Des de Moor
Des de Moor explains why Pirate Jenny's original host venue had to close.
Photos: Paul Jackson
6 April 2004 saw what was absolutely, definitely, definitively and also sadly the very last Pirate Jenny's at the Vortex. The well loved Stoke Newington venue, which has been Jenny's safe harbour for almost a decade and played welcoming host to hundreds of the finest performers of musical cabaret and chanson from Britain and elsewhere, is finally to close its doors, hopefully to open them once more at a new site in Dalston before the end of the year.
Those with a long memory might find this situation strangely familiar. Wasn't the Vortex going to close before, back in 1999, and move to the Ocean venue in Hackney? And didn't all that fall through, with the club carrying on as before at its old site?
The difference then was that the planned move was a matter of choice by the Vortex's founder, manager and then-owner, the heroic David Mossman, who hoped it would solve some of the long term problems the business faced. Now it's a matter of necessity: the current landlord intends to redevelop the site for residential use and isn't renewing the lease, so there is no longer any fall back position of the old Vortex remaining open.
Originally, the venue was due to close at the end of April, but this has since been extended to the end of May. However, the extension didn't come through until I'd booked the Spring 2004 season, so I decided to stick with 6 April as the last PJ's date, maintaining the pleasing symmetry of closing with Kate and Mike Westbrook, who also headlined the very first Pirate Jenny's at the Vortex back in December 1994.
So what next for both the Vortex and Pirate Jenny's? The Vortex business itself is now owned by a registered charity, the Vortex Jazz Foundation, who are aiming to relocate to the Dalston Culture House, part of a new "town square" development being built by a cooperative at Gillett Square, Dalston. The new site will have more space, better facilities and better public transport links, which will improve even further when London Underground's East London Line is extended to Dalston.
Currently the new venue is scheduled to open its doors in November 2004. However, a successful move depends on the Foundation raising the funds to finance fitting it out at a cost of £300,000. Finding the money depends on both personal donations and on the success of grant applications.
As to Pirate Jenny's, I'm determined to keep a regular space for musical chanson and cabaret in London, and I've been told that we will be welcome to continue to play a role in the new venue. However I'm also taking the opportunity to reassess the best way to take the club forward. Having run PJ's myself with absolutely no funding other than door take for almost ten years, I'm reluctant simply to plough on with the same arrangements and format as before.
At present, nothing definite has been arranged, and Pirate Jenny's will certainly be taking a well-earned few months off in the interregnum over the summer. Whatever happens I will make sure that our valued friends, supporters and subscribers are kept informed.
Along with countless other people, I'll be looking back on our days in Stoke Newington with great affection. The Vortex really has been a gem of a venue, with a uniquely welcoming, civilised yet relaxed atmosphere appreciated by performers and audience alike. It's played the perfect host to our brand of music, as well as providing a fine home for a wide variety of great jazz and other acoustic music on every other night in the month.
I can't thank David Mossman enough for taking the far-sighted decision to support Pirate Jenny's when I first went to him with what must have seemed a rather eccentric proposal back in 1994. I'm sure there are many British-based devotees of musical cabaret and chanson that will join me in thanking both him and his staff for all they have done over the years to help create a space for these neglected styles.
Meanwhile, donations to the Vortex Jazz Foundation will be much appreciated. For more information see their website at www.vortexjf.org.
Des de Moor
Vortex closing night review and photos
Vortex home page www.vortexjazz.co.uk
Vortex commemorative photo www.nickwhite.co.uk/