportion star-ratings. Usually the highlight is the last gig one heard (witness our youtube channel). In the autumn of 2013 Damon Brown's Quintet was amazing, and Paul Booth's band a revelation (he is back on 31st October). Kit Downes' Trio and his continental guests have stunned us twice (hopefully he will be back next June). Discovering guitarist Nigel Price and saxist Vasilis Xenopoulos has been very exciting (they are back on 24th October), ditto saxist Tomasso Starace (back 28th November). Frank Harrison's magical trio gig of 4th April (back 12th December) and Gilad Atzmon's blistering set of 13th June (back 15th January). It has also been a great privilege to witness the flowering of Brighton's own young wonder-pianist Dave Drake, now off in New York.” “Recent great nights have been Larry Bartley's extraordinary 'Just Us' (July 18th), Bobby Wellins in perennially hip form (July 25th) and Don Weller back at full strength with Dave Newton (August 1st).”
“Other pending highlights include Dylan Howe's Subterraneans, featuring Andy Sheppard (September 26th), Partisans (October 10th), Liane Carroll (October 17th), Robert Mitchell's Panacea (November 21st), Preston-Glasgow-Lowe (December 5th) and Mark Edwards’ fabulous Cloggz (December 19th). Tell your friends and particularly please, their children.”
For more information on The Verdict visit their website: