I’ve just got home from a strange meeting. It was upstairs in a pub in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. What was that atmosphere? Did it have the feel of a wake, but without the bonhomie and kind, if insincere, condolences? Or perhaps a trainspotter’s get-together, though even more obscure, and with, possibly, a steam faction complicating things?
No, not quite either of these. Perhaps a final settlement party would be more accurate. Where the estranged parties at last put it all behind them and resolve to rub along as friends, but where an undercurrent of ill-feeling can’t help but emerge from time to time.
On the surface, this was the end of the organisation called Birmingham Jazz as we have come to know it, and the beginning of a new, much more modest organisation called… Birmingham Jazz. But the old Birmingham Jazz was at the get-together, too, in a smart new guise as Jazzlines, a part of Performances Birmingham, the organisation that runs Town Hall and Symphony Hall.
Jazzlines promised all would be as before, and possibly a bit better, though with a different name on the pull-up banner at the back of the stage. Birmingham Jazz promised volunteering, democracy, upstairs rooms in pubs and maybe even a gig or two at some point. So who would we be able to hear? No, no, they wanted us to tell them.
Confused? Some of the attendees certainly were – especially the late-comers. What had happened, they wanted to know? Would they still be able to go along on a Friday teatime and hear some free music in the Symphony Hall foyer? So why did Birmingham Jazz become Jazzlines? Oh, I see, they went for the Arts Council’s money. So why didn’t the new Birmingham Jazz want the money? Oh, they wanted to maintain their independence instead – free, happy, but destitute.
Picture, if you will, two dogs who were once staunch friends and allies. They lived modest lives, they romped along together getting up to all kinds of mischief – perhaps even sharing the same bone occasionally.
But now the Afghan Hound has a new master in a big new house. He’s been to the doggy parlour and been washed and groomed and has a brand new collar, too. He is out trotting proudly beside his new master, not tugging at the lead, but keeping pace in a most controlled manner. He knows who puts the Pedigree Chum in his bowl, who plumps up the pillows in his doggy basket. He might look back fondly on the good old days with that little mongrel terrier he used to play with. But really, he had to outgrow that friendship sooner or later, and this really is his rightful place. Here indoors where it’s warmer and more secure. He might even get to win Best In Show if he carries on like this.
But what of that Mongrel? Ah, he has moved in the opposite direction. Where once he had a regular tin of Own-Brand, now he must pull scraps from bins, and sniff around in gutters hoping to find a few left-over chips. He is looking a little scruffier and unkempt, though he still maintains a certain Terrier-like energy and belief, against all the odds. He’s old school and might even enjoy a little scrape around in the mud. He is much more friendly on the surface, though he does tend to bare his teeth if cornered, which is not particularly pleasant to see, if understandable in the circumstances.
And so what it comes down to is which dog will you give your left-over sandwich to? The one trotting, head held high, down the street, or the one nipping at your heels in the gutter?
Or, to ask a much more complex question, who deserves the support of this city’s jazz fans? Well, both organisations want to put on jazz gigs, and we all like those. One has the potential and the financial security to be ambitious and adventurous, and we like that too. And one looks like it needs our sympathy, and a bit of charity-giving gives such a warm feeling in the wallet, don’t you find?
We won’t really know for a bit exactly how we can help in a practical way. The new Birmingham Jazz has a lot of act to get together, from website to email lists to gigs, before it can realistically go on a major membership drive. Though it is already asking for indications of support, and a bit of cash to get it up off its knees. And Jazzlines is offering some kind of consultation with potential members in the not too distant future, so we will have to wait and see what that offer is.
Still, it’s always a relief for everyone when that decree absolute finally comes through, isn’t it? New day, new possibilities, and all that… and no more of those dreadfully awkward, strange meetings.