On October 24th, A London Society project to celebrate the relationship between music, musicianship and the character and quality of place comes to fruition. Ben Derbyshire IPPRIBA tells the story.
‘Music is liquid architecture; architecture is petrified music. Really there is something in this; the tone of the mind produced by architecture approaches the effect of music.’ Goethe.
This often-quoted passage of Gœthe’s goes on to credit Novalis and extend the metaphor to encompass a broader setting - place:
‘Sounds vanish, but harmony remains ….. eye substitutes itself to the function and duty of the ear; and, during the most ordinary day, the inhabitants feel that they are in an ideal state; without even thinking, without looking for any cause, they enjoy the highest religious and moral bliss. Those who are used to wander randomly within St Peter’s Rome will feel something similar to what we have tried to express.’
Back in December 2015, the recently installed new committee of London Society Trustees were looking for novel ways in which to celebrate the society’s purpose; ‘Valuing the past, looking to the future’
It hit upon us that we should celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Blue Plaque scheme, now run by English Heritage, by applying for recognition of London based musicians who have variously helped to define the soul of the city. The rules dictate that the beneficiaries need to have been dead for 20 years, and we found four greats who had lived and played in the city and have been so far overlooked for the English heritage honour:
We enlisted Peter Conway Management who promoted two ‘Blue Plaque Concerts’ for us. London based jazz musicians Omar Puente/Al McSween duo, Gospel Singers Incognito and The Sugar Sisters performed at The Pizza Express, Dean Street Soho. Folk musicians Stick in the Wheel, Sam Carter, Lisa Knapp and Jack Harris performed at Cecil Sharpe House in Camden Town.
Ross Dines, the music manager at Pizza Express, supporting our initiative said, “a city like London, culturally rich and full of diverse and vibrant communities, has celebrated the art form of jazz in a way which has inspired generations.” Katy Spicer, Chief Executive of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, concurred in saying, “we hope to shine a light on the folk artists that have come before and see their work recognised and commemorated with a blue plaque.”
Fewer that one in ten of the applicants make it through the process. Making it to one of the dozen or so who are selected by the Blue Plaque committee still leaves a considerable amount of organisation to overcome. Lucky then that this October, when the Blue Plaque commemorating Ronnie Scott’s ‘Old Place’ is installed at the basement club where he started at 39 Gerrard Street marks the 60th anniversary of its opening. Lucky too, that Tom Welton of freeholder Shaftesbury Estates saw the significance of the event.
The Last Night at The Old Place, in May 1968, featured a concert by the Mike Westbrook Concert Band, immortalised on a disk of that name. Actually, it’s pretty raucous. ‘After midnight we were on our own and could stretch out’ says Westbrook on the sleeve note. But right there is the essence of it. The young Mike Westbrook makes his name as an avant-garde artist (he has mellowed – try ‘Paris’ recoded whilst represented by Peter Conway in 2016) under the patronage of Ronnie Scott. Then Ronnie moves his club to Frith Street where it endures – creating for Soho an international brand forever associated with the best of international jazz, walls lined with photographs of the greats and the spirit of place still echoing with Ronnie Scott’s acerbic humour. ‘Valuing the past, looking to the future’.
Everyone is invited along on 24 October, 12:30pm to 39 Gerrard Street for the official unveiling of the plaque to Ronnie Scott.