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Shetland Lives / Fifteen years of Jeff at JAWS: ‘I was sucked in like a hoover!’

Jeff Merrifield. Photo: Dave Hammond.

THE 80-year-old has been a familiar face around Shetland’s jazz scene since 2008, but now Jeff Merrifield is stepping down as lead trustee at local promoter Jazz and World Sounds (JAWS) due to ill health.

The Englishman has now called the isles his home for 15 years.

“I came to Shetland because I was fed up of putting on jazz gigs in Essex,” Jeff told Shetland News.

“I’d been doing it for far too long and needed to get on with my writing work.

“I wanted to find somewhere quiet and secluded where I could go away and write, and so I came to Shetland.”

He visited a house in Sandwick and never looked back: “I totally and utterly fell in love with it and bought it there and then.”

After working on his play Hit Me!, Jeff decided to get back into jazz.

“I saw an advert for the jazz club and I thought well I’ll join…I paid my tenner and I went along to the annual general meeting.

“You could tell at the meeting that the people running it were trying to wind it up.

“Lesley Roberts and I had a glint in our eye, and we winked at each other and we said ‘well, if you’re winding it up, is there any money in the kitty?’

“And they said ‘yeah about £1,500’ and I said ‘well at least let’s have a couple of decent jazz gigs…if you don’t want to organise them, we will!’”

One gig and film screening later, “the rest is history” according to Jeff.

“I was sucked in like a hoover! And far busier running jazz in Shetland than I was in Essex,” he said.

Despite Jeff stepping down from his role, he still hopes to be involved in the club.

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“I’ll be there as a supporter in the background…we don’t know if they’re going to continue yet. It’s up to the committee.

“I only announced this last week and they’re going to be making their minds up over the next few weeks.

“But if it does continue, I’ve said that I’ll guide whoever takes over my role through the next application process and through the next set of gigs.”

Jeff also has his own “pet project” he wants to further develop: the Zetland Improvisers Project (ZIPPER).

“If nothing else happens, I will find a way to make sure that ZIPPER continues,” he said.

“Our wonderful plan for that is to show old silent movies with a live improvised orchestra sound accompaniment and tour round all the rural communities of Shetland.

“I’m hoping we can make improvised music more accessible and more interesting.”

Films lined up to get the ZIPPER treatment currently include Battleship Potemkin, Birth of a Nation and Nosferatu.

On Saturday night a concert was held at the Lerwick Town Hall with jazz trumpeter Henry Lowther, and it was the penultimate gig in the current season of JAWS events.

Jeff said it was always his “ambition” to bring Lowther to Shetland – and that ambition finally became reality last weekend.

“Tonight is my Swan Song,” Jeff told the crowd on Saturday. “Henry Lowther is my Swan Song!”

The final gig with Jeff officially at the helm is set to take place in Scalloway on 17 June, and it will feature African drumming.

“This is very much Joy Duncan’s baby because she’s guided this one through,” Jeff said.

“She’s been to the Ivory Coast of Africa and worked with a man called Sidiki Dembele. He’s a world-renowned drummer, a very very powerful drummer.

“It’s going to be a dance as well, it’s not going to be just a straightforward concert.”

The gig is presented in conjunction with Shetland Staands wi Black Lives Matter, of which Joy was an initiator.

The aim is to bring awareness of African culture and history to the isles.

The event will take place exactly three years since the Shetland Staands protest walk against racism.

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