Cheltenham Round-up

Clarence Penn from Dave Douglas' Quintet

The Cheltenham Jazz Festival (sponsored by Budvar in association with BBC Radio 2) has been going strong and getting stronger since 1996. It'been a haunt of choice for me for a few years. And each time I go I enjoy it more.


- Because Cheltenham is a pleasant town, and whole town at jazz festival time has an addictively friendly vibe

-beacuase all the gigs are within walking distance
, as are loads of nice pubs and restaurants

-the Stuart Holmes free/fringe programme seems to get more interesting and bigger each year

-there is a great mixture of events at all times of day and night - the late night jam allegedly went on till 6am (!)

-Festival Artistic Director Tony Dudley-Evans has that sixth sense of the right band to put in the right venue

-you can expect to go at least one or two gigs which will be among the best things you hear all year (for me that was Dave Douglas this year) .

-there is always the unexpected to try out...

I went to seven gigs. Which means I hardly got to scratch the surface. There. Is . So! Much! Good! Stuff! On!


Some industrious folk have put me to shame , they've been a-blogging all through the festival, notably Tim Dickeson of Edition Records who has captured the drama and uncertainty of a power cut at the Everyman Theatre, and taken some great photos. Also Peter Bacon of thejazzbreakfast blog, who has been diligently filing short reviews gig by gig.


I have no doubt that the Everyman appearance by the Dave Douglas Quintet- fiendishly inventive Donny MacAslan on tenor sax, live-wire Orrin Evans on Fender Rhodes electric piano, propulsive and persuasive Scott Colley on bass and stupendous Clarence Penn on drums- (catch the life in that smile above!) - will sound as convincing when it gets broadcast on Jazz on 3 as it was in the Theatre. This really was a gig to remember. I caught the young faces of the members of a conservatoire band sitting next to me. Their jaws were truly dropping. Douglas just has an ever-fascinating musical story to tell. In this incarnation of his working band has the means to tell it loud and clear.

I was at the lively Sunday morning family breakfast gig in the Town Hall by "Children's Laureate" Michael Rosen with Colin Riley/ Tim Whitehead's Homemade Orchestra in "Nonsense". This was a show ideal for children of any age including this blogger. Michael Rosen is like the anarchically inspired teacher all kids should have at some point in their lives- maybe Year 5 or Year 6 would be the best time. His poems, with extra kick in every rhythm from the compositions, certainly captured the imagination and the undivided attention of the children sitting round me. A top pro band with the likes of Liam Noble and Oli Hayhurst was an essential part of this project. And adults I met in the street later also kept quoting lines from it at me, like...There's a Toad. In the Road. There's a nice clip from Nonsense on the Homemade Orchestra's website. I hope many more schoolkids get to hear and see this: it's fun!

The Cheltenham vibe is not all about top-flight professionals or paying homage to the greats. It's also about hanging around the gardens, drink in hand. I lighted on a very pale-faced student jazz-funk band, just a bunch of lads studying in Bristol. Indoor types, all presumably under the cosh of exams, but just out having a blow and clearly having fun. They were called Cattle Market. They'd just won an award from Budvar. The first number they played had a title which spoke straight from the heart of the 2009 student: "Rental accommodation is a rip-off." Cheltenham must have been a nice break for these guys from grinding out dissertations.

I also went to the late night gospel set by Don Byron's group. It wasn't that well attended, but as I write this evening, I expect this group to be going down an absolute storm at Ronnie's. Tony Dudley-Evans alluded to Byron's endless capacity for taking on new and different projects. This gospel project was an extremely punchy low-down band accompanying the powerful singer DK Dyson, in Thomas A Dorsey gospel numbers such as "Precious Lord." Those with a taste for both religion and raunch must find their predilections difficult to reconcile. But no problem here: Don Byron's band at the Everyman was serving them up joyously, indeed unashamedly, together.


  1. Thanks for the interesting report - I was nowhere near there, but this certainly whets my appetite for being in the UK that time of the year next time.

  2. Hey Man thanks for the mention... Not sure what you mean by indoor types?

    Ollie From the Mighty Market.

  3. Anonymous has kindly sent in a Youtube link for student band Cattle Market in the Cheltenham tent.