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The arts diary: Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Lyra, Dylan Thomas

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: May 07, 2014

By Colin Davison

Loose Tubes

Loose Tubes

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Cheltenham Jazz Festival seems for six days to refresh the town just as the music itself refreshes the soul.

Look around: The place seems 30 years younger, the few hippies hipper, my local Red Cross shop fills its windows with bebop classics, the burgers come from kangaroo and zebra.

And two girls aged about six just passed me carrying pink plastic saxophones. I trust they don't sound like Ornette Coleman.

Oh, the music too. What a rare treat to hear so many big bands, as in those legendary days when members of the Basie, Ellington, Herman orchestras crossed 42nd Street to hear each other.

The excellent Derek Briggs and Robin Brooks have already written proper, more expert reviews, so serious jazz fans should look away now before a few scabrous, ill-informed comments.

Did one of Loose Tubes’ more adventurous numbers sound to you too like Happy Birthday to You played backwards by the Mingus band?

Where did Django Bates get that pink hat? And did anyone else notice that the Loose Tubes reed section were in inverse height to the size of their instruments?

Did Jools Holland’s almost invariably jolly demeanour turn stony-faced before the histrionics of Marc Almond as he made as if to take over the band?

And what of my musical highlights? The great Mark Lockheart on tenor and soprano with Loose Tubes, and that band’s version of Village – somewhere in Latin America by the sound of it, after a few bottles of tequila.

And that fantastic, rollicking, non-stop, R&B, boogie-woogie finale of Jools Holland’s, in which every musician blew a storm, and which singers Ruby Turner and Gregory Porter raised to a tornado.

I also loved much of Liane Carroll’s performances, first with the Guy Barker big band, then playing the piano with her own trio, especially on the opening classics.

Not only did she provide one of the best gigs of the festival, but one of the best gags too. “Have the zebra burger?” she asked the audience. “White or dark meat?”

WHERE THERE IS DISCORD ...

The Russian word for agreement means a unison of voices.

Alas, this week some disharmony denied Gloucestershire audiences from hearing the Lyra vocal ensemble from St. Petersburg after its leader was told his visa would take eight weeks.

The group visited the country in 2012 without problems, and no-one know the reason for this sudden delay, but I would be surprised if politics are not to blame.

It’s a familiar story over many years. Whenever there is a diplomatic crisis, it seems that cultural links are the first to suffer.

What a pity. It is at such times that a unison of voices most needs to be heard.

DYLAN THOMAS DAY

After Radio 3’s Dylan Thomas day I’m looking forward more than ever to seeing Under Milk Wood at the Everyman in June, directed by former RSC boss Terry Hands.

There were so many gems – shiny cobbles might be more appropriate – in the all-day celebration of the great man’s centenary, illuminated at times by fellow poet Ian Macmillan.

“Though I sang in my chains like the sea,” concludes Thomas’s poem Fern Hill. That could be, Macmillan mused, a defining characteristic of any poet.

Among the anecdotes of a later programme presented from Laugharne, where he lived for a time, was how Thomas bought a pig with the landlord of a local pub, which he felt obliged to visit to see how the animal was fattening up.

That’s a line I’ll have to try.

Colin Davison

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