Why this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival is a dream come true

Getting news of the line-up for the Cheltenham Jazz Festival is always an occasion for a-whooping and a-hollering in my house, but this year (April 30 to May 5) it has the added attraction of being, for me, a dream come true.

I arrived in Britain in the mid-1980s and very soon became aware of the multi-headed jazz monster that was Loose Tubes. They played all around the land, crucially in Birmingham at the Triangle, the Alex and at the Solihull Festival.

The re-united Loose Tubes.

The re-united Loose Tubes.

This 21-piece band, eclectic of taste and anarchic of spirit, included a whole bunch of rising jazz stars, players that, after Loose Tubes broke up in 1990, would go on to lead their own bands and, to a large extent, create and develop a particularly rich and distinctive period in British jazz.

It’s a period that continues today, both in the ongoing work of these players – Django Bates, Mark Lockheart, Iain Ballamy, Julian Arguelles, Chris Batchelor, Ashley Slater among them – and in their influence on a whole new generation of jazz musicians.

Loose Tubes combines the excitement of big band jazz with influences from Africa, from circus music and from Frank Zappa.

Although there have been two fine live CDs of their final outing at Ronnie Scott’s released in the last few years, you can’t buy the three studio albums they recorded in the 1980s – the last of them produced by Teo Macero who had also produced crucial Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck albums of the 1960s/70s – other than in second-hand vinyl shops.

Here’s a track from one of them, Delightful Precipice:

But – and this is where my dream comes in – you can hear them live, for the first time in 24 years, in the Big Top at Cheltenham Jazz Festival on the afternoon of Saturday, May 3.

If you happen to hear some whooping and hollering when, older but hopefully not a lot wiser, they take the stage, don’t be alarmed. That’ll be me.


  • Find out more and book for Loose Tubes at Cheltenham Jazz Festival here.
  • They will also be at Ronnie Scott’s for the whole of the following week, 5-10 May, though two nights have already sold out. More here.


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10 replies

  1. LT were great of their time but Roberta Flack’s presence as headliner at a jazz festival is surely an occasion for nightmares?

    • Jazz festivals have always had pop acts at them to help boost income – look at the greats: Newport, North Sea, Monterey. Jazz festivals are better judged by their jazz content – and a festival which includes Loose Tubes, Ambrose Akinmusire, Julian Siegel, Paul Dunmall, Denys Baptiste, Tigran, Michael Wollny, Kurt Elling, Snarky Puppy, Iain Ballamy, Billy Cobham, Liane Carroll, Dan Nicholls, Gregory Porter, Thomas Stronen, Get The Blessing and Kairos 4tet is a pretty good jazz festival, I reckon.

  2. Jazz only never did, eg, Montauban, Marciac, or in their heyday, Brecon and North Sea any harm. I suppose you’ll be making Michael Bublé your record of the year?

  3. Well, by your argument above, shabby compromises ought to put pop stars at the top of the jazz tree for keeping jazz alive. Then there’s the dubious ethics of getting the hoi-polloi who’ll turn out for pop to subsidise the indulgences of the liberal elite. And the legacy: people are fool enough to believe that if it’s at a jazz festival it must be jazz. Is that how we want jazz history to be read? Let’s have some backbone and save ourselves and this often great music from shame.

  4. Gosh Ernie, we seem to have moved from the reality of me writing about Loose Tubes and its superb jazz musicians to the fantasy, in your mind, of me being an apologist for pop stars. At no point did I suggest pop stars should be at the top of the jazz tree. I said they seem to have been a practical part of a number of jazz festivals since the 1950s.
    Thanks for mentioning Montauban and Marciac. I see the former has Nikki Yanofsy and Keziah Jones in its line-up this year, while the latter boasts Jeff Beck and Jimmy Cliff.
    A stiff backbone is all very well, but I would suggest the more pragmatic of jazz festival programmers – like Cheltenham, and Montaubon, and Marciac – are finding that they have to be more flexible or the books don’t balance.
    Want to prove this doesn’t need to be the case? That a pure jazz festival can flourish? Fine, I look forward to hearing about your festival and will do all I can to promote it.
    Personally I’d be a little wary of using words like hoi-polloi and shame when comparing other forms of music and jazz. At the risk of being tarred and feathered, I would suggest that the exclusivist jazz purists and those who arrogantly feel jazz is superior to soul music or rock or anything else are part of the problem when it comes to the dwindling of jazz’s power, and its reputation. Was Miles Davis bringing shame upon jazz when he incorporated rock into his music; or Herbie Hancock for incorporating funk? Are Robert Glasper and Soweto Kinch bringing shame upon it now? Surely it is better to follow Ellington: “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.”

  5. No fantasy: if I’m not mistaken you excused (i.e., apologised for) for Roberta Flack’s inclusion on a jazz bill on the basis of commercial expediency.

    Ellington’s famous platitude is always trotted out when intelligent argument ends and is not an exclusive and sufficient description of music. If it were, musical criticism would be about as useful as the burbling of a two-year-old. However, if The Jazz Breakfast is going to follow its own advice and adopt subjective quality regardless of style as its only yardstick, may we look forward to reviews on the site of All Saints, Coldplay, Showaddywaddy, Ken Dodd, Engelbert Humperdinck… (substitute your favourites)? In that case perhaps the site should be renamed “The Dog’s Breakfast” or some other suitably idiom-free title. Yet in the very para in which you invoke Ellington you separate “jazz” from other music, so there may be hope yet.

    Re. Miles, Hancock, Kinch and Glasper – they have pedigree in the tradition and the first two seriously extended it. Flack and Cliff, don’t, didn’t and probably won’t unless Cheltenham has a surprise up its sleeve – “Killing Me Softly” arranged for shakuhachi, washboard and disposable caffe latte cup (stained) hot from the gourmet coffee concession?

    You scored on (note correct spellings ahead) Montauban (though Jones and Yanofsky have better jazz connections than Flack) and Marciac (though Jeff hangs in there via his various aspirations towards jazz-rock. Yeah – terms and definitions matter.) But try these for “pure jazz festival” (whatever that is): Norwich Jazz Party, Titley JF, Herts JF, the forthcoming first Swansea JF. Or is The JB too busy crunching genres along with its cornflakes to notice the activities of other events sharing its (possibly redundant) descriptor?

    On the matter of elitism – yes, it applies, positively, to jazz. As Ray Brown said: “The better it gets, the fewer of us know it.”

    By the way, if Loose Tubes were any good, why did they only last about three years? I jest – they were a great breath of fresh air, remember them well at the Prince Of Orange in Rotherhithe and still have the vinyl – modern, creative but a lot more fun than much of the painfully self-conscious and pedagogically-correct esotericism that now assails jazz and threatens to drive it to extinction. It’s not audiences (though the metropolitan arts-chasers don’t help) but colleges and media hype that are fuelling this funeral pyre.

    • Thanks Ernie – delighted to have provoked such strong views. As I do this for fun I shall probably continue to devote this blog to the stuff that interests me most, but I’m always open to suggestions. I do like that last par – I think I have heard some of the “painfully self-conscious and pedagogically-correct esotericism” of which you speak.

  6. An interesting debate. Over the years I as a local musician have come to realize the benefits of conservatoire training in jazz as being based in the American model of being well equipped for all musical eventualities. The Americans spent ages shedding things that would leave us Brits breathless. But now that model has come to the UK more than just through the well worn route of Leeds College of Music followed by NYJO and then The Guildhall one year course. Which to me reeked of white musicians playing Brecker licks over funked up standards. Now, admittedly, you’ve got middle class white kids playing more esoteric lines over much more complicated changes but the point is the level of study is now more intense and more importantly they seem to be aware of the musical lineage behind the modern sound- they listen a lot more, even if the resulting sound is (slightly) Eurocentric at times.
    Sometimes it can appear that there are mini dictatorships in jazz and I’m sure there are people that believe their own influence is greater than it really is. But scratch beneath the surface and these people may only simply have different views and be excellent form fillers. They seem relentless in their pursuit of funds and this does somewhat take away the counterweight of general interest in the music as something people will want to hear and pay to see. Nevertheless I wouldn’t be too bitter about it. The other ‘side’ wins if they see people getting all hot under the collar about their movements. It’s best to attack from within, if you can get in. And also pure jazz doesnt necessarlily mean more standards plus solos or soloists and rhythm sections and the same old names that get into those festivals (as opposed to the same newer names getting into the other festivals)
    I wouldn’t sweat it out. I would instead try and promote acts that I believe represented the third way- whatever that way is!
    I personally commend Peter in this blog- he’s an excellent journalist and often sees and reveals things that don’t make comfortable reading about the scene here. I often wonder why he feels its so much of interest but often it strikes a chord on some unexpected ways!
    A belligerent jazz trumpeter


  1. Snarky go Latin ahead of their Cheltenham club night « thejazzbreakfast

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