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Free Jazz: The Trumpet, Bilston

September 1, 2011

VALUE FOR MONEY: ★★★★★

SERVICE: ★★★★★

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: ★★★★★

There are a fair few watering holes in Bilston, Wolverhampton. There’s the Robin 2 on Mount Pleasant, the striking Greyhound & Punchbowl on the High Street, and even a shiny new JD Wetherspoons, the Sir Henry Newbolt. I’m sure these are all perfectly adequate pubs; they probably have beer gardens, juke boxes, quiz machines, special offers on Bacardi Breezers and kids’ meals served until 10 o’clock at night. If you’re looking for something more, however, there’s The Trumpet.

If you live around Bilston you have probably walked past The Trumpet on several occasions. As will your parents, your grandparents and your great-great-grandparents. This High Street pub dates back to 1830.

Until then it was in fact a butcher’s shop, which, thanks to Duke Wellington’s Beer House Act (which meant that, on paying 2 guineas, you could convert your private house into a public one) became the Butcher’s Arms pub. It was later known as The Royal Exchange and then eventually, due to its jazz connections from the 1960s, The Trumpet.

This hidden den dishes up live jazz seven days a week. What does it cost, I hear you ask? Nothing – although voluntary contributions are welcomed on a plate that gets passed around during the interval.

Being so central, this venue is only a short walk from bus and tram stops, but there is also a large, free-of-charge car park tucked away behind the pub. Car or no car, the majority of the regulars seem to come from that way, picking their way through the back yard and entering through the back door onto the ‘stage’.

The walls are dripping with memorabilia: concert posters, photographs, newspaper clippings and even instruments hanging from the ceiling. You might be able to tell, from the number of yellowing concert tickets on the bar, that local group Slade are also rather large fans of the pub.

The bar is a delight. Being a Holden’s pub, they stock a range of real ales and delicious ciders at a reasonable price, as well as the usual spirits and soft drinks. Ladies even get fancy pint glasses!

Now, onto the best part: the jazz. I am pretty open to all kinds of music, but there are still some variants of jazz that I am not crazy about. Regardless, a visit to The Trumpet will usually take you through several eras all in one evening, and of course, with a different band playing each night, you can always plan your trip based on your musical preferences. Regular bands include Swing Parade on a Friday who, as you might guess, tend to play Swing, and The Gary Bell Band who play a range including Big Band and Contemporary. Even if you’re not a huge jazz fan, there will be songs that you recognise being covered here.

On this particular visit it was The JTM Band (comprising of John Evans, Terry Roberts and Marvin Whittle). I had no idea what to expect of these – jazz is, after all, a bit unpredictable – but they put on a first-rate show with something for everyone.

As you can see here, they were joined by Cathy Stone on vocals and the vivacious pub owner, Musti, on the congas. Small tweaks and additions here and there really altered the dynamic – as a trio they were loud, intense and uptempo, while Cathy’s sultry vocal brought a much softer, lighter feel, especially in their cover of Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me.

Although there wasn’t a whole lot of improvised showboating, as there usually is in live jazz, the unblushing star of the show was clearly John Evans on the keyboards. Fingers flurrying in all directions – often spilling over onto another keyboard – flicking buttons into different modes and suddenly playing whole new instruments, and feet that seemed possessed by rhythm: nobody could fail to notice his flourishes. I heard one man say to another, “’E’s classically trained, ay ‘e?” To which the reply was, “Ar, if me memory serves me right.”

During the break the plate was passed around and everybody hurriedly rummaged in their pockets, not in the slightest aggrieved. We ended up chatting to the people next to us about the jazz, and the football, and somewhere between the seventies-style patterned carpets and the countless black-and-white photo frames, it felt a bit like being in a friend’s front room.

It was also really quite packed, with every possible space filled by people standing, which for a Tuesday evening is not something that many local pubs can boast. Part of me thought that it could do with having more room, but then it would inevitably lose its cosiness.

It seems that the real appeal of The Trumpet is not only in its high quality of live jazz, a genre that despite its loss of popularity still draws an impressive crowd, but also in its warmth and friendly atmosphere that keeps people coming back week after week. Don’t worry if you’re new – you’ll soon feel like one of the family.

For the upcoming gig schedules and more information on The Trumpet, you can visit their website.

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