Bass Clef will dance to a new beat: Helen Nowicka meets Ed Piller, founder of Acid Jazz Records, who describes his plans for a more diverse arts, music and cultural centre

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Bass Clef, one of London's most famous jazz venues, is to reopen as a music, arts and cultural centre after its sale to an independent record label.

Acid Jazz Records bought the rambling four-storey building from receivers Ernst and Young, called in by the club's founder Peter Ind following long-term financial difficulties. The purchase, in July, is the latest evidence of the label's quiet success.

Acid Jazz paid pounds 300,000 for the block at Coronet Street, Hoxton, which contains two clubs, a recording studio, cafe and offices, and has closed the former Victorian asylum for renovation.

When it reopens this year it will continue to concentrate on jazz but will also feature other black-influenced music. Projects include a jazz-funk club night, Latin and roots reggae sessions, and workshops for local up-and-coming musicians and studio technicians. Norman Jay will continue his five-year-old 'Original Rare Groove Show on Monday nights.

The venue - its future name is still uncertain as Mr Ind claims he holds the rights to the title Bass Clef - will also act as a showcase for contemporary artists. One plan is to have different people decorate the cafe area each month. Artists Will Blanchard, a member of Acid Jazz-managed band The Sandals, and Paul Cannell, whose best-known work appears on the sleeve of Primal Scream's album Screamadelica, are both likely contributors.

Ed Piller, managing director of London-based Acid Jazz, hopes the building will act as a focus for like-minded people who love the music but detest the elitism the jazz world is notorious for. 'When I first got involved with jazz, people wouldn't take you seriously if you didn't know the catalogue number for every John Coltrane record, he said. 'As far as I'm concerned, the more people who hear Coltrane the better, but quite a lot of people in the community don't think like that.

'The danger is they could hijack jazz. What we want to do at the Bass Clef is present it in a way for the Nineties, not the Eighties or Seventies or Sixties, where most of those people are still living.

The move into property is part of a wider expansion of Acid Jazz's interests financed by the successes of the past two years. When Mr Piller launched the independent label in 1987 every penny earned went towards making the next record. His first pay from Acid Jazz came last year; now he draws a 'reasonable wage commensurate with the pressures of running a limited company with an annual turnover of several million pounds.

The actual arrangements are fairly technical. Much of the current financial security is founded on Jamiroquai and the Brand New Heavies, two bands who made their names on the label before attracting the interest of leading corporations. Acid Jazz continues to receive money from their record sales. The traffic is not all one-way - the critically-acclaimed James Taylor Quartet, who had a chart hit with Love The Life returned to Acid Jazz three months ago from Big Life, a subsidiary of Polydor, who failed to renew their contract.

The label's commercial success has led to offers of sponsorship from major companies including Rover, and opportunities to raise Acid Jazz's profile. Link-ups with the jazz radio station JFM and Blues and Soul magazine are under discussion, while cricket fans may have spotted the Acid Jazz logo on hoardings at the Oval during the England-South Africa Test.

The cricket connection is a product of Mr Piller's love of the sport which has also resulted in sponsorship deals with Surrey county players Adam Hollioake and Neil Kendrick. Another of his passions, The Small Faces, has triggered an expansion into publishing. A history of the band, by music writer Paolo Hewitt, should be out on Acid Jazz Books in October.

Mr Piller, an expert on the Sixties group - his mother ran their fan club - decided on the venture after a conversation with Paul Weller, another of their admirers. 'We were chatting and he suggested a book on the Small Faces. I thought that was a bit close to home because they had a big effect on me and on lots of people I know. Everyone talks about The Who, but The Small Faces were much more black influenced, and their songs have stood the test of time far better.

He is also considering a move into magazines, and is talking with two

arts and jazz periodicals, based in America and Switzerland, with a view to bringing one of them to a British readership by the end of the year. The new publication is likely to be mainly about music, but would also feature politics and agitprop, a reflection of Piller's early days in the music business running a punk label.

'There's a big gap in the jazz market that isn't being catered for. People are interested in other things as well and there is a lot more going on in the world that requires informed comment that people can't read about.

(Photograph omitted)