A regular theme of mine is quietly cheering on those people who make things happen, so this little salute is in part for Mike Slade, bass player and energiser who has been doing it for decades as far as I can tell. A new thought recently has been noticing how deeply an association gets burned into the collective memory over the years. Today it’s the idea of Bath’s Old Farmhouse as a music pub and especially a jazz pub. For the Farmhouse, it seems to mean the old jazz scene occasionally flares into life there irrespective of who is running the pub. So it was that we found ourselves at the Farmhouse late last Friday watching John Critchinson lead a trio through their paces; Mike Slade on bass who’d engineered the gig and Bob Woodburn on drums. ‘Critch’, known to many jazzers for his long association with Ronnie Scott, is well known to a generation of locals for the couple of decades he spent living and playing in the area. This is the clue to the gig with Mike and the location. It was during the sixties and early seventies that the former landlord of the Farmhouse, the legendary Bradshaw, established his hostelries as purveyors of quality jazz (as well as literally stupefying quantities of ale). So listening a bit more closely, the gig had the faint echo of a reunion as well as regular Friday night of jazz. Much of the audience might previously have been regulars at this pub ten years ago. How fascinating that the idea of this space as a jazz place has endured despite all traces of the previous residents having being erased by refurbishment and the current management only the latest in a frighteningly regular turnover of incumbents.
And what of the music? I love listening to players using material that you know is so familiar they don’t have to think about its contours and they are free to re-invent and play around it with it. Mike and John are old friends and are of a generation that learned their jazz playing and listening to records: there was no music college or conservatoire system to hone their skills. So this was standards, but not just churned out. Stella by Starlight, April in Paris with a groovy bass riff under it, on other tunes, Mike Slade finding pedal notes to raise the tension and Critch spiralling off into endless turnarounds raised grins from the band. The mood was of familar treasures brought out and pleasure taken in them by the payers and audience alike and just for a moment there was a breath of a long history of musicians who have stood on this spot smiling and nodding along. Whimsical? Moi?