Great memories and concerts at The Manor Ballroom in Ipswich

Stephen Foster Manor Ballroom Ipswich

Foz at one of the many shows he introduced at The Manor Ballroom in Ipswich. - Credit: Mark Ward

Broadcaster Stephen Foster's memories of The Manor Ballroom in Ipswich.

There was a time when I thought I may been to The Manor born. The historic venue in Ipswich town centre was certainly in contention with The Railway pub in Foxhall Road for being my second home. 

During my first decade and a half at BBC Radio Suffolk I was a regular at both places and on many occasions I was emcee’ing concerts being recorded for future broadcast. The annual blues night we did there with our good friends at the Ipswich Jazz Club was always a highlight of the year but not always for the right reasons.

The first one we did together was in May 2001 when the UK’s Queen Of The Blues Dana Gillespie brought her London Blues Band to town.

Norfolk-based Dana very nearly didn’t take to the stage at all after a bust up involving her manager and a member of the jazz club’s committee.

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Out of nowhere the two were in each other’s face and without any training to referee a boxing match I had to wade in to separate them.

I don’t know to this day what the row was all about but eventually it all got sorted and Dana put on her usual totally professional show which featured some truly amazing boogie woogie piano playing by Dino Baptiste.

Dino Baptiste Manor Ballroom

Boogie woogie at The Manor Ballroom in Ipswich. Pianist Dino Baptiste. - Credit: Mark Ward

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The following year it was the turn of another British blues great Mike Sanchez who was a bit surprised at how mature in age the audience was that night.

It’s probably fair to say that I was one of the youngest there and even I was on the cusp of middle-age. Mike ended the evening by thanking everyone for coming before suggesting that next time they might like to bring their daughters. 

Our next collaboration at The Manor starred another maestro on the keyboards - Ben Waters. He was and still is in great demand in the rock’n’roll world.

His impressive CV includes many a gig as pianist for Chuck Berry,  Shakin’ Stevens and Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood. For his Ipswich show and radio recording he was solo and came close to tearing the roof off the place by incorporating classical music into both his sets. 

At around this time myself and former Mean Red Spiders drummer John Butters were promoting gigs at The Manor Ballroom. One of our visitors - Dave Kelly of The Blues Band - requested a bottle of the best red wine we could find.

We happily obliged and handed it to him after his sound check. It hadn’t occurred to us that he might need a corkscrew but he did and to our utter amazement there wasn’t one to be found anywhere in a building which housed two very well stocked bars.

Dave took it all in good spirits and told us he’d look forward to opening the bottle when he got back to his nearby hotel room after the gig. I do hope staff at the Great White Horse Hotel were able to help him open the bottle. 

As a promoter you’re never sure what’s coming next. I’ve never been a fan of sound checks and I usually make myself scarce when they’re about to start. If for some reason I do hang around I always end up wishing I hadn’t.

That was certainly the case when a big hero of mine returned to his tour van having sound checked with his rhythm section. I knocked on the window to confirm the start time. Once we’d agreed on one he then asked me what he was supposed to do until showtime. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing because after 40 years on the road he must surely have become an expert on how to kill time. After all, Charlie Watts once said that most of the time out on tour is spent hanging around waiting for the show to start. 

One of the best pieces of advice I can offer anyone promoting gigs is expect the unexpected. However much you think you have every contingency covered there will nearly always be a curved ball to deal with.

That, in some ways, is part of the appeal but there are occasions when if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry. 

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