28 April 2014

Guest Column: Julian Nicholas – Diary of a Loose Tube

    A few weeks ago I wrote a contemporary diary for SJM. It was difficult to compress the emotional import of the range of connections that are formed through the ongoing making of music. There is a particular form of bond made when musicians play together. None greater perhaps, for some of us, than was developed during our times in Loose Tubes. 

    Last weekend Eddie Parker’s Mr. Vertigo played The Vortex to a very diverse crowd, some of whom remember us (mostly) as members of Tubes at its disbandment in 1991. I only joined at the end of 1988, so those two-plus years were intense for me – being a single-parent with a 2-year-old, and playing big stages like Covent Garden, touring the old-fashioned way (in a sit-up coach) throughout Europe, playing residencies at Ronnies, and sharing the stage on European and American festivals with international artists and fellow Brits Andy Sheppard, Courtney Pine, Itchy Fingers, Nigel Kennedy, Brotherhood of Breath with Dudu Pukwana (who died just three months after Chris McGregor).

    So in this account, I wanted to avoid the train-spottery of historical detail, and point at the emotional content instead. In rehearsals next week it is going to be very difficult not to be overwhelmed with a heavy dose of emotion that entered my soul playing Tubes’ music all those years ago. When it comes to playing Django Bates’ Yellow Hill and Sad Africa, or Steve Berry’s Shelley, I can only anticipate probably not being able to catch anyone’s eye in the band if I’m to avoid being unable to read the next passage.

    These are multi-faceted emotions, complicated by a sense of youthful vulnerability at the time, but they include a healthy dose of sheer patriotism. Yes, Tubes’s music is immediately indebted to Ellington, Kenton, Mingus, Weather Report, Charlie Haden’s Liberation Orchestra with Carla Bley and many more, but what makes Tubes meaningful in the bigger picture is its assimilation of influences that could only have happened this side of the pond. I’m referring of course to the South Africans in London – Dudu Pukwana, Chris McGregor; the Brazilians like Chucho Merchan; the West Indians Joe Harriot and Harry Beckett; the eccentrics of fusion Keith Tippet and Trevor Watts, and the freshness of John Dankworth, Stan Tracey, Kenny Wheeler, and John Surman; even its origins, supported by Graham Collier, set up as a workshop, indicate a different inspiration. 

    These are the sonic influences and flavours of a nation of open-minded, hospitable and creative people. Django Bates has been at great pains to underline that there is no nostalgic or compelling reason for the Tubes reunion. It is all about now…and I believe there is a great need in this country for all types of artists to put their creative weight behind the argument against the limited and narrow-minded minority, who it would seem are winning over the unaware, exploited underclass, caught up in fear-mongered manipulation.


Mmmmm, music, please.


    The Loose Tubes’s and many other sounds born in the 1980s were a response to a changing world – we Rocked Against Racism, watched the miners getting battered by the police, the sale of council houses, and the empowerment of a new breed of managers (term used loosely)– and indeed Django is quoted in this month’s Jazzwise as saying political engagement in this country changed after the 80s. The patriotic and personal emotions I feel when I think of those days have got something to do with how this country has almost sold its family treasures of multiculturalism, creativity, respect for the arts, teachers, and nurses to the mammon of consumerism and ignorance of our heritage. It’s never too late to fight for social values, on whatever level, and it would seem it’s never too late for a reunion.


Julian will be appearing with Cloggz at Steyning Jazz Club on May 2nd and with Loose Tubes at Cheltenham Festival on May 3rd and at Ronnie Scott’s from May 5th-10th, 2014.

(Photo by Graham Robertson)

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