1 March 2020

Column: Simon Spillett – BOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!

If the following doesn’t quite hang together in a completely cogent manner please forgive me. I’m suffering from too little sleep and rather more specifically from the kind of all over sense of relief that comes when something you’ve sweated over, obsessed about, and previously only considered the stuff of bucket lists and dreams finally becomes a reality.

Last night saw the launch of my new big band, dedicated to playing the repertoire of the Tubby Hayes Big Band of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Those of you who’ve either read my biography of Tubbs or read my social media posts will know that it was Tubby’s 1965 appearance with his big band on the BBC’s flagship TV programme Jazz 625 that first ignited my passion for his music and my curiosity about his life.

I was 12 years of age when my father first showed me that programme, arguably THE definitive in-vision record of Tubby in action in his prime, and I marvelled at the energy and sheer ebullience of these thirteen besuited, cool and oh-so-hip young modernists as they tore into numbers like The Killers of W1.

The following day I hooked out my Dad’s copy of the album Tubbs’ Tours on which the same band made musical explosions of such pieces as Russian Roulette and Pedro’s Walk, slices of nostalgic but still kick-ass British big band music. I was hooked. Utterly. Irretrievably. Completely.

Last night – aged 45 – I finally realised a dream which once upon a time I considered well beyond my reality: to front my own big band comprising some of the finest UK jazz talent playing this music and more. Even a year ago I would have said such a venture was nothing but a pipedream.

But sometimes dreams do come true and as the band squeezed into a literally packed-to-bursting marquee at the rear of a pub in the Midlands – some would say an incongruous setting for such a debut – there was one of those ‘pinch yourself’ moments that sometimes occur in the jazz business.

And then the band detonated!

Over two hours I had the privilege and honour of standing out front of a line-up of sixteen outstanding talents, all of whom gave 100% to the proceedings and – I have to say – afforded me as a novice big band leader with bags and bags to learn – probably more respect than I deserved.

Yes, I was nervous, playing Tubbs’ ‘hot seat’ role as both leader and featured soloist, and much of the evening passed by in a flash, but at its end I couldn’t help but feel we’d all accomplished something that went far beyond my boyhood ambitions, or sentimental nostalgia or the dreaded ‘tribute band’ ethos: collectively we’d made a long dormant volcano of world class big band music roar back into life.

Pride is a loaded word here. How could I express this for a band who would have played this just music as brilliantly had I not been there and whose combined ability far outstretches my own?

Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel more than a little bit of this about each and every one of the chaps last night. I was totally knocked out!

And besides expressing my thanks and appreciation of the band en masse, I feel I must highlight the huge contribution played by Pete Long, who steadied the ship as it yawed this way and that, his own band-leading expertise being second to none.

And to Clark Tracey, whose day went so very far from planned but who sight-read the pad with nary a dropped stitch.

Then there was the very special presence of Alan Skidmore – our home grown tenor giant who was the only musician on-stage last night to have actually been a member of the original Tubby Hayes Big Band.

My travelling companion for the day, aged nearly 78, he gave his all on both our lengthy and sometimes convoluted rehearsal and the gig. And the hang! What can I say?

Well, if I can state anything with certainty about last night, it’s that Tubby would have been proud of you, Skid. Wahey!

This morning I’m more than a little groggy, punch-drunk with that after-the-party feeling which comes when you’re not entirely sure if the night before really happened. But it did – and if I can be forgiven for a moment of braggadoccio – I reckon it happened in rather spectacular fashion.

So thank you to all the musicians, who played their collective arses off: to the wonderfully appreciative audience who cheered their approval: and, of course, to the amazing Peter Playdon who has the bright idea of turning his birthday bash into this uproarious knees-up.

Lastly we all owe our debt of thanks to Tubby himself.

Without his titanic musical example none of this would have mattered at all. Wherever you are Tubbs, we hope you’re smiling benignly on our little celebration.

Simon Spillett

Photo: Graham Beale Photography

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