Saturday afternoon, the town was heaving to bursting-point, with street processions and spectators spilling off the pavements. The Landgate was the first obstacle for vehicles with aptly-named Martin McNeill’s Bottleneck Blues, as one Brakes Brothers lorry discovered on reaching East Street, then being forced to give up and back hazardously down into the High Street. In the High Street itself, one unaccredited/unprogrammed group of jazz entrepreneurs made use of highway barriers to improvise a stage, with a collecting box in front of them!
The activity was certainly not confined to the centre of town: in The Strand, the Fat Tuesday 2nd Line Band was assembling and drawing the crowds before moving off up Mermaid Street and eventually to Market Street. No sooner, it seemed, had they started on their way, than a burst of 1940’s big band sound announced the arrival on the street of a group of lindy-hoppers. Not in the program and neither jazz nor blues, nevertheless the athleticism and synchronisation was impressive to behold.
Contrary to Met Office expectations, Sunday turned out warm and even, at times, sunny, allowing the outside events to proceed without fear of soggy saxaphones or drowned drum kits. Once again The Strand played host, this time outside Simply Italian restaurant where the Cross Keys Jazz Funk Giants entertained a large crowd all afternoon. Viewed from the benefit of a ‘dress circle’ seat (a first floor balcony opposite the restaurant), they lived up to their name – jazzy, funky and with at least one giant in the group. Despite the road being blocked with appreciative spectators, it was amazing how many car drivers still though this was a good route to try and take to Strand Quay!
Come Monday Bank Holiday afternoon, there was still a good crowd in and outside the Butter Market at the Town Hall, being regaled by the Mark Harrison Band. His number “It’s tribulation time” had good drum backing and was well applauded. Was this listener alone in thinking the amplification unnecessarily loud? For my money (and free public performance art doesn’t cost a lot) the strutting, megaphone-waving, leader of the Fat Tuesday 2nd Line Band took the biscuit.
Volume apart, the jazz weekend proved a popular event (see Heidi Foster’s article), attracting large crowds into the town centre and even BBC South East in the form of presenter Rob Smith (disappointment for some who were hoping for Polly Evans) who came to see what all the fuss was about. One visitor inquired why the Landgate had not been closed. Another complained at the lack of traffic signs warning of congestion in the town centre. A local inn-keeper criticized the timing of the Festival on the busiest weekend of the year, when Rye would be full anyway, he said. It seems you can’t please everybody but overall though, much enjoyment was had.
Tuesday morning – the town is so quiet; no marching bands, no “fringe” entertainers, no music sneaking out from behind the closed doors of the late Spectrum Jazz Lounge, the Butter Market deserted….or were we perhaps all just jazzed out. Ah well, only another 360 or so days and we can do it all over again in 2016. Roll on!
Photos: Ray Prewer, John Minter, Seana Lanigan