Loose Tubes was a British jazz big band/orchestra active during the mid-to-late 1980s. Critically and popularly acclaimed, the band was considered to be the focal point of a 1980s renaissance in British jazz (alongside The Jazz Warriors). It was the main launchpad for the careers of many future leading British jazz players including Django Bates, Iain Ballamy, Eddie Parker, Julian and Steve Argüelles, Steve Berry, Tim Whitehead and Ashley Slater. In 2014 the band reformed for appearances at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Brecon Jazz Festival and a sold out week at Ronnie Scott's.
The band originated from a jazz workshop put together by the celebrated British jazz composer and educator Graham Collier in 1983. During the first few weeks of the workshop, keyboard player Django Bates and bass player Steve Berry began to introduce original music to the ensemble. Under the supervision of workshop administrator-turned-manager Colin Lazzerini, the ensemble chose the name Loose Tubes and played its first London gig in 1984.
The band was notable for its size (averaging 21 players) and was run as a co-operative without a single clear leader. While Bates, Berry and trumpeter Chris Batchelor were responsible for a great deal of the music, there were also composing contributions from flute player Eddie Parker, trumpeters Dave DeFries and John Eacott, as well as trombonist John Harborne. During live concerts, trombonist Ashley Slater (later to become frontman of the pop group Freak Power) acted as the band's compère and became renowned for his sarcastic wit.
Style, impact and rise
Loose Tubes' music was drawn from elements of the whole history of jazz as well as many other musical styles such as samba and hi-life. During its existence, the band was garlanded with critical praise. Time Out referred to them as "the most important band to appear on the British jazz scene" and hailed them as "the best instrumentalists of their generation." The Guardian called them "the most impressive young orchestra to have emerged in London", while The Times claimed "it's hard to imagine anyone else anywhere producing anything as exciting as this in 1985." Loose Tubes were voted the Best UK Band in 1989 by the readers of The Wire magazine.
The band were openly irreverent, with a strong sense of fun, and made a sense of humour an important component of their music. This occasionally led to criticism.
In 1987 Loose Tubes became the first jazz orchestra to play at the Proms, the BBC's annual classical music festival held at the Royal Albert Hall. They also collaborated with the Docklands Sinfonietta. Other high points included a UK tour for the Contemporary Music Network and a legendary residency at Ronnie Scotts, at the end of which they marched out into the streets of Soho at 3 a.m. still playing, with the audience following.
Loose Tubes released three albums between 1985 and 1989 - Loose Tubes, Delightful Precipice and Open Letter. The last of these was produced by legendary engineer and Miles Davis collaborator Teo Macero who commented "These guys are interested in real composition, real melodies, not just being super hip. I haven't seen a young band in the US that wants to do things like that." A live album, Loose Tubes: JazzbucheBerlin 87 was also released.
In addition, the band set up their own Loose Tubes record label. The label released albums by the Human Chain duo (Bates and Steve Argüelles), The Iains (a quartet led by Iain Ballamy), a quintet led by Tim Whitehead, a trio led by Steve Berry and a duo with Stan Sulzmann and John Taylor playing the music of Kenny Wheeler.
Loose Tubes disbanded in 1990, largely due to the difficulty in financially sustaining and organising such a large ensemble of musicians (a situation not helped by the contemporary economic crisis in the UK). The collective leadership of the band had also became unmanageable and it was time for many of the musicians to move onto more focussed individual careers. Saxophonist Iain Ballamy later reflected "It kind of reached the stage where the band had to change a lot — and nobody could change it — or it had to end so something new could come along. And that’s what happened."
In 2010, twenty years after the band had disbanded, Django Bates announced that he would be releasing a Loose Tubes live album called Dancing on Frith Street on his own label Lost Marble Recordings. The recordings were made at Ronnie Scotts during the band's last week of live activity in 1990. Dancing on Frith Street is scheduled for release on September 27, 2010.
The legacy of Loose Tubes continues strongly both through its former members, who continue to be leading lights of the UK music scene, and also its inspirational effect on younger musicians. F-IRE Collective founder Barak Schmool, who worked as a roadie for Loose Tubes, cites Loose Tubes as a formative influence.
In 1991, Django Bates formed his large ensemble Delightful Precipice which includes many musicians from Loose Tubes and is in certain respects a continuation of their work (albeit one with a single leader).
- Julian Argüelles, soprano and baritone saxes
- Steve Argüelles, percussion on the first and second albums, then drums and percussion
- Iain Ballamy, soprano and alto saxes
- Chris Batchelor, trumpet
- Django Bates, keyboards
- Steve Berry, bass
- Steve Buckley, soprano and alto saxes
- Steve Day, trombone and euphonium
- Dave DeFries, trumpet
- John Eacott, trumpet
- Paul Edmonds, trumpet
- Ted Emmett, trumpet
- Nic France (played drums on the first and second albums)
- Martin France drums
- John Harborne, trombone
- Lance Kelly, trumpet
- Noel Langley, trumpet
- Thebe Lipere, percussion
- Mark Lockheart, tenor and soprano saxes
- Julian Nicholas, tenor and soprano saxes
- John Parricelli, guitar
- Eddie Parker, flutes, keyboards
- Dave Powell, tuba
- Dai Pritchard, clarinets
- Richard Pywell, trombones
- Ashley Slater, trombone
- Ken Stubbs, baritone, alto saxes
- Paul Taylor, trombone
- Steve Watts, bass
- Tim Whitehead, tenor sax
- Loose Tubes (1985)
- Delightful Precipice (1986)
- Open Letter (1988)
- Loose Tubes: Jazzbühne Berlin 87
- Dancing on Frith Street (Lost Marble LM005, 2010) – live album recorded at Ronnie Scott's Sept 1990]
- Säd Afrika (Lost Marble LM006, release date 14th May 2012) – live album recorded at Ronnie Scott's Sept 1990]
Other media appearances
Film and television
- Loose Tubes at Bath International Festival May 1986, and in Green Park Station. BBC TWO 3 January 1987
- . Documentary. The 21-piece jazz orchestra its first national tour. The musicians are shown conducting a jazz 'workshop' in Sheffield, as well as performing. Directed by Christopher Swann. Produced by Granada Television. Channel Four, January 1987.
- Loose Tubes @ Pendley Manor Festival 1985. 55m total: Chip, Delightful Precipice, Would I Were, Rowingboat Delineation Egg, Full Moon, Stanley Shuffle. Radio 3 broadcast 1985 or 1986. (Charles Fox presents so it may be Jazz in Britain).
- "Magnum Opus". Loose Tubes perform at the Logan Hall, London. Sad Africa - 6'35" BATES, Sunny - 5'34" EACOTT, Delightful Precipice - 7'50" BATES, Blue - 7'17" BERRY We Are, Are You? 5'01" HARBORNE, Eden Express - 8'52" BATES, Mo mhuirnin ban - 4'12" TRAD arr. BATCHELOR, Sosbun Brakk 5'43" PARKER Hermeto's Giant Breakfast - 12'24" DEFRIES, Psycopath-a-go-go - 4'48" BERRY, Accepting suites from strangers - 8'25" BATES, Arriving - 4'40" BATCHELOR, Mister Zee - 7'44" BERRY. BBC Radio 3 01/05/1987
- The Proms 1987: Loose Tubes (1) BERRY, Steve "Mister Zee" (2) Eddie PARKER "Sosbun Brakk" (3) CREWE/GAUDIO "Can't take my eyes off you" (4) BATES, Django: "Sweet Williams" (5) BERRY, Steve: "Blue" (6) BATES, Django: "Accepting suites from strangers" (7) Chris BATCHELOR "Sticklebacks" (8) Dave DEFRIES "Open letter to Dudu Pukwana" (9) Chris BATCHELOR "Arriving" (10) BATES, Django: "Yellow hill". BBC Radio 3 30/8/87
- , interview with Iain Ballamy by Anil Prasad July 7, 1993 on Innerviews website.
- Arts (Promenade Concerts): Emphasis on real talents / Review of 'Loose Tubes' At the Albert Hall and on Radio 3, The Times 01/09/1987
- Arts (Music): Kind of brassy - The 21-strong band Loose Tubes is among the brightest hopes of British jazz, The Times 11/01/1988
- British jazz