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New lease of life for Jazz Cafe as Keith Crombie tribute film makes appeal for cash

When doors closed at the Jazz Café following the death of its founder Keith Crombie just after Christmas last year, it marked the end of an era

Keith Crombie
Keith Crombie

When doors closed at the Jazz Café following the death of its founder Keith Crombie just after Christmas last year, it marked the end of an era.

The popular Newcastle club with its unique spirit and shabby charm was also the cluttered home where Keith lived and breathed jazz, standing - in the words of his god-daughter Abi Lewis - “like an island against the stream of modern culture”.

Everybody wanted to know what would happen next, and now Newcastle Arts Centre - whose manager Mike Tilley is landlord of the Pink Lane venue - has the answer, announcing yesterday that the spruced-up Jazz Cafe will reopen on December 7 as a “Café Bar by day and a Bar Café at night

It heralds a whole new era for the club as a city arts venue, with the upstairs a “versatile hub of creative activity” - a bookable space for arts events, classes, live performances and conferences to open in the New Year.

Meanwhile, the ground floor, with late night opening on Fridays and Saturdays, will be serving up jazz playlists and weekly live music alongside food and drink.

It’s timely then, as this new era dawns, that a new documentary by local producer and director Abi is paying respects to the man who symbolised the last one.

The Jazz Man Documentary, its working title, is the result of three years’ filming and Abi, who invested her own money in what began as a personal project, is now launching a campaign to raise the final £7,500 needed to complete it.

She explains how it all came about.

“I always wanted to get into documentary film-making,” she says, and she thought Keith, who had been a friend of her father Derek Kirkup - another well-known local character who ran The Barn restaurant and shops in the Handyside Arcade - would make an interesting subject.

“Keith was my godfather and dad’s best friend.

“On the day I was born, in the days the men used to go to the pub as the women were having a baby, Keith was having a drink with my dad when they got the news so they went to the hospital and Keith took the first ever pictures of me.

“I knew him all my life and used to hang out at the Jazz Cafe.

“Then three years ago I approached him about making a short documentary.

“I soon realised he had a really colourful past, taking him back to the 50s and 60s, and as I spoke to lots of people it grew and grew from a short to wanting to do a feature length film.”

It touches on Keith’s earlier life, which saw him work in top London clubs as well as Newcastle’s famous Club A’Go Go with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, then focuses on his own beloved club which attracted a wide range of star performers, many surprising audiences by dropping in for impromptu performances.

Keith’s sudden death at the age of 73, following a lung infection, brought a natural conclusion to the story which Abi feared might otherwise have ended sadly, perhaps with him losing the venue because of financial problems.

She says: “Before he passed away there really wasn’t an end to the story. He was having a difficult time compared with the days when business was booming.

“Since his death, I’ve been filming a few more interviews and the film in post-production now.”

Among those paying tribute in it are RSC actor and friend Greg Hicks, a Jazz Cafe regular during the company’s Newcastle seasons, Eric Burdon of The Animals and film director Mike Figgis. “Eric Burdon knew Keith really well and Greg Hicks said some incredible things.

“There are some really great stories.”

She adds: “I thought I knew my godfather but I didn’t!”

Abi has worked in the industry for the past 10 years, starting out as an assistant director on local TV dramas such as Wire in the Blood and 55 Degrees North, then as a production manager and now as a producer for an online digital media company. But this is her first film.

“Those who worked on the film, from the cameraman to the sound guy, are really good friends and worked for free.

“Everybody’s come together and I’ve had practically everything for nothing, even the camera kit which is the most expensive thing.

On Friday, her 35th birthday, she launched her campaign on Kickstarter, the funding platform for creative projects, and its first day saw more than £1,500 pledged. Yesterday afternoon, the total had reached £2,574.

The deadline date for the full amount is December 8 and, if successful, Abi hopes to have the film wrapped up by New Year so it can be entered into film festivals here and abroad.

To make a donation visit: www.kickstarter.co.uk

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