Cheltenham Round-up

Clarence Penn from Dave Douglas’ Quintet

The Cheltenham Jazz Festival (sponsored by Budvar in association with BBC Radio 2) has been going strong and getting stronger since 1996. It’been a haunt of choice for me for a few years. And each time I go I enjoy it more.


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– Because Cheltenham is a pleasant town, and whole town at jazz festival time has an addictively friendly vibe

-beacuase all the gigs are within walking distance
, as are loads of nice pubs and restaurants

-the Stuart Holmes free/fringe programme seems to get more interesting and bigger each year

-there is a great mixture of events at all times of day and night – the late night jam allegedly went on till 6am (!)

-Festival Artistic Director Tony Dudley-Evans has that sixth sense of the right band to put in the right venue

-you can expect to go at least one or two gigs which will be among the best things you hear all year (for me that was Dave Douglas this year) .

-there is always the unexpected to try out…

I went to seven gigs. Which means I hardly got to scratch the surface. There. Is . So! Much! Good! Stuff! On!


Some industrious folk have put me to shame , they’ve been a-blogging all through the festival, notably Tim Dickeson of Edition Records who has captured the drama and uncertainty of a power cut at the Everyman Theatre, and taken some great photos. Also Peter Bacon of thejazzbreakfast blog, who has been diligently filing short reviews gig by gig.


I have no doubt that the Everyman appearance by the Dave Douglas Quintet– fiendishly inventive Donny MacAslan on tenor sax, live-wire Orrin Evans on Fender Rhodes electric piano, propulsive and persuasive Scott Colley on bass and stupendous Clarence Penn on drums- (catch the life in that smile above!) – will sound as convincing when it gets broadcast on Jazz on 3 as it was in the Theatre. This really was a gig to remember. I caught the young faces of the members of a conservatoire band sitting next to me. Their jaws were truly dropping. Douglas just has an ever-fascinating musical story to tell. In this incarnation of his working band has the means to tell it loud and clear.

I was at the lively Sunday morning family breakfast gig in the Town Hall by “Children’s Laureate” Michael Rosen with Colin Riley/ Tim Whitehead’s Homemade Orchestra in “Nonsense”. This was a show ideal for children of any age including this blogger. Michael Rosen is like the anarchically inspired teacher all kids should have at some point in their lives- maybe Year 5 or Year 6 would be the best time. His poems, with extra kick in every rhythm from the compositions, certainly captured the imagination and the undivided attention of the children sitting round me. A top pro band with the likes of Liam Noble and Oli Hayhurst was an essential part of this project. And adults I met in the street later also kept quoting lines from it at me, like…There’s a Toad. In the Road. There’s a nice clip from Nonsense on the Homemade Orchestra’s website. I hope many more schoolkids get to hear and see this: it’s fun!

The Cheltenham vibe is not all about top-flight professionals or paying homage to the greats. It’s also about hanging around the gardens, drink in hand. I lighted on a very pale-faced student jazz-funk band, just a bunch of lads studying in Bristol. Indoor types, all presumably under the cosh of exams, but just out having a blow and clearly having fun. They were called Cattle Market. They’d just won an award from Budvar. The first number they played had a title which spoke straight from the heart of the 2009 student: “Rental accommodation is a rip-off.” Cheltenham must have been a nice break for these guys from grinding out dissertations.

I also went to the late night gospel set by Don Byron’s group. It wasn’t that well attended, but as I write this evening, I expect this group to be going down an absolute storm at Ronnie’s. Tony Dudley-Evans alluded to Byron’s endless capacity for taking on new and different projects. This gospel project was an extremely punchy low-down band accompanying the powerful singer DK Dyson, in Thomas A Dorsey gospel numbers such as “Precious Lord.” Those with a taste for both religion and raunch must find their predilections difficult to reconcile. But no problem here: Don Byron’s band at the Everyman was serving them up joyously, indeed unashamedly, together.

Categories: miscellaneous

3 replies »

  1. Thanks for the interesting report – I was nowhere near there, but this certainly whets my appetite for being in the UK that time of the year next time.

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