Review: Loose Tubes at Ronnie Scott's

While suspecting it would have been even more distinctive with Django Bates's cranky old Prophet V and DX-7, Dave Jones hails the timeless music of Loose Tubes

Before I delve into Loose Tubes’ performance at Ronnie’s last Friday, I should mention the fine first set led by the soulful and rhythmically strong vocals of Polly Gibbons, alongside regular house-band members James Pearson (this time on Rhodes), Sam Burgess (bass) and Chris Higginbottom (drums).

Gibbons has two long-awaited new releases in 2014, the first being pressed at the time of the gig and available very soon in the UK and the other a US release which will be available later in the year. Judging by her Ronnie’s appearances they should both be well worth a listen.
Although Loose Tubes’ attitude towards their 2014 UK gigs is not nostalgic (their re-formation was driven by BBC Radio 3 commissions), and as trombonist Ashley Slater has pointed out, “there’s nothing worse than turning into your own tribute band”, as an audience member it was difficult not to feel any sense of nostalgia, especially if you were fortunate enough to have enjoyed some of their gigs during the late 1980s.

The band featured most of the original line-up, with some notable exceptions including Tim Whitehead and Steve Arguelles, but newer members of the band such as percussionist Louise Petersen Matjeka slotted in seamlessly. The newly commissioned compositions also found their place in the set, but they were outnumbered, and perhaps overshadowed on the night by the Tubes’ more melodic material from the late 1980s, dominated as you might expect by compositions from keyboardist Django Bates and flautist Eddie Parker.
Slater’s pre- and post-tune introductions had lost none of their comic edge from several decades ago, including a few new gems such as “On alto sax, the recently exhumed Steve Buckley”. At times the soloists were a little lost in the mix, but amplifying such a unique band of this size in this venue will never be an easy task.

Django’s Mac power supply started to wave goodbye just before Parker’s closer Children’s Game, and Slater’s appeal to the “yuppies” in the audience for a replacement yielded fruit, but I couldn’t help thinking of how Django would have sounded on the night with his cranky (by modern standards) old Prophet V analogue synthesizer and not quite so cranky DX-7, on which he’d arguably sounded more distinctive than any other keyboard player.

Bates then picked up the tenor horn from cold for the inevitable encore, and I was reminded, surrounded by roving horn players, of how great a jazz instrumentalist he is, although it’s difficult for that to match his output as a composer and arranger, particularly for this flexibly organised, healthily chaotic, and uniquely eclectic large jazz ensemble, which, unlike the Prophet V and DX-7 will continue to sound timeless for many decades to come.

Loose Tubes 2014 photo by John Watson

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