Band on the Wall in the early 1980s continued to be the hub of the Northern Jazz Centre Society’s regular northern tours by visiting and local groups, and of their two annual international jazz festivals in Sheffield (6 consecutive years) and Bradford (4 consecutive years). These activities and events all ceased when the Arts Council enforced a split up of the JCS in 1983 and, in the following year, forced the severance of Band on the Wall from the reorganised national set-up for jazz.
The organisational upheavals did not halt the advancement of a large number of outstanding North West players who had first appeared at the venue in the 70s, such as: guitarists Kenny Shaw and Gary Boyle; saxophonists Phil Chapman, Gary Cox, Harold Salisbury and Munch Manship; pianists Richie Close and Joe Palin; bassists Pete Glennon and Dave Lynnane; drummers Dave Hassell, Ron Parry and Dave Tyas.
New creative musicians also emerged in performances at ‘The Band,’ such as guitarist Mike Walker, who now performs internationally and was first seen at the venue in the jazz group River People and African band Waduku. Before being signed to EMI, singer Helen Watson performed several times at The Band in different contexts, from her own band to backing the reggae vocalist Prince Far-I, in the global fusion collective Suns of Arqa. A number of the jazz musicians appearing at The Band would also develop careers as educators as well as performers and composers, such as Andy Scott, saxophone, and Steve Berry, double bass, both contributing to the creative transformation of teaching at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester. Pianist Joe Palin continued to be the first choice at Band on the Wall as accompanist to visiting jazz soloists and he also eagerly accepted a commission from the venue to prepare and perform a ‘history of jazz piano’ programme that he titled ‘Joplin to Jarrett’.
In 1986, The Wire magazine, a national publication, held a readers’ poll that included a jazz venue section, with two categories, Best London Venue and Best Regional Venue; the latter category was won by Band on the Wall. At the award event in London, the announcement of Band on the Wall’s win was greeted by a surprising volume of cheers from the musicians and jazz fans in the audience. Many of the musicians had played Band on the Wall in the 70s and 80s and been on tours organised by the NJCS from the venue. During the 80s, a succession of groups led by the best-known names in jazz in the UK – such as Barbara Thompson, Bill Bruford, Dick Morrissey, Stan Tracey, Norma Winstone, Don Weller, Keith Tippett, Elton Dean, Bobby Wellins and Peter King – performed at the venue. There were also the revered masters of free improvisation, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Barry Guy and Howard Riley. Many of the new generation of jazz players also performed at The Band – before they were famous — including Andy Sheppard, Steve Williamson, Cleveland Watkiss and, in 1986, in his first excursion leading a band outside of London, the young saxophonist Courtney Pine.
The programme was male-dominated, though a gesture towards a gender balance was made in March 1986 with a ‘Women in Music’ series that included The Holloway All-Stars, Jazawaki and Jennifer John.
The unique improvising musician Lol Coxhill * enjoyed a week as featured artist, performing with distinctly varied line-ups, from jazz trio to reggae band, African group to saxophone quartet. (28 January-2 February 1985)
*Lol Coxhill died in London on 10 July 2012, aged 79.
The lengthy list of USA jazz musicians who played Band on the Wall in the 80s includes many who are renowned in jazz circles throughout the world. Perhaps most notable were the two consecutive nights by The Leaders – Lester Bowie, Chico Freeman, Arthur Blythe, Kirk Lightsey, Cecil McBee & Famoudou Don Moye – and the three nights by the Sam Rivers Trio in January 1983 that were filmed and broadcast on Channel 4 TV, along with the Stan Tracey Sextet and the Gary Boyle Band.
Among other visiting musicians were the Arild Anderson Group, Eberhard Weber’s Colours, Nana Vasconcelos and Egberto Gismonti.