SEEMS LIKE YESTERDAY
Some things are worth doing. When Dennis Weller and Graham Lowe approached Chris Scott Wilson to write the text to accompany their photographs taken at Redcar Jazz Club in the 1960s, his answer was short and to the point. “Yes.”
“Redcar Jazz Club played a big part in my life,” Chris reveals. “How lucky were we, to see top line acts, virtually on our doorstep. Those years, the golden 60s deserve to be remembered.”
Most music venues were often sweaty fire-trap cellars, or back rooms where audiences stood shoulder to shoulder, straining to see over the heads of the jostling crowd in front. In contrast, the Jazz Club at Redcar’s Coatham hotel was high-end with a real concert atmosphere where the artistes’ performances on the large stage could even be seen from the back of the ballroom.
Thirty years later Dennis Weller showed some of his contact prints taken at the club to colleagues at Kirkleatham Museum. Curator Phil Philo remarked Graham Lowe had an exhibition of Jazz Club shots, running in Castleton’s Montage Gallery. It seemed too much of a coincidence to ignore. The result was a book edited by Phil Philo.
While Dennis’ pictures covered the trad jazz origins of the club and it’s transition to R&B before he left Redcar to work elsewhere, Graham had visited the club whenever he was home from studying photography at Blackpool College of Art during the later 60s when the club was mainly presenting rock and blues acts.
The club gave Graham the perfect opportunity to test his growing armoury of skills, shooting on fast film without flash, the results impressive enough to be featured in national music magazines. Although Dennis’ pictures had provided a record for the club and been used for promotional purposes, his had remained largely unseen.
That first Redcar Jazz Club book, published in 1996 featured some 48 photographs and is long out of print. “I didn’t think enough ground had been covered,” Graham says. Dennis agreed. They determined to produce a more comprehensive record of the club’s exciting 1960s. This became an ongoing stop-start project that alternately fizzed but then spluttered depending on other commitments for almost five years.
Dennis says, “Then I read a piece written by Chris about Eric Clapton’s group Cream appearing at the Coatham, and I realised there might be a way of creating an accessible book about the Jazz Club.” Encouraged by Mick York of Saltburn Arts Bank, the three met and agreed to collaborate on a new more comprehensive book.
What is amazing is that there are any photographs at all. Today, everyone has a camera phone, making it hard to accept back in the 60s photography was an expensive hobby with very few people owning professional equipment. Thus, good quality photographs are rare, especially any taken at the club.
“Graham and Dennis had already chosen images, but when I asked what else they had, I was astounded to discover both photographers had huge unseen archives,” says Chris, smiling. “Thankfully, they allowed me to plunder them mercilessly.”
“The new book is larger format than the previous one, nearly as big as an old vinyl album,” says Graham, “much better for presenting the images.”
In fact, the book contains over 200 stunning photographs, plus memorabilia, contemporary adverts, quotes from audience and club members, and even memories of the artistes who played there, all tied together with a social commentary and vignettes of the performers.
“It’s a good job Dennis and Graham didn’t photograph every concert,” Chris laughs, “or this book would be a 1,000 pages long!”
Good look with the book.