When David Mossman and Irving Kindersley founded the Vortex Jazz Bar, as the sign has it still, 25 years ago on Stoke Newington Church Street little did either of these pioneers know just how the club would develop. As David Mossman explained during a break standing on the stairs leading to the club, now relocated in nearby Dalston these past seven years: “It was a complete accident. Irving was the jazz lover, and we had the gallery but needed to make better use of the space. Irving moved on later for the book trade but I was the one who got into jazz and stayed.” David, a former taxi driver, who now runs the Harbour Café Bar in Margate, is still is to be found on the door of the club most Fridays and Saturdays.
The Vortex itself is now run by a foundation whose main operational director is Oliver Weindling, the public face of the club in many ways, and inspiration behind its move to Dalston’s Culture House when the landlord of the old place forced the club out preferring to usher in a Nando’s instead. Speaking on NTS radio, the Hackney community web radio station broadcasting live from the special free festival running all day (on Saturday 22 September) to celebrate the 25th anniversary, Oliver talked to saxophonist Alan Wilkinson on air about the way the club has developed. Wilkinson spoke of the hub of great music in Dalston with neighbouring Cafe Oto boosting the buzz. “It’s like 52nd St,” Weindling quipped, and as he spoke as if to prove his point, Mats Gustafsson of The Thing and Thurston Moore were performing at Oto to a full house on the second day of their residency.
Outside the studio on Gillett Square up to 1,000 people and more were listening to Grime MC Olushola Ajose, aka Afrikan Boy, performing with a DJ and dancers, while later Nostalgia 77, Ben Lamdin’s band fusing old school funk and soul with spiritual jazz, would complete the fest.
The festival had opened at 2pm with the glorious free jazz anarchy of the rarely heard People Band with its Ayler-esque sense of abandon and great horns featuring Davey Payne (of Blockheads renown), 33 records’ Paul Jolly, and Westbrook alumnus George Khan, with spoken word poetry from Terry Day also a highlight. An incantatory hippie spell was summoned up at times with bells, little grunts and sighs, the lot. Wonderful stuff.
Later highlights included a feel-good Township Comets with the fine singer Pinise Saul joining the infectious ensemble of Adam Glasser on keys and harmonica, Frank Tontoh on drums, Harry Brown trombone, Rob Townsend saxophone, and Dudley Phillips, bass, creating a scintillating township sound.
With Annie Whitehead’s world music workshop, the sounds of Seddik Zebiri from Algeria and his multicultural Seeds of Creation, gnawa psychedelia from Electric Jalaba (pictured) and more besides the crowd enjoyed the fine weather as they mingled and sampled the food and real ale stands.
David Mossman could not have envisaged the tremendous success of the club all those years ago when the Vortex was emerging tucked away on a quiet London street with only the occasional bus trundling by to make some noise beyond for company. What the future holds is anyone’s guess; however, one thing is for sure, the club holds the key to the most creative edge of the London jazz scene, and without its input that incubating area for the music of today and tomorrow would be immeasurably worse off, and yet it’s only just begun.
– Stephen Graham