Blind date led to marriage for jazz venue founders

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A couple who met on a blind date in early 1960s London and went on to set up a leading music venue will celebrate 50 years of marriage today.

Alec and Faith Sykes have brought many top musicians to the city in their years running Wakefield Jazz Club.

The couple, who live near the College Grove venue, met in London in around 1962 when Mr Sykes was in sales for a food company and Mrs Sykes a trainee nurse.

Mr Sykes, 77, said: “I had finished university and my National Service and decided to go to the big city.”

Mrs Sykes, 72, said: “When we first met I thought he wasn’t exactly my kind of person, but somehow that night I just couldn’t really sleep and I just kept thinking. It was strange.”

After courting the couple were married at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Sutton, London.

They had two daughters, Kate and Gemma; Gemma died in 2010 aged 41.

In the late 1980s the couple returned to Yorkshire after Mr Sykes decided to re-train as a teacher.

He went on to teach English at Wakefield College and after he retired he worked for Batley and Spen Labour MP Mike Wood.

Mrs Sykes continued nursing and was matron at Airedale High School.

In 1987, the couple founded Wakefield Jazz.

Mr Sykes said: “The first gig at the jazz club was on May 1, 1987.

“We started the club with no money, and we didn’t even have a piano.”

“We got a beautiful grand piano with money from the Lottery Fund.

“We started bringing musicians up from London, and eventually some bands.”

Over the years the couple often put up and fed the musicians at their house.

As the venue became more established, stars of the UK and US jazz scenes including John Dankworth, Stan Tracey, Alan Barnes, Clare Teal, John Taylor performed there.

Mr Sykes decided to retire from running the club around 18 months ago.

He added: “It was a pleasure to run the club.

“Because you could throw a cricket ball from our house to the club, its location has been pretty handy.

“We have had lots of musicians come and stay with us and we always found they were really nice people.”

The couple will celebrate their Golden Wedding anniversary with a party today.

In 2005, Wakefield Jazz Club was named Venue of the Year in the inaugural Parliamentary Jazz Awards, a competition set up by MPs.

A shield was presented at the houses of parliament.

Wakefield Jazz is supported by Wakefield Council, Jazz Yorkshire, the Arts Council and the Friends of Wakefield Jazz Club, which was formed in 2009.

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