A personal view on jazz music in Sidmouth and East Devon
PUBLISHED: 18:55 02 October 2017
Sidmouth musician Dennis Barrington fell in love with jazz more than 50 years ago. Here, the 74-year-old shares some of his fondest memories and tells Resident the story of its history and how it became so deeply rooted in Sidmouth.
I first got into jazz in the 1960s. My first real taste of it came from listening to the radio on a Saturday lunchtime – the BBC would play big band jazz every week and everyone was just mad about it.
The University of Exeter caught wind of its growing popularity and began to hold concerts, helping jazz to thrive amongst the younger generation in East Devon.
I was around 20 at the time and when I used to listen to it, it would just knock me out. I’d never heard anything like it. The post-war band - Ted Heath and His Music, which was an 18-piece swing band, really had quite a following.
It was a throwback to the post-war era. Listening to jazz would make you feel so good – it would make the hairs on the back of your neck rise and you’d get goosebumps. It just had a way of really lifting your spirits.
Years later, my passion for jazz inspired me to learn to play the saxophone myself. I learnt to sight read and play the saxophone with Cathy Stowbart and Alan Hempstead’s Big Band.
It felt marvellous when I picked up my saxophone – I would practise a couple of hours every day easily. I played for around seven years before I eventually sold my saxophone, but I still attend jazz concerts twice a month.
It is so popular here in Sidmouth because the town has such a history with it.
Jazz was massive in the 1960s - even in Sidmouth. The Crescent City Stompers from Exeter used to play at the Manor Pavilion along with other bands every Saturday, when it held dances before it was a theatre.
The Saturday dances used to be heaving. The queue to get in would be down the road with people who’d come from all over the area. Sidmouth was very popular.
Ronnie Austin and Band then came onto the scene in the ’70s and ’80s and used to play at the Victory Hotel in Sidmouth on Saturday nights for dancing – they were happy days indeed.
The George Inn, in Chardstock near Axminster, was also a big jazz venue in the 1980s.
The owner, Reg Ambrose, brought many famous names down from London for weekend jazz sessions. There were too many to mention, but they created some fabulous memories.
He used to invite them down for a free weekend in Devon and they would play for their suppers so to speak; this went on for some time.
In the 1990s, the University of Exeter and the Riviera Centre in Torquay became the two main centres in Devon for jazz, featuring artists such as Count Basie, the Ted Heath Band and The BBC Big Band.
There has always been a great jazz following in this area and the present day is looking great. We are so lucky to have two top-class jazz clubs here in Sidmouth.
This includes the Pete Allen’s Band and guests who play at Kennaway House, and Mike Sayers and guests of the 22 Club, in Sidmouth. Both of these first-class musicians bring top talent to Sidmouth. Every one of the concerts is packed to the brim, but they are all older people.
I want to get younger people interested in jazz and get them to see what they are missing out on. It is so important that the younger generation show an interest in jazz because if they don’t, it will die out.
If I was going to try to get someone to listen to jazz for the first time, I would say keep an open mind. You might have preconceptions of what it’s like, but once you get into it, I think you’re very likely to carrying on listening. If you like pop it isn’t that different. There is nothing dull about it - it’s lively and lifts your spirit - it’s also not restrictive. You can sit and listen to it in your room or get up and dance. Allow jazz to inspire you like it has so many other generations before you. n