How jazz diva Gill Manly brings South London Jazz and Blues Club to Matthews Yard

By - Thursday 9th June, 2016

Katie Rose talks music, inspiration and Croydon with radio presenter, politician and jazz musician, Gill Manly

Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

She’s a Croydon Radio presenter, the founder of the Croydon Women’s Equality Party and the darling of Ronnie Scott’s who has founded the South London Jazz and Blues Club ”to show that jazz is not this weird, eclectic, squeaky thing – that it’s actually the music of the people”. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I’m speaking with none other than jazz diva Gill Manly.

“Music was always in my house”, says Gill, recalling that her parents always listened to jazz and classical music. She received piano lessons and attended concerts at the public school where her father taught. The Sound of Music was a formative influence: “I bought the record and learned all of the songs and I thought that I was Julie Andrews for a long time”. She made her first radio show at the age of eight with a reel-to-reel Grundig cassette recorder.

After training in drama, Gill began singing professionally in 1981, and realised that her calling was to sing jazz and blues when she met Ian Shaw in 1983. She has recorded with Linn Records and worked with artists including Sheila Jordan, Bobby Greco and her mentor, recently departed jazz singer Mark Murphy, who introduced her to the art of improvisation, Bebop and Brazilian music. In recent years she’s focused on her popular show, The Nina Simone Song Book, at Ronnie Scott’s.

Jazz isn’t unapproachable. It can be fun

A survivor of addiction, breakdown and bariatric surgery, Gill has an inspirational story, to be told in the book that she is currently writing. She ended up in Croydon “by accident” in 2008 when she became disabled and lost her home and business. Friends clubbed together to find a deposit to enable her to rent in South Norwood. Some years after the last Croydon Jazz and Blues Festival in 2009, Gill was inspired by the South Coast Jazz Festival to found the South London Jazz and Blues Club.

Having discovered Matthews Yard two years ago, Gill began broadcasting on Croydon Radio in October 2015. Her Wednesday morning show Workers’ Playtime is inspired by the former BBC broadcast for WW1 factory workers. She has enjoyed making surprising community connections (having interviewed Wheels for Wellbeing, she ended up doing a fundraising cycle ride): “I would never have heard of them, so it’s win, win, win as far as I’m concerned”.

When the newly equipped Hoodoo’s music venue opened at Matthews Yard, Gill felt that she had found a potential home for her club. She approached jazz singer, broadcaster and Coulsdon resident Jenny Green, who loved the idea, and they launched their first gig on Valentine’s Day 2016 to a packed audience. This was followed by a April Fools’ Day gig featuring South Norwood singer Shireen Francis alongside Jenny Green backed by local musicians Vince Dunn from Crystal Palace, Steve Watts from East Dulwich and Adrian York from East Grinstead. I can personally testify that we were all dancing and singing along: “it just proved to me that there is an audience for this in Croydon and that jazz isn’t squeaky or unapproachable. It can be fun”.

Photo by Fluid4Sight, used with permission.

The outreach aspect of the club launched with two workshops at Easter 2016 for children and adults. “We’re not just promoting artists but encouraging future artists”. Gill hopes “that we will reach out more and more to the youngsters to give them performance opportunities, encourage them and bring interesting people to teach them”.

Gill feels that “the future is acoustic music, as records sales go down and downloads don’t necessarily generate the sales for artists”. The club runs on a not-for-profit concept: ticket prices are affordable and all proceeds go to paying the artists and covering costs.

Recent gigs at Hoodoo’s include Gill’s “enjoyable birthday gig” on 14th May alongside Zeeteah Massiah, former backing vocalist and dancer for the likes of Eric Clapton. Justin and The Argonauts brought their innovative fusion of klezmer, tangos, Hungarian czardas and reinvented pop classics played on violin, guitar, accordian and tuba to Croydon on 27th May. Audiences have included fans from as far afield as Kent and local jazz musicians, who, as Gill hoped, are now keen to get involved.

A jazz and blues festival is coming up in 2017

Forthcoming gigs include vocal acrobat Randolph Matthews, who will be bringing his heartfelt blend of West African music, storytelling and soul music to Hoodoo’s on 17th June.This will be followed by a folk and blues gig on July 18th featuring Gill and local trio The Rambling Valentines. Understanding the depth and breadth of jazz and blues, Gill will also be running a diverse menu of gigs at Yeha Noha in Norwood, including Caribbean, Brazilian and Latin themed nights. The first of these, Jazz and Blues Queens on 8th July, will feature Shireen Francis, Jenny Green and Gill singing songs made popular by Aretha, Ella, Nina, Bille, Etta and more as part of the South Norwood Community Festival.

Future plans include a weekend Jazz and Blues Festival in early 2017, featuring “as much as we can squeeze into three days”, from big bands to solo artists. Gill hopes to be able to secure funding to offer free or very affordable tickets “because what I don’t want this to be is elitist – it’s music for the people, it comes from the people”.

Croydon audiences are already voting with their feet to come and join Gill’s eclectic, inclusive and welcoming celebration of jazz and blues. “I’m always keen to include blues because jazz comes after blues which comes out of spirituals, which come out of hardship and pain and that history is very relevant still to our communities. We have a poly-ethnic community and we need to reach out and make it as diverse as possible. We need to acknowledge that the music comes from hardship but there’s also so much to celebrate and it’s for everyone now”.

For more info about South London Jazz and Blues Club contact  or visit the website.

Katie Rose

Katie Rose

Katie Rose - Singer, Composer, Conductor, Writer - Katie loves singing and helping people sing. Described by the Guardian as a 'fine singer' and by fRoots magazine as an 'eye (and ear) opener,' she has released three albums. Committed to creating uplifting, inclusive experiences of singing, Katie has led singing sessions in hospitals, hospices, festivals and community choirs across London. Convinced of the power of music to make waves in the world she has conducted mass choral events for Sing for Water and is directing Croydon's first Festival of Peace 2018. For more information visit

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  • Ian Marvin

    Having attended the 14th May gig and seen Justin and the Argonauts on the 27th I can wholeheartedly recommend Gill’s events at Hoodoo’s. I’m looking forward to going to many more in the future.