Hidden Deptford venue hosts first ever South London Jazz Festival

Matchstick Piehouse can be found underneath two railway arches in Deptford. Pic: Winnie Lee

The first ever South London Jazz festival is being hosted at the Matchstick Piehouse in Deptford, where a multitude of local jazz fusion musicians have performed throughout the week.

Taking place from Tuesday to Saturday, the festival features jazz artistes like Jelly Cleaver, Cityscape ensemble, NTBM (Not-To-Be-Missed), HYPERNOVA, Zēnel and Steam Down, some of which have developed in the local area itself.

“The London Jazz festival starts the week after so we thought to do a south one.” said Adam Gerrett, co-owner of Matchstick Piehouse and organiser of the festival.

Gerrett curated the performer list to include a wide range of jazz subgenres, for audiences to get a taster experience. 

“There’s so much jazz in the south and all the artists live south. The jazz here is definitely what’s recognisable about the place, I think it’s developing a name for itself. So let’s just do a week and see what happens,” he said.

There’s flamenco, latin and spanish folk fusion from Clara Serra Lopez and Miguel Muziq; Steamdown’s self-labelled Afro-infinitism, a blend of afro-beat meets new jazz meets hip hop; the alternative young new jazz sound of Cityscape ensemble, as well as Jelly Cleaver who does punk fusion. 

Gerrett said: “Jelly cleaver is like one of the most exciting jazz artists in South London, punk fusion jazz is pretty rare and they do it really well.” 

“We would have a queue up to the gate of people who just want to jam with Steamdown. At one point someone in the queue was Kamasi Washington, who is a big American artist who came to London to play a big gig in Brixton and who then had caught an uber over here to our place. It was really funny because I didn’t know him at the time and I didn’t know if I should let him jump the queue, because everyone is coming here to jam,” the 29 year-old added.

The venue was built by the community Pic: Winnie Lee

Matchstick Piehouse can be found underneath two railway arches and features a bar area with a stage, as well as a larger mixed use theatre & events space. Though they organise a wide variety of performing arts like a resident theatre, comedy club, cabaret nights, drag nights and queer nights, Matchstick Piehouse is predominantly a music venue, with at least four music events a week. 

“It’s a place that seems to be a magnet for creative people”

The venue was built by the community. When it was created in 2018, Matchstick Piehouse itself was built by a team of 20-25 volunteers, and not even the owners were paid an income. 

Gerrett, who is a Deptford local, said: “Everyone volunteered and everyone owned it so they chose what was programmed. Over two years, as we became more sustainable, we monetised crucial roles like management, bar and sound engineering.”

Back then, Gerrett and the venue’s co-owner Dominic Spillane were volunteering 100 hour weeks at the piehouse and working as life models in Lewisham arts Centre to pay the arches rent, cycling back and forth in shifts.

Adam Gerrett is the co-owner of Matchstick Piehouse, and organiser of the first ever South London Jazz Festival. Pic: Winnie Lee

Referring to spaces managed by big companies like Universal, Gerrett said: “They’re money making machines, which is kind of the antithesis of the point of a lot of the expressions and a lot of the artist communities. So I was like cool, if we can take ownership of those spaces, meaning the spaces you create when you perform or put on an event,  in a hostile environment like capitalism, then we can have a positive space.”

“I believe in the value of artistry massively in our communities, so therefore wanted to organise better and safer spaces for the artists and the art itself, where the art isn’t being capitalised on or getting pressured or being stomped on,” he added.

Though not a musician himself, Garrett agrees that Matchstick piehouse is almost like an artist-run space for artists and a valuable secret.

He said: “The crowd here is generally local because there is no publicity team. It’s not a very well known space, or on any high street so even if you put the postcode in, it sends you to the wrong place.”

“So you sort of have to know where it is to get to it, which is sort of like a blessing and a curse because it means that we can’t just put on an event and assume 80 people are going to come. We have to put on events that are engaged with the community around us so that the community wants to see it.”

The venue is very community based and still continues to be community based. Pic: Winnie Lee

George Wilkins is a regular at Matchstick Piehouse, and has been volunteering at the venue since 2019, as well as The Bike Project in the neighbouring arches. The first contributions he made was making post-apocalyptic scenery for a play held in the venue, and since the pandemic, had found his regular role managing tickets at the door.

The 59 year-old said: “It’s very community based and still continues to be community based. I’m a lot older than most people here but I’ve never been excluded by anyone.” 

Wilkins has high regard for Steamdown, one of the acts in the South London Jazz Festival, as well as a Wednesday staple at Matchstick Piehouse.

“It’s improvised poly-cultural music. Every form of music that grows out of the african soil, whether its jazz, its funk, its funk, afro beats. It all gets swirled around. No night is ever the same,” he said.

“It seems to be a place that’s gonna reinvent itself to make good stuff happen all the time. It’s a place that seems to be a magnet for creative people.”

There are two more remaining nights for the festival for those who are keen to attend. 

Friday will feature NTBM (Not-to-be-missed) a international jazz collective led by Tjoe Man Cheung, a Hong Kong native guitarist who plays on western and eastern cultures in the form of urban jazz, as well as Hypernova, a collective of young jazz musicians who play self-proclaimed philosophical jazz with a huge amount of other musical influences, like renaissance, bebop, drill and reggae. 

Saturday will play host to The Fold Jam, which is Matchstick Piehouse’s regular Saturday jam, followed by headliner Zeñel, a local jazz band who play a fusion of virtuoso jazz and electronic dance music.

Matchstick Piehouse is located at 213 Edward St, London SE8 5HU and you can see its upcoming events at https://matchsticktheatre.com/

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