I have frequently walked the Chichester Canal towpath and on one of these occasions earlier this year could not help but notice that a much larger boat than I had previously observed was moored in the centre of the Canal Basin. On making enquiries, I was informed that this impressive, purposely built craft, the ‘Richmond’, a twenty-seven ton, fifty-passenger pleasure vessel, was the culmination of the Chichester Canal Society’s desire to further the heritage and leisure aspirations of the City of Chichester.
With responsibility for Chichester Jazz Club’s Outside Events, it immediately struck me that here was a not-to-be-missed opportunity for our own enthusiasts to soak up the music’s frantic rhythms whilst afloat! After all, such a dramatic departure from CJC’s more usual venues would not be all that unusual as jazz has always been associated with being promoted on boats from the Mississippi to Trad on the Thames. I have to confess that I conjured up fantasies remembering the mirrored water scenes in Newport’s famous ‘Jazz on a Summer’s Evening’ and I pictured the luscious Anita O’Day perched on the bow of the ‘Richmond’ going through her ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ routine in that coconut-ice like hat of hers! Back to reality. After club committee deliberation, the two jazz cruises were approved and some ninety club members and friends gathered at the basin jetty over the two evenings of 5th and 13 August 2005 for these inaugural motor vessel trips down to Hunston. As it was originally ‘my baby’, it was with some apprehension when, after checking the passenger lists (obligatory – remember the Titanic!) I climbed aboard. After some minor teething problems on both evenings, our two most keen crews cast off and with the hostesses fussing over our every need we completed two return trips to Hunston and back, mooring at its jetty on the first leg for a stretch and, for some, a fag stop.
So, how did these voyages turn out? Well, I needn’t have worried a jot. To my surprise, the evenings’ assemblies metamorphorsised spontaneously, struggling off their normal club night reverential reception of musicians to evolve to a night-club type ambience, i.e. a mixture of social chat and musical appreciation in almost equal measure. I suppose we have witnessed this audience response before now at our discontinued club dinners but this dramatic change in cultural behaviour took a lot of getting used to. Whether they were nattering on the lower deck or witnessing the boat gliding down the canal at first hand, up-top on the skipper’s deck to the strains of jazz, everyone seemed to be having a great time. Most confirmed this appraisal when disembarking at the end of the evening. Mind you, the cunning plan to dull their senses by plying them with cheap plonk and snacks could have contributed to the outcome!
Our very own Barry Boyce had hired some excellent performers, namely guitarists Steve Royall (Club Tabou) and Johnny Hepbir (Ultraswing) on the 5th with Dave Murrell guitar and Anne O’Dell keyboard and vocals on the 13th whose music and warm response to requests helped to create just the right atmosphere
On the Friday, the evening’s weather was idyllic. Heavy rain on the Saturday miraculously cleared by 6:30pm. The trips were not incident free with the ‘Richmond’ momentarily running aground a couple of times but the acquisition of a searchlight for the second trip prevented a recurrence. It became clear that CJC is not the only organisation negotiating a learning curve! At times it was akin to being on an Outward Bound course permeated by jazz and good fun!
A repeat next year? Why not? With my reputation as CJC’s outside fixer still intact, I do hope so. At last we appear to have found a way to nourish the club’s August famine. Well done to everyone involved!