The Jazz Services Touring Support Scheme - Kit Downes writes

Kit Downes. Photo Credit: Alex Bonney
In the aftermath of Arts Council England's decision to withdraw funding from Jazz Services, Kit Downes writes about the unique value and the irreplaceable grass roots support given by the Touring Support Scheme.

Having spent the last two days talking with musicians about the bad news at Jazz Services yesterday, I felt it important to now voice the concerns from a musician's point of view - with a particular focus on Jazz Service's Touring Support Scheme.

I think that the Touring Support scheme that Jazz Services offered was the only support of it's kind in the UK - open to any musician from any part of the UK. With this gone, many musicians (including myself) are now tying to imagine how to organise a tour around the UK - and finding the prospect of it very difficult. More often than not, fees from venues are quite low, with travel and hotel costs rarely covered. This of course is not the venues' fault; it is the reality.

I remember back to when I just left college and had my own newly formed trio - we were very inexperienced, unknown, and only managed to really develop our playing together on the gigs that I would set up for us (there is only so much you can do in the practice room) - with invaluable help from the touring support scheme from Jazz Services. I have never received any other help for any UK tours apart from them, so without them, the three tours I have done with my band couldn't have happened. I have benefited from Jazz Services tour support for pretty much every band that I have been in - as has pretty much every UK jazz musician I know, regardless of where they live, what age they are, and what type of jazz they are playing. Not huge amounts of money, but enough to make it work.

Of course this affects everybody, but it will especially affect musicians just starting out, that need to gig a lot round the UK to build up a name and an audience for their music. Without being able to guarantee a sell out gig at most clubs, they will be offered door splits and it will be impossible to do tours without losing huge amounts of money - all this, at one of the most difficult financial points in their career. How hard does it have to be? There seem to be fewer and fewer options for those trying to make it their own way -  to be able to set up tours without spending your entire life on an Arts Council Grant, relentlessly self-promoting, losing money, or having to win the favour of large production companies to get the work. What's happened now leaves musicians with less power to do it themselves - something which is integral to both the history and the survival of the music. To those that say it is wrong to rely so heavily on one organisation for this kind of help, I would say it is because they are the only ones that offer it.

So what will happen from March next year? Will some of the other heavily funded jazz bodies present some kind of touring scheme as an alternative? Will the Arts Council set up some other form of Tour Support? As it stands, from next March there is nothing else set to help in the same way as Jazz Services did.. Surely if there was a problem with Jazz Services, it would have been better for the Arts Council to work with Jazz Services to better it, rather than to completely abandon it? Even if they had only been left with the budget for Tour Support (the £60,000 a year they spent - I think), this would have been invaluable.

No-one will have the same insight, or indeed feel the bite of this as hard as the musicians, venues and independent promoters that so deeply relied on the output of Jazz Services - and it is important for their points of view to be central to the discussion I think - being the group of people that this affects the most (I have yet to speak to a musician or read a comment made by a musician that has been critical of Jazz Services).

If you're a musician that has benefited from the tour support I would urge you to make a big noise about this - speak at your gigs, use social media, make it known just how many times you have been helped by Jazz Services, and if enough musicians do, the Arts Council might realise the pivotal role Jazz Services had in supporting live jazz in the UK, and support it once more.


  1. I think Kit is absolutely right on this one. I gather that ACE has had misgivings about the 'stability' of the Jazz Services board but the function of the organisation is too important to simply abandon, while to remove them from NPO status as a kind of 'spank across the nose' and suggest they might be re-instated if they behave is dismal management for a government body that pretends to strategic status.

    Kit's point about the practicality of planning a tour with the knowledge that some basic costs are covered is obviously valid; I'd just add that ACE never seems to grasp the huge psychological 'filip' of endorsement that even a small grant gives to young artists. Jazz Services provided this in spades. It is a vital organisation and not something to be casually dropped. Surely!

    Vic Allen (Promoter, Dean Clough, Halifax)

  2. We need to know more about why the funding was cut, and be strategic about approach to Arts Council and future funding of Jazz Services. We all know the great work it does, so what were the issues.. For those in London, on Wednesday 9th July, Jazz Services will be holding an open meeting to discuss its future direction, to which all are invited. The meeting will be held at:

    Bankside Community Space,
    18 Great Gilbert Street,
    London SE1 0FD
    4pm - 6pm

  3. Correction on the address.
    That should read 18 Great Guildford Street.
    Maybe see you there...