HOME to some of the most respected names in jazz, Oxford’s Spin Jazz Club is hailed as among the best in the land.

So highly regarded is the intimate gathering above the Wheatsheaf pub, that it was named by the All-Party Parliamentary Jazz Awards as The Best Jazz Venue in The UK.

But after 22 years and more than 800 concerts, it looked like The Spin had finally run out of groove and reached the end of the track.

First came the enforced coronavirus lockdown, but worse was to come. News that the owners of The Wheatsheaf, off High Street, planned to turn the intimate upstairs venue into flats left the club facing homelessness. And even though the application was turned down, it looks unlikely that live music will return to the pub anytime soon. Spurred into action, founder Pete Oxley – a professional bow-maker and acclaimed guitarist who set up the club in 1999 with drummer Mark Doffman and bassist Raph Mizraki – set about finding a new home.

He settled on the perfect setting of Oxford’s Old Fire Station – which will be the club’s new home.

Although live gigs are still some way off, The Spin officially relaunches at the OFS next Thursday – 22 years to the day of the club’s very first gig – with a streamed concert, recorded and filmed at the new venue.

And it is not just any show.

The film, shot by John Brown – one of David Attenborough’s star cameramen – features the Oxley-Meier Guitar Project. This world jazz collaboration boasts Pete, who lives in Headington, and fellow guitarist Nicolas Meier, along with founder member Raph Mizraki on bass, Paul Cavaciuti on drums and Keith Fairbairn on percussion.

Pete is delighted with The Spin’s new home, which allows the story of this great jazz club to continue.

He says: “I began running The Spin in 1999 with Mark and Raph with the sole intention of finding a place for us to perform regularly in Oxford. We began on May 13, 1999 above the Wheatsheaf – which is where The Spin’s last gig took place nearly 21 years later on March 12, 2000. Though little were we to know at the time of the turn of events caused by Covid and the hoo-ha of the Wheatsheaf’s planning application.

“What happened in the interim had taken the club so far from what we had originally conceived. In short, we created an award-winning venue that regularly presented first-class musicians from around the world.”

He goes on: “The very first gig at The Spin set the tone for what we wanted to do. With guitar maestro John Etheridge as our guest, we filled the place and delivered an evening of thrilling contemporary fare that wooed and wowed a complete cross-section of demography.

“In time, the club’s reputation was such that we were being solicited by international bands, featuring supreme A-listers. Jazz musicians – aside from perhaps, a handful – are not ‘household names’ but a quick Google or YouTube search will illustrate the level of musicians that have performed for us. As a brief example, check out Wolfgang Muthspiel from Austria; Jonathan Kreisberg from the USA; Marius Neset from Norway; Dewa Budjana from Indonesia. Likewise, from the UK, we have put on such brilliant masters as Gwilym Simcock (Pat Metheny), Jason Rebello (Sting) and Tim Garland (Chick Corea).”

They also included one Nigel Kennedy. The virtuoso violinst is a jazz-lover and twice visited The Spin to jam after playing Oxford concerts.

Pete recalls: “All of the above had happened in this little venue above a pub, charged with atmosphere – and a five-decade history of being a music venue. We were devastated when we heard that it would not be re-opening post Covid restrictions, thanks to a developer’s planning application.”

Fortunately Pete met fellow music professional Stuart Miller, who had ideas of his own of how the club could grow and thrive.

“Stuart and I hit it off immediately and began discussing ways that we could take the club forward and on to another level, in terms of what a venue could offer to both musicians and audiences,” says Pete.

The Spin jazz Club - By Ryan Quarterman.

The Spin jazz Club - By Ryan Quarterman.

“We quickly established our criteria, which included the following essential elements: a city-centre venue; a larger stage that should be able to accommodate a grand piano; great sound and lighting; better access and general facilities – and most importantly, a continued informal club feel.

“With what felt like some kind of divine intervention, on the very day I learned of the Wheatsheaf’s doors closing to us, the doors of a great venue, fulfilling all of the above, opened to us at the Old Fire Station.

“Stuart and I began having meetings with their team and it was quickly established that there was a mutual desire to house The Spin there. Within our first Zoom meeting, we had moved from the initial idea of using the café as the venue, to using the much more appropriate, and lovely, theatre.”

Pete insists the theatre setting will not detract from the club’s informal atmosphere.

“Our plan is to create – almost as a ‘set’ or theatre piece – a ‘jazz club within the theatre’,” he says.

“Whenever rules permit us to open to the public, we want the audience to enter a room, full of magical expectations. The lighting in the venue is second-to-none; there will be candle-lit tables awaiting you with waiter-service. The bar will be equipped with an interesting choice of tipples designed by The Spin, and on the stage, the seductively lit instruments will portent a great night ahead!”

He adds: “These live events are, of course, in the future, but for now, things are already getting going.”

The Spin is moving ahead with a new website and Instagram account. And, it launches with next Thursday’s screening of the Oxley-Meier Guitar Project.

Pete says: “It was a complete joy for the band to play there, and this has been superbly captured in the recording and filming.

“Although the film will be available for a limited period after Thursday, we would like to encourage anybody interested in supporting this new collaboration by ‘being there’ – albeit in the comfort of your own home – at 8.30pm on May 13, in the hope that we will feel a collective spirit of positivity for the future of The Spin!”

Did The Spin

Tickets for the virtual performance of the Oxley-Meier Guitar Project on Thursday May 13 are £5 from oldfirestation.org.uk

Visit spinjazz.com for details of future gigs