Dying note of a 10-year jam session: Hoxton became a mecca for jazz fans when Peter Ind opened the Bass Clef, but now the club is under threat of closure. As the regulars have a final fling, Helen Nowicka recalls the glory days

Helen Nowicka
Thursday 12 May 1994 23:02
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Tonight Peter Ind is throwing a party, but it is one he would rather not attend. Ten years after he founded the Bass Clef jazz club the venue is in receivership and on the brink of being sold. Before it is, Ind wants to thank the club's most loyal supporters with a final, farewell gathering there.

Ind called in the receivers in February after long-term financial difficulties made it impossible for him to continue with the club, its little sister the Tenor Clef, and his record label Wave. The previous month Customs and Excise emptied the Bass Clef of sound equipment, furniture and beer glasses to clear a pounds 30,000 bill for VAT arrears. The total debt for the three businesses is well over pounds 100,000.

Ind did not launch the Bass Clef to make money, but to further his love of jazz. He is a well-respected double bass player, having performed with Billie Holiday, Buddy Rich, Miles Davis and Stan Getz. Tonight he will again be on the stage.

His first business venture was the jazz record label, Wave, in 1981, with a recording studio in Hoxton Square. Three years later, 'as an afterthought he says, he turned the building's basement into a jazz club and the Bass Clef was born.

During the Bass Clef's glory days it hosted performances by world famous jazz musicians including John Dankworth, Branford Marsalis and a young Courtney Pine, and was frequented by famous jazz buffs such as Alan Plater, Sade and Leonard Bernstein.

Chancellor Kenneth Clarke confessed on Desert Island Discs to visiting the club as a junior minister to hear pianist Stan Tracey perform.

In addition to live jazz the tiny club - capacity less than 250 - built up a reputation as a dance music venue with regular Latin, reggae and funk nights. Norman Jay, who for five years has held his Original Rare Groove Show at the Bass Clef on Mondays, said DJs were attracted by Peter Ind's willingness to let them do what they wanted.

'When I started this, night house music was everywhere. I wanted a little club where I could go back to basics, which people who were really up for it would seek out. The Bass Clef fitted in with my philosophy, Peter Ind just let me get on with it, and after two weeks the place was jumping.

'I've had a lot of lucrative offers for Monday nights but I've carried on at the Bass Clef because I love it. It's not a money thing. It's a vibe thing, like being in your bedroom with your friends around.

The popularity of the club coupled with the diversity of music it featured led Ind in 1990 to open the adjacent Tenor Clef to cater for jazz fans seven nights a week. However, the move coincided with the opening of the Jazz Cafe in Camden, which offered customers more comfortable surroundings than the Bass Clef's cramped and sweaty dancefloor. At the same time all clubs were suffering the effects of the recession.

As a music lover turned reluctant businessman, Ind had difficulty in coping with the changed economic circumstances and the financial situation gradually worsened.

'We began to have real problems. People didn't have the same amount of money so we had to drop door prices. By January of this year we owed six months' VAT.

Negotiations are nearing completion to find a new owner for the venues, which receivers Ernst & Young intend to sell as going concerns. Around 10 expressions of interest have been received, including one from the London record label Acid Jazz.

Ind entered a bid for pounds 305,000, but the bank backing his application has withdrawn its support.

Estimates change daily of when a deal could be finalised. A number of events are planned as part of the London Jazz Festival which began yesterday but Ind acknowledges it has been difficult to continue when so much is uncertain.

'Someone rang up to ask which band would be on in a week's time and we had to say we just didn't know. It's like a kaleidoscope, you give it a shake and circumstances change.

At 66 he fears personal bankruptcy and is angry at the lack of support he received from financial institutions when money became tight.

'This has been my life for 10 years. My back is against the wall but I intend to keep fighting until the end.

'I am concerned many of the people interested in buying the place want it as a vehicle to make money. They're not doing it for a love of the music.

One committed jazz fan, who asked not to be named, has a different view.

He argues steps could have been taken to save the venues and capitalise on their initial success with a stronger management approach.

'Peter Ind has done an awful lot, he has created a cultural centre out of nothing. But without being disrespectful, maybe he has been doing it for a little bit too long.

(Photographs omitted)

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