What's On 2024

February 8th : Denny Illett (Guitar)

Bristol-based guitarist Denny Illett has been playing professionally since the mid-80s, perfecting a range of guitar styles across jazz, blues, rock and swing that enable him to shine in any context. Denny has been a regular performer with Pee Wee Ellis & Lillian Boutee as well as fronting his own big bands. His Electric Lady Big Band, re-imagining Jimi Hendrix, has headlined at Cheltenham Jazz Festival and held residencies at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club.

Buy Tickets to Denny Illett

February 29th : Jacqui Hicks (Vocals)

Jacqui was originally a classically trained clarinettist but started singing during her three years at the Leeds College of Music, where she also studied saxophone and flute, and then joined the one-year post-graduate jazz course at the Guildhall School of Music And Drama. Shortly after leaving the Guildhall Jacqui joined the National Youth Jazz Orchestra as their vocalist and spent the next four years touring and also recording with them – including the vocal album ‘Looking Forward Looking Back’. Since 1993 Jacqui has worked with the jazz/funk band Shakatak, both as backing vocalist and sax player on several tours and albums.  Described by The Yorkshire Post as “…a singer of warmth, poise and intelligence whose smoky voice is a pleasure to listen to” Jacqui is a must for lovers of high quality jazz singing.

Buy Tickets to Jacqui Hicks

March 28th : Steve Buckley (Sax)

Steve’s main area of work has always been within the contemporary jazz scene, playing and recording with a who's who of artists including John Taylor, Steve Arguelles, Iain Ballamy and too many more to mention.

He was a key member of Loose Tubes (the highly acclaimed 21 piece jazz orchestra that became the focal point of the British jazz renaissance of the 80s).  During this time, he was closely associated with the London  African and Latin American scenes, playing with bands such as Taxi Pata Pata (a top Zairean Soukous outfit) , Bosco D’Olivera’s Grupo Folia and Roberto Pla’s Latin Jazz Ensemble.  

His own projects included Orchestra Rafiki, co-led by long-time associate Chris Batchelor and featuring Kenyan Nyatiti player Ayub Ogada and Ghanaian drummer Nana Appiah. He toured and recorded with Ashley Slater’s Microgroove, Norman Cook’s Beats International and the contemporary classical ensemble Jeremy Peyton-Jones’ Regular Music as well Django Bates’ projects Human Chain and Delightful Precipice.

Buy Tickets to Steve Buckley

April 25th : Pete Judge (Trumpet)

Pete Judge is probably best known to audiences as the trumpet player with the iconoclastic Bristol based quartet Get The Blessing. Judge spreads his musical net far and wide as a prolific session and studio musician who has recorded or toured with a variety of artists across a broad range of genres including This Is The Kit, Super Furry Animals, John Parish, Mesadorm, Sam Lee. He has also composed music for theatre, radio and dance productions.

Buy Tickets to Pete Judge

May 30th : Jake McMurchie (Sax)

Jake McMurchie (Get The Blessing, Michelson Morley, Jazz Defenders) is one of the UK’s top Saxophonists, he has performed with Bobby Shew, Pee Wee Ellis, Portishead, Massive Attack and many more. He was awarded the BBC Jazz Awards Album of the year in 2008 (for Get the Blessing’s debut album), has been described as “a very, very good saxophonist. Very original, very passionate” by BBC Radio 3, “his sensual tone falling somewhere between early Sonny Rollins and Pink-Panther tenorist Plas Johnson.” (London Evening Standard)

Buy Tickets to Jake McMurchie

June 27th : Dominic Ashworth (Guitar) / Julian Stringle (Clarinet)

Dominic Ashworth studied guitar at the University of Toronto, Canada, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He is an active freelance player who has worked with Carol Kidd, Jacqui Dankworth, Dave Cliff and Janette Mason. Dominic is also a composer, and has written and recorded many original works for radio and television and performs with orginal guitar trio Digtal Moves. He performs in London with groups such as Julian Stringle’s Pathfinder, the Mick Foster Group, Digby Fairweather’s Half Dozen and Michael Garrick’s Big Band & Quartet.

Buy Tickets to Dominic Ashworth / Julian Stringle

July 25th : Greg Abate (Sax & Flute)

Greg Abate jazz saxophonist, flutist, composer continues as an International Jazz/Recording Artist with 225 days a year touring the globe. In the mid 70’s after finishing a four year program at Berklee College of Music, Greg played lead alto for the Ray Charles Orchestra for 2 years. In 1978 Greg formed his group Channel One which was a favorite in the New England area and from there had the opportunity to play tenor sax with the revived Artie Shaw Orchestra under leadership of Dick Johnson from 1986 to ’87. Following this experience Greg ventured out as post hard bop soloist playing Jazz Festivals, Jazz Societies and Jazz Clubs throughout the U.S. Canada and abroad, including most of Europe, UK, and Moscow and Georgia Russia.

Buy Tickets to Greg Abate

September 5th : Anthony Kerr (Vibraphone)

Anthony Kerr is a British jazz vibraphone player, who has performed and recorded internationally with Georgie Fame, Charlie Watts, BBC Big Band, Robbie Williams, Joe Lovano, Jacqui Dankworth, and Courtney Pine.

Regarded by many as the most exciting vibraphone player in jazz today. Having spent two years studying and performing in New York in the 1980s, he then moved to London to perform and record with many great musicians including George Shearing, Elvis Costello, Georgie Fame, Claire Martin, Louis Stewart, Mike Westbrook, Peter King and Norma Winstone. He was voted best instrumentalist in the 1994 British Jazz Awards and has also won nominations in the ‘Rising Star’ category in 1995, 1996 and 1998.  First Cry, his debut album for which he composed the music and collaborated with singer/lyricist Jacqui Dankworth, was hailed as ‘a remarkable leap in the dark’ by the Observer and reached number three in the Virgin Jazz Charts. His second album, Now Hear This which was recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s Club, was released in 1997. He also currently works as a session musician, and has been commissioned to write for television and radio.

Buy Tickets to Anthony Kerr

September 26th : Sara Colman

As a vocalist, Sara has made numerous festival appearances (Cheltenham, Manchester, Mostly Jazz, ReVoice, Sligo) and has appeared as ‘featured vocalist’ with The National Youth Jazz Orchestra of Scotland at the BBC Prom Night at The Royal Albert Hall.

2019, Sara (a firm supporter of initiatives addressing barriers facing women in pursuit of social and political equality) was commissioned by The Canales Project (US) to write a song celebrating the life of Sakena Yacoobi, an Afghan activist who has spent her life fighting for the rights of children and women to education in Afghanistan. The song was premiered in Washington, US in May 2019.

Current collaborations include the very special Ribbons: original music written by Sara and pianist Rebecca Nash and recorded with a handful of specially invited guests. Sara also writes with multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Dover for their project Motion Slow In

Buy Tickets to Sara Colman


The Blue Vanguard is a monthly jazz club dedicated to bringing the finest national and international guests to our home town of Exeter.

The club has run successfully since September 2011 and has a loyal following. If you would like to subscribe to our email list we will be more than happy to keep you informed of future gigs held at the club. Please message us at admin@bluevanguard.co.uk with the word 'subscribe' in the header. Our contact form is not currently working for reasons currently beyond our control.

Book Now

To reserve your seat please use the ticket links included below the specific artist information above.

Tickets for unreserved seats are available for cash purchase on the door.

All tickets are £12 (£8 students). Doors are open from 7.15 with performance times from 8.00 – 10.30.

All performances are at

Mathews Hall, Fore Street, Topsham, EX3 0HF

Soft and alchoholic drinks plus food are available from the Mathews Hall Cafe in the foyer.

Please note that it is no longer possible to reserve a seat without advance purchase.

The Blue Vanguard Trio :

Craig Milverton - Keys

Pianist Craig Milverton's main influences are Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans and his jazz interest was spawned by his fathers record collection, initially the Boogie Woogie pianists and then Oscar and Ella. Craig began performing in public as young as 10 years of age. He moved to Devon in 1985 and began gigging with local rock 'n' roll and jazz funk groups.

Since then Craig has toured extensively with a wide variety of groups including Junkyard Angels, Roger Mark's Quintet, the Pete Allen Jazz Band, Pizza Express International Band, the Kings of Jazz, Clarinet Maestros (with Julian Stringle & Ken Peplowski) across the UK, Europe and beyond.

In 1997, he joined Digby Fairweather's Half Dozen (releasing a CD '12 Feet off the Ground' in 1999) and from 2002-2007 was the backing unit for the late George Melly, recording 3 acclaimed CD's and including 4 month long residencies at Ronnie Scotts.

The year 2003 saw him on the front cover of Jazz Journal International with a feature article and his CD, 'It's a Jazz Life', was CD of the month in The Observer.

In 2005 his trio CD 'Three Flow' was reviewed by Richard Palmer (Biographer for Oscar Peterson's 'A Jazz Odessey') and was his choice for CD of the year for Jazz Journal International. For 4 years from 2003-2007 he put on his own 'Hayne Barton Jazz Festival', where he featured the cream of British Jazz Talent from across the entire jazz spectrum including support for artistes from the Southwest.

As well as being involved with Digby Fairweather's projects, he has many of his own groups. His latest show 'A Tribute To Oscar Peterson' with his Quartet paying homage to Craig's greatest inspiration (CD' Live At The Lights'). 'ZZ Bop', a more contemporary Quartet featuring American Bassist Tom Hill (CD 'Josies Bosie'). 'Organsolar' a Hammond based Quartet featuring Top Tenor man, Ian Ellis (CD 'Live At Hayne Barton'), and the Dale/Milverton Quartet with Plymouth based Tough Tenor man, Martin Dale (CD 'From Hand To Mouth').

Visit Craig's website for more

Al Swainger - Bass

Al Double Bass

Bassist Al Swainger relocated to Bristol in 2016 but continues to support the Blue Vanguard club as part of the house trio's monthly gigs. He is also a composer, improviser, producer, digital artist and FX enthusiast. His eclectic tastes have led to making music in a wide variety of genres over the years with literally hundreds of musicians. Covering ground from traditional to modern jazz, pop to progressive rock and world music to fully improvised soundsculpture, Al is always keen to explore new musical territory.

Notable recording projects as a band leader include The Art Trip : the Music of Art Pepper (featuring Alan Barnes), Biophosmos : The Music of Chick Corea and several albums (including After & Before and Outer Planets I & II) with Al Swainger's Pointless Beauty featuring his own compositions, covering a wider range of styles from latin to ambient to prog rock. A new album 'Hearts Full of Grace' released in June 2022 featuring Gary Alesbook, Ant Law, George Cooper & Jon Clark.

As well as his own projects Al continues to perform live regularly with the Michele Drees Tap Project, Digby Fairweather's Half Dozen, Kick Ass Brass and The Blue Vanguard House Trio.

Visit alswainger.com for more info on Al as a freelance bassist or pointlessbeauty.com for more on Al's work as a composer, bandleader and creative improvisor.

Coach York - Drums

House drummer Coach York started playing at school in various prog rock bands, moving on to Art College and discovering funk and jazz. The Northampton scene where he grew up was heavy with R'n'B and trad jazz bands which was a useful training ground. He then served a long apprenticeship grinding up and down the country with some reasonably well-known soul bands. The late seventies and early eighties saw the explosion of the 2-Tone scene in Coventry where he joined the Ska/Reggae band The Army, later The Resistance, sharing studios and promotion with the Specials, Selecter and Bad Manners, with modest success, and recorded a critically-acclaimed album with former members of the Goth band Bauhaus.

Modern jazz has always been a passion, and over the years he has worked extensively with most of the top names on the British Jazz scene, accompanying people like Peter King, Jim Mullen, Bill Le Sage, Don Rendell, Alan Barnes, Iain Ballamy, Mike Outram, Simon Spillett, Roger Beaujolais, Jean Toussaint and many others, along with visiting US musicians like Jimmy Witherspoon, Slim Gaillard and more recently Greg Abate and Benn Clatworthy.

He works regularly with the Craig Milverton Trio, the hard-grooving Organology, and can often be found backing the well-known vocalists Louise Parker, Maggie Reeday and Annika Skoogh, or accompanying the fine sax player Martin Dale.  Also found with Steve Buckley, sax player and penny whistler from Loose Tubes, playing his compositions, and with whom he's had some great moments of free improvisation with Sam Richards and Pat Butterly. He's also the regular drummer in the Mike Westbrook Big Band, which has spawned the Very Small Brass Band featuring Dave Holdsworth on sousaphone.

He has also recently started playing with Jelly Roll - a dynamic blues trio featuring the legendary Julian Piper on guitar and vocals and Craig Milverton on the Viscount organ.

Visit Coach's website for more