“ 47 Frith Street / Soho / London W1D 4HT „
~~How we came to go here, and all that Jazz!~~
I was fortunate to visit Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club last month in the company of two of my very favourite people who were visiting from America. I had heard about Ronnie Scott's all my adult life and finally I was going to visit!
I was excited and looking forward to my first taste of London Clubland.
Ronnie Scott's is situated at 47 Frith Street in Soho. It is within easy walking distance of Leicester square and Tottenham Court Road tube stations.
A modest neon sign above the door announces it's presence in the bustling street.
We were greeted at the door by two very smart doormen who directed us to the downstairs portion of the club and we checked in (having booked online) with a young woman at a desk just along the hallway. She told us that we could leave our coats in the cloakroom opposite, which we did. All the staff up to now had been welcoming and pleasant. Another young lady appeared and showed us to our seats. We followed her expecting to be shown to a table. We had left it too late to book central tables and we knew we were going to be seated around the wall but really, the seating was completely ridiculous! They were long jury type benches with a small shelf in front to eat off. Anybody over size 8 or taller than 5.4 inches hadn't a hope in Hell of sitting comfortably. I was sat at the end of a row and I knew this wasn't going to work. I barely fit in and Thomas was beginning to feel claustrophobic. ( As I remarked to Thomas and Stewart, "Anyone who had any kind of balcony over their toy shop, was in trouble!")
We asked to be moved and eventually we were shown to a bench on the back wall, three tiers up, which had slightly more room. The benches seated four each and the eating shelf measured less than the distance from my elbow to my wrist. Sitting bolt upright with my knees touching the bench in front is not my idea of comfort at all! It was like being on an aeroplane but the seats were harder. We didn't need seatbelts though, we were too jammed together to go anywhere if the club nose dived into the Underground.
~~Getting off Scott free?~~
The club itself is a largish square room with a small stage opposite the entrance. There was no obvious fire escapes and I didn't let myself think about how so many people would get out in the event of a fire.
The middle of the room was given over to small dining tables and chairs which was surrrounded by a semi circle of banquette type seating. The right and left walls were taken up with the tiers of jury benches/pews and to the right of the entrance was a small bar. I don't know where the kitchens were, judging by the lack of warmth of the food, probably somewhere in Patagonia. Where we were seated we were fairly close to the ceiling and I occasionally amused myself by looking up and counting how many damaged ceiling tiles there were. Presumably some taller people had hit their heads on the ceilings when struggling out of their seats. They looked a bit tatty to be honest.
The little lamps along the eating shelves were quite cute but took up space that our plates, glasses, condiments, upper limbs and breasts needed.
I think wheelchair users would really struggle in this club because space was at such a premium.
The acoustics were good and there was no problem hearing the music or what was being said on the stage. Unfortunately, about halfway through the evening a couple came in and sat in the row right next to me.(about two foot away) Their sole desire seemed to centre around having loud conversation and having a good grope at one another. This was the only advantage as far as I could tell of the seating being so tight. Judging by the heavy petting going on, if they had had more space a baby jazz afficionado might have been conceived there! I found it quite hard to concentrate on the hardships of the Labour movement when the couple next to me were exploring each other's underwear from the inside.... Ho Hum! As Thomas enquired later. "What did they come for?" I suppose it said a lot for the aphrodisiac nature of Jazz, not that they actually heard any of it!
~~If music be the food of love....~~
Ronnie Scott's serves a variety of food and drink. We were served at our benches and the waiting staff were fairly efficient and pleasant. Running up and down those silly little staircases with plates of food is no sinecure. One waitress had a face like a slapped bum everytime she was asked for anything but the majority of them were extremely helpful.
Here is a selection from the menu taken from their website.
Fresh homemade soup of the day 6.20
Endive, gorgonzola & poached pear salad 7.90/14.80
Smoked mackerel & river eel mousse 7.80
Chicken liver pate 6.90
Diver-caught Scottish king scallops 13.90
Pumpkin & Smoked Italian cows cheese tortellini 7.70
Ronnie's homemade fish pie with mash potato topping 15.90
Corn-fed breast of chicken with tarragon sauce 16.80
Fillet of sea bream & sautéed squid 17.50
Chickpea, cumin & aubergine fritter 14.70
Confit of Gressingham duck with sultana jus 18.70
Traditional Cumberland sausage and mash 15.00
Slow cooked suckling pig 16.80
Rib-Eye steak 23.50
Scottish fillet steak 28.50
Ronnie's burger & chips with tomato & caper relish 15.40
(mature cheddar cheese £1)
Extra side dishes all at £3.50
I had the suckling pig. All I can say is it must have been about ten years old when it was weaned! Thomas and Stewart had the beefburgers. They ate them and passed no remark about whether they were good or bad. I found them fairly underwhelming to look at.
Portion sizes were average, the food was cool or tepid if you were lucky. The meal wasn't awful, it was just indifferent. I felt a bit let down considering the hype on the menus and the web-site. I think that charging £15.40 for a beefburger could be classed as 'Extracting the urine.' but again, I am from the North and not used to London prices!
The meal and drinks came to roughly £40.00 which was very close to the ticket prices for the night.
One very nice touch was that the staff came round at regular intervals throughout the evening to refresh our water glasses if we needed it. They were also good at checking if we needed drinks from the bar.
~~"Talking about music is like dancing about architecture" --Thelonious Monk~~
Well, we had gone there for the music and it was good!
We were entertained by a Jazz guitarist who could make his instrument talk. He sat on the miniscule stage and performed effortlessly. He spoiled the effect slightly by looking at his watch periodically. He was obviously waiting to get off and go and do something interesting. It can't be easy though being on stage when everyone is settling down and making a bit of a din.
I was enthralled by the skill of the backing musicians and a bit amused because a couple of times when they went noticably out of tempo the pianist (whose fault it was) glared at the drummer. It reminded me of someone breaking wind in a lift and then giving the person next to them evil looks!
Eventually and to much excitement, the main act - SarahJane Morris, came on stage She was backed by Henry Thomas (acoustic bass), Dominic Miller (nylon string guitar), Tony Remy (acoustic guitar), Martyn Barker (drums & cajon) and Alistair Gavin on piano. She sang and talked for well over an hour in two sets. Her music was a mix of songs she had written herself and some old classics. Her commentary on her life and music was interesting at times but I found myself chafing a bit at the amount of famous names she was managing to drop into the converstion with the audience.I must say I am pretty naive about jazz musicians and perhaps this is the way they all talked. (what do I know?)
She had a fabulous heartfelt husky voice which I enjoyed very much and I found her subject matters quite moving at times. She has been fairly radically politically involved and some of her lyrics and anecdotes reflected that. I found myself wincing a couple of times because I found some of the rhymes in the lyrics a bit trite. I wanted to go and help her find better words. I think this was partly due to the words, partly due to my arrogance and partly due to me being so bloody uncomfortable in my straightjacket of a seat! As the evening progressed I found myself getting increasingly irritated that my enjoyment of the music was being eroded by physical discomfort.
Here is a link to Sarah Jane Morris if you'd like to read more about her. She's an interesting woman
~~Would I go again?~~
Only if that meant I was going to be with Thomas and Stewart. I enjoyed myself a lot but I would have enjoyed myself wherever I was simply because of the company I was in. I think the music was fascinating and at times very moving. I enjoyed that a great deal (when I could hear it over my sexually disinhibited neighbours). I also enjoyed going out for a smoke and talking to the doormen who were amusing company. I didn't enjoy the ludicrous seating arrangement, the price or averageness (is that a word?) of the food or the fact that I came away feeling a bit embarassed to have had my friends ripped off by an obvious tourist trap.
You might love it, I'm really glad I had the experience but once was enough for me. Perhaps having heard so much about it I was expecting too much.
Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club
47 Frith Street
To book tickets, or for more information and some interesting history of the club, you can visit their website.
My husband is a fan of jazz, and plays the saxophone too, so for Christmas I booked him (and me) a night out at Ronnie Scott's jazz club in central London. After all, it's best to buy Christmas presents for other people that you'll get the benefit from too, right?!
The date I chose (14 January) featured a jazz saxophonist plus a support act consisting of a jazz singer and backing band. Neither of us are particular fans of jazz singing, but despite that we had a great time.
I'd had to give a time to the venue when I booked the tickets, which cost £25 each - this was the latest time we would arrive by, and if we weren't there around 30 minutes after that time, our table could be sold on to other customers. So, getting to the area about an hour in advance of the time I'd specified, we had a quick drink in the pub on Old Compton Street, then headed off to the club.
Ronnie Scott's has been around a while in one form or another. It's now located in Frith Street, right in the heart of London's West End, but it started out life in nearby Gerrard Street in 1959. In 1965 it moved to it's current location in Frith Street - and the length of time the venue's been in use is beginning to show.
Arriving at the club, we immediately noticed the queue forming outside. Fortunately, I'd been organised, so we were able to join the much shorter queue for people who had reservations. Just as well, as the temperature was freezing, and I was starting to shiver (brrr).
As we went up the steps into the club (there didn't appear to be any wheelchair access) there was a table where someone took our name, checked us off the list, and we proceded. Coats went into the cloakroom, which a very polite young man was looking after. Moving forward in a queue-like formation, we got to an area which looked like the entrance to a restaurant, with a tall desk area and a maitre d' type person, who again took our name and then we were escorted to a table. We were given a choice of table to sit at, either a shared table for 4, or a table for 2 just for us. We chose the latter, and ended up sitting right alongside the stage - if I stretched my legs out, I could have touched the amps.
Unfortunately, I couldn't stretch my legs out at all, as the table was blocked off (like having a drop-leaf in front of you that didn't move). What's more, the table was fairly small, so even having room for your knees was a bit of a struggle at some times. At first we assumed that this was because we were squashed in next to the stage, but we moved seats before the second set, and that wasn't really any better.
The seats weren't especially comfortable, we first sat on what looked like basic kitchen chairs. After two or three hours, my backside was suffering rather, and beginning to go numb! Fortunately our neighbours sitting on the padded bench seats left after the first set (presumably to get the tube home), so we moved in on their territory. Sadly, the padded seats weren't ever so much more comfortable, and there was no more leg room than we'd had previously.
The loos were downstairs, as always there was a queue for the ladies, probably because everyone seemed to wait until the break between sets to go. If you had trouble with mobility then be warned, the steps were fairly steep and narrow.
In fact there were steps seemingly everywhere inside the club - to get to our table we had to go up and down I think four sets of steps - sometimes only one or two, but with the low-level lighting, I felt they were rather treacherous.
The whole club was clean, but slightly worn looking - it's closing for refurbishment this month (March 2006), and not before time, I'd say. Nothing was dirty or ripped, just tired and in need of refreshing. The walls mainly were filled with photos of jazz musicians who have played at Ronnies over the years, and I'm sure that one of the men in the photos was the person manning the desk as we entered.
At some point during the evening (and I'm not sure when) extra people were allowed into the club. They were standing, spread along the backs of the tables. This made it rather difficult for us to get out to the bar or to toilets for some of the time, until the crowd of standing people began to thin out during the second set. Fortunately there was waitress service at our tables, so food and drinks were readily available.
Food is available right up until 1am at the club, and people were eating and drinking throughout the time that we were there. Having said that, the food wasn't especially spectacular although it tasted nice. I was expecting something a little more unusual or impressive with the food, but instead we found standard stuff, ranging from club sandwiches to steak and chips and similar. Neil opted for a vegetarian club sandwich, while I chose spicy potato wedges. Prices were actually cheaper than I might have expected, and the service was both fairly quick and discreet, which it has to be as service continues during the sets.
If you go to Ronnie Scott's in a group of 6 or more, a set menu is available to choose from, and details of the menus are available on the club's website. The vegetarian choices are uninspiring but tasty, so as long as you don't expect haute cuisine, you'll be fine!
We shared a bottle of wine between us, and again the prices were reasonable, especially considering the location. The price for a bottle started from around £15, and choosing something from the cheaper end of the range, the taste was good.
The waitress was happy to bring us a jug of iced water along with our wine, and I saw a couple of tables with only the iced water on, so I assume that they are happy for you not to pay for drinks if you wish. Of course soft drinks are available, as well as beers, cocktails and spirits.
This is perhaps the most important element in a night out at Ronnie Scotts. But it's also the most difficult to review, as the musicians change so frequently. A musician (or group of musicians) is booked to play at the club for "a season". Each season ranges from one to three weeks, depending on the artist (excluding Sundays).
On the night we went, I enjoyed the main act - the saxophonist who we really wanted to see - and I thought that the support act was good but not brilliant. The singer had a habit of waffling between songs, which I don't enjoy - telling a little story about who she wrote each song with, and where, and when. It sounded more like name dropping, if only we'd recognised the names! The main attraction, on the other hand, just came on stage and blew his sax. No talking, just music, and it was fantastic. I don't know much about jazz sax (other than it's difficult to play!), but I couldn't help but marvel at the quality of what we heard. The other musicians were equally good on double bass and drums.
The first set started at around 10pm, slightly later than the website advertises. The length of each set were almost exactly as advertised though, and the only effect the later start had was that when we headed off to get the 2am train home, the second set hadn't quite finished, which was a shame.
You can find out who is due to be playing at the club on any given date via the website (details below). The schedule is given out around two months in advance, but be aware that the venue reserves the right to change the bill without notice.
There's no dress code at all at Ronnie Scott's - and that's pretty unusual in a club type atmosphere in central London. I think it's partly why I liked it so much, there were people there dressed smartly (some in evening dress), there were men in suits and people in jeans and t-shirts. I certainly felt completely comfortable wearing jeans and a smart/casual top, while Neil just wore jeans and a shirt.
Getting to Ronnie Scott's club is fairly simple, as it's right in the middle of the West End and served by tubes, buses or taxis. However, since the club doesn't close until around 3am each night, getting home again can be much more complicated. Not a problem perhaps if you either live or are staying in central London, but if you live in South London like I do, it gets more complicated. Despite that, we managed, as there are a few 24-hour bus services that took us to Victoria, and there's one 24-hour train service, which goes through East Croydon, a short-ish cab ride away from our house. Otherwise, you'd be looking at a night bus from Trafalgar Square, or at missing a considerable portion of the club's entertainment.
We had a fantastic night out, and really enjoyed the music. I'd have got on better if the seating had been a little more comfortable, but despite that I'd definitely go back - and perhaps after the refurbishment it will be more comfortable anyway.
I'm impressed that the club don't try and take advantage of the fact that they have a captive audience by over-charging for food and drink, as so many other places do. The atmosphere in the club was good, and nobody was rude enought to talk loudly during the sets. The only thing I'd change would be to give people slightly more space at the tables.
I'd recommend a night out - it's not too expensive, and is definitely an experience that you won't forget in a hurry.
Reservations: 020 7439 0747
Discounts available for members, students, and members of the Musician's Union.
Famous jazz night club set in the heart of Soho, presenting jazz music of international standard.