Newcastle's Jumpin' Hot Club celebrates its 25th birthday
There are a handful of places that almost every roots musician on a tour of the UK plays, and for a quarter of a century one of those has been the Jumpin' Hot Club in Newcastle.
The club is celebrating its 25th birthday today after thousands of gigs in venues across Newcastle and Gateshead.
Musician Graham Anderson and his friend Adam Collerton were in their early 20s when they set the club up, and they continue to run it together, with Anderson putting on the shows and Collerton doing the marketing.
“At the time we were quite young and we didn’t feel that there was anywhere in Newcastle to go to watch some good live music,” says Anderson. “We were just fans of acoustic music.”
The first show, on December 3 1980, was local blues band the Hokum Hotshots – a band that’s also still going strong today. For the first 12 years, the shows took place in what Anderson calls “a dingy cellar” of the Bridge Hotel, a pub that no longer exists.
“It started off as an acoustic blues club, but we got sick of that so we just put on any kind of good music, really, generally acoustic and generally rootsy," Anderson says. "We didn't have any funding."
The club later moved to the Live Theatre, and more recently to the Cluny, just outside the city centre, although it puts on shows at a number of venues in both Newcastle and Gateshead.
“It’s never been a mainstream thing, although we did have KT Tunstall before she got famous. We paid her 50 quid and she was really good!” Anderson says.
"We’re still as excited about all the acts we put on now as we were then. It’s been a bit of a lifetime of it."
Asked to name some of his favourite gigs, Anderson has a long list. They include shows by Odetta; John Hammond with Tom Waits’ band; Tom Russell appearing with a band that included Gurf Morlix and Fats Kaplin; Del McCoury; Malcolm Holcombe; Eric Taylor; and the Alejandro Escovedo String Quintet – “That was one of the best gigs we’ve ever put on. People were stunned. His music’s so diverse. Even the rock guys just thought it was fantastic.”
The reputation of the Jumpin’ Hot Club has also obtained it the odd unexpected show. Chip Taylor, who was in Newcastle to support John Prine at a larger venue, turned up one evening at a show and asked if he could play a few songs – Anderson, of course, said yes.
At the same time, there have been shows that were more difficult. A fight between Ryan Adams and a club regular resulted in the police being called, and on an earlier occasion Anderson walked in to find an artist having a fight with his tour manager.
He also mentions a show in the early 1990s by Barrence Whitfield, who despite having completed a sound check refused to play because he was unhappy with the sound. Anderson was on the sound desk that night, and when Whitfield left the stage he decided not to make any changes. When the artist returned, he declared himself happy with the sound and continued the show!
Among the artists Anderson regrets have not yet played for the club are Austin-based band The Gourds – he didn’t book them on their only UK tour so far, which he now regrets. Another artist who never made it to Newcastle was jazz singer Slim Gaillard, who died in 1991, a month after Anderson had booked him.
For the 25th birthday party on Friday, Anderson has booked Jayhawks founder member Mark Olson, Iowa duo The Pines, and local performer Tim Dalling, who plays accordion with the New Rope String Band.
“We’ve got quite a lot of regulars we’re going to let in for nothing. And I’m sure there’ll be some champagne," he says.
At its height, the Jumpin’ Hot Club was putting on around 120 shows a year. If that has fallen recently to a still-impressive figure of around 70, Anderson says that’s partly because the music scene in Newcastle has changed and there are far more music venues, but also because he and Collerton are busy arranging the programme for the Evolution Festival and the outdoor stage of the SummerTyne Festival.
As he approaches his 50th birthday, Anderson knows this is the work of his lifetime, and he's hoping the club will go on for another 25 years, even though it has never been lucrative.
"I just survive. You do a full-time job on a part-time job’s wages really. But it just it takes over your life." He noted the club also has a number of long-time volunteers, who help out at the gigs just for the love of the music.
"I think what I’ve learned over 25 years is that if you make a load of money one week you’re guaranteed to lose it the next. But we have a good time doing it."
The music is still magical to Anderson, and he's still excited by it all.
"In the early days I was lucky enough to book Scotty Moore, Elvis’s guitarist. A few years later we got James Burton, his other guitarist. Bringing people like that to Newcastle – when you’re a kid and that you never think you’ll see them let alone book them, talk to them.
"Sometimes I still get people’s autographs, you know. You’re still a kid with the music. It just takes over your life.
Update: The 25th birthday event unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the adverse weather conditions. Backroads wishes the Jumpin' Hot crew all the best and hopes they get to have a party some other time.