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The Simon Spillett Big Band Celebrates Tubby Hayes (2022 Wigan Jazz Festival)

Simon Spillett Big Band Celebrates Tubby Hayes

(The Village on the Green, Aspull, Wigan. Wigan Jazz Festival. 8 July 2022. Review by Frank Griffith)

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Simon Spillett Big Band at Wigan. Photo credit: Chandran Jepegnanam

The music and legacy of British saxophonist, flautist, vibist and composer/arranger, Tubby Hayes was in full flow at the Wigan Jazz Fest. Returning after a two-year break due to the pandemic, one could not imagine a more fitting band to re-enliven this festival, now  in its 35th year.

Held at the Village On The Green in leafy Aspull (a short drive from Wigan Town Centre) this well-appointed venue boasts much of the atmosphere of a Soho nightclub. Replete with cloaked lighting filtered with a neon ambience this 300-plus capacity room sports a glow that fully harmonises with the sounds of jazz.

Oh yes….the music….The Spillett big band served up a two-and-a half hour  show of charts of the Tubby Hayes Big Band which was active from the late 1950s until the leader’s untimely passing in 1973 at the age of just 37. Most of the pieces played were composed and arranged by Hayes alongside offerings from the likes of Harry South, Jimmy Deuchar and Ian Hamer.

Simon Spillett‘s involvement was incalculable- standing in front and subtly gesticulating and grooving to every note and rhymical thrust – as if the entire ensemble was being channeled through his very being. His several solo forays added much to the proceedings but never at the expense of the wealth of soloists in this world-class band. His outing on ”Seven Steps To Heaven” impressed with his lucid and centred tone, buoyed up with flawless technique connecting his swinging hardbop vocabulary unswervingly.

Simon Spillett. Photo credit: Chandran Jepegnanam

For starters, the rhythm section, led by Robin Aspland‘s fleet and supportive piano alongside the stalwart bass of Alec Dankworth was bolstered with the unrelenting drive and precision (both as soloist and time lord) of Pete Cater‘s drums.

 Trumpeters Steve Fishwick and Bruce Adams shone throughout  in contrasting styles. Fishwick with his unending melodic dynamism throughout the registers was offset with Adams’ mercurial and  playful winks and nods to the many decades and denizens of jazz trumpet. Similarly,  the trombone solos of Ian Bateman and Mark Nightingale offered a delightful mix for all to enjoy. One cannot  underestimate the sturdy lead trombone reliability of Andy Flaxman either. A top brass section to be sure.

Saxophone-wise, the front line arsenal of distinctive reed blowers included the cool and measured lines, glaced with the odd glint of grittiness of Robert Fowler that pared winningly with the robust and highly swinging melodies of Karen Sharp – both brandishing  tenor saxes. The powerful and shining brilliance of Sam Mayne‘s alto contrasted nicely with Pete Long‘s flute tour-de-force on Harry South’s ”The Scandinavian”. Not to be outdone, the   irrepressible Alan Barnes ably manned the baritone sax chores both underpinning the nether regions of the ensemble as well as fully weighing in with refreshingly optimistic solo commentaries.

Spillett and band does Tubbs……and how. Whats not to like? With many plaudits to Ian Darrington- MBE, and his fine crew at Wigan Jazz- a fantastick night out indeed. Surely a landmark moment in British Jazz.

Frank Griffith is a Liverpool based saxophonist and arranger. His weekly radio show,The Jazz Cavern, airs on on Thursdays at 9-10PM, UK time.

LINK: Wigan Jazz Festival website

Categories: Live reviews

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