The back room of a pub, something ear tweakingly interesting leaking out of the PA as a respectable sized crowd gathered , settling amongst a mis-matched jumble of chairs and tables. It was the Lescar in the backstreets of Sheffield, but could have been almost anywhere. It was my first visit. In Sheffield for non-jazz reasons serendipitously on a Wednesday, I nipped along. It felt like visiting a distant branch of an extended family. The Lescar’s back room hosts a well established weekly session programmed and promoted by the energetic and discerning Jez Matthews with a crew of willing volunteers making it all happen on the night (Jez’s energy had taken him off to the Copenhagen jazz festival on this particular evening). The gig turned out to be the penultimate date of Dave Mannington’s Riff Raff tour . I’d caught them early on in May at the BeBop Club in Bristol so knew I was in for a treat.
Riff Raff are a band of band leaders. With Ivo Neame in the piano chair, squeezing in this leg of Riff Raff’s tour before dashing of to continue Phronesis’ relentless international schedule, and Tim Giles on drums this is no ordinary rhythm section . Tom Challenger, Rob Updegraff and Brigitte Beraha complete the band and Mannington has a premier league outfit to negotiate his complex compositions. They unfold, rarely doubling back on themselves, exploring different styles and with references from around the globe, but a soaring melody or electric atmosphere is never far way. The impact of touring and playing the material was evident as the evening wore on. The already riveting music seemed to have grown and relaxed and deepened since Bristol. Early on, their cover of Bjork’s Anchor had everyone sighing as an extended climax built behind Brigitte Beraha’s swooping vocals with the whole band blending beautifully. Ivo Neame’s intro to Catch Me the Moon was even more expansive and edgy, and a spacy cadenza from Rob Updegraff emerged to keep everyone on the edge of their seats. There was new material with Iliad having the whole band glued to their charts for the epic, adventurous piece. What a treat.
Like many others, this club hosts local and regional bands with a fair sprinkling of national tours that are often subsidized by a grant, this visit of Riff Raff being no exception. Occasional infusions of small amounts of cash from grant schemes also helps build a club’s programme and an expectant audience and the Lescar has been a beneficiary in the last year. This visit took place just as the controversy got going over Jazz Services failure to secure guaranteed three year funding from the Arts Council (the unfolding story captured by Peter Bacon here). They of course have been one of the main conduits for these small grants. Through all the anguish (and a certain amount of restrained claim and counter claim) one message has been clear. Promoters and musicians know the value of the grant schemes that support touring and small promoters. My lovely, uplifting evening was a little cameo of the difference quite a modest investment can make to the development of new music, the development of the artists themselves and on the other side, the ability to invest enough to develop a sustainable programme for a small venue. It seems like a good return to me.