REVIEW: Loose Tubes at the 2015 Gateshead Festival

Loose Tubes with John Parricelli (centre)

Loose Tubes
(Sage Gateshead, 12th April 2015. Tour report and Review by Jon Carvell)

Jon Carvell travelled with the Loose Tubes and saw their show at the Gateshead International Jazz Festival. This is his tour diary, review, and preview of forthcoming dates. He writes:  

It’s just after 7am on Sunday morning in a side street in Euston. Members of Loose Tubes are congregating ahead of their seven hour journey to Gateshead to play the closing show of the festival. The smell of coffee and porridge fills the bus as space is found in the hold for an enormous box of music in between Dave Powell’s two tubas and Steve Watts’ bass.

On the way out of central London, more band members are collected. Ashley Slater arrives resplendent in shimmering sequin Converse high tops, camouflage jacket and handlebar moustache. Julian Argüelles takes up a position near the driver, donning a large pair of headphones. Chris Batchelor and Julian Nicholas shoot the breeze debating self-taught vs music college. John Eacott explains how to compose using tidal wave patterns- (LINK to his Floodtide project). There is a great sense of warmth; old jokes are revived and zing around the bus.

A few hundred miles later we arrive in Gateshead amidst heavy rain, entering the backstage of the Sage through a cool curve in the building’s futuristic shell. Sound check begins almost immediately and, by the time I figure out my way into the main auditorium, Django Bates, Steve Watts and Martin France are already on stage grooving through Children’s Game. Django has alighted on some new voicings for the middle eight and eagerly tries them out whilst Watts and France lock in as if they’ve been on tour together for the last six months.

Soon all 21 members assemble on stage. Jeremy Farnell manages proceedings, not only organiser in chief for the band, but trusted with the unenviable task of perfecting the sound for one of the most diverse ensembles around. As the line checks start, the sax section finds a boom in the sound system on the lowest note of Steve Buckley’s alto, and Django can’t help but riff along as the note is repeated over and over.

The stage takes some getting used to for the band – it’s much larger, much more of a live acoustic than Ronnie Scott’s and it takes a while for things to fully click. Dressed all in white, with hair down to his shoulders, Eddie Parker takes the reins (“Ok guys, seven of your earth quavers in!”) to rehearse his fiendishly difficult Bright Smoke, Cold Fire before the doors open. As the show begins it’s clear that the mood has changed since the afternoon – the analytical focus of the rehearsal has been replaced with an effervescent energy. Django Bates, wearing not one hat but two, can hardly stay seated at his keyboard. He positively wills the opening tune Yellow Hill onwards, seemingly with a direct line to drummer Martin France’s subconscious.

Last Word’s reggae vibe is pulled off flawlessly, with Paul Taylor taking a storming trombone solo. A band favourite Would I Were, composed by trumpeter Chris Batchelor, features powerful solos from Batchelor himself and guitarist John Parricelli. Parricelli had one of those evenings when he couldn’t play a bad note if he tried – Shelley, later in the set, was another fine example. Creeper, another of Batchelor’s compositions, was also a highlight - one of four new works commissioned by BBC Radio 3 which have been added to the pad. We also heard Steve Berry’s exquisitely crafted Smoke and Daffodils, as well as Django Bates’ classic Like Life. Squeezing every last minute out of their allotted time, the band gave an encore of Arriving (a tune from their first album, and also the title of the recording from 1990 which will be released in July this year) - Django Bates taking up his tenor horn for this hugely fun gospel romp.

So what’s new with the Loose Tubes? Well, this is just the first of a number of dates in 2015. They will be at the Herts Jazz Festival in Welwyn and at Ronnie Scott's, both in September, they are nominated and can be voted for in the Jazz FM Awards. They have another recording from 1990 due out in July, and to top it all off there are rumours of a potential collaboration with the Jazz Warriors – the band that saw the emergence of Courtney Pine, Cleveland Watkiss and Orphy Robinson. Django Bates says “I keep on mentioning this in interviews because I really want it to happen, and so do quite a few members of the Jazz Warriors. We want to do a double bill.”

We need to celebrate Loose Tubes and the richness they bring to our musical life: we were lucky to have them in the 80s and we’re even luckier that they’re back now.

 Loose Tubes’ concert at Gateshead International Jazz Festival was recorded for BBC Radio 3’s Jazz Line Up. Broadcast date 2nd May.

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