Album reviews

Simon Spillett Big Band – ‘Dear Tubby H’

Simon Spillett Big Band – Dear Tubby H
(Mister PC Records. Album review by Denny Ilett)

Superlatives along the lines of ‘tour de force’ do little justice to this new recording by the Simon Spillett Big Band; an album of rarely heard, newly rediscovered arrangements from the library of the Little Giant himself – Tubby Hayes.

Simon Spillett has long been recognised as the keeper of the Tubby Hayes flame. His life, his work and his legacy may well be residing only in the distant memories of those that were there were it not for Spillett’s tireless efforts to remind the jazz public of his immense contribution to British jazz.

The story of how a pile of dog-eared, yellowing manuscript was ultimately rescued and restored after 50 years is fascinating in itself. The mere fact that these wonderful charts weren’t, at some point along the line, thrown in the bin is a minor miracle! Let’s not think about that. Instead let’s concentrate on this heroic feat of musical archeology.

Spillett’s enthusiasm for Tubby’s work led to him being sent, over the years, all manner of Hayes-related artefacts, information, lost recordings and, eventually, lost big band charts. Enough, as it turned out, to record a full albums-worth of material separate to that found on Tubby’s two recorded large ensemble outings Tubbs Tours and 100% Proof.

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Enter Mark Nightingale who not only takes his place in the trombone section but also assumed the Dr Frankenstein role of bringing the scores to life. There were missing parts to consider, various copyist errors and the small matter of the poor quality of the original paper after having languished in a dark corner for so many years. One can only imagine the “it’s alive” moment as the band played the opening bars of the first chart at the first rehearsal.

Enter Pete Cater, ace drummer and bandleader in his own right. Also a permanent member of Simon Spillett’s quartet, Cater’s passion for the project has found him wearing several hats at once – producer, executive producer, record company boss as well as percussionist!

Sixteen of Britain’s finest section players, soloists, bandleaders and arrangers make up the Simon Spillett Big Band. It’s as it should be. Tubby’s band was an equally all-star outfit.

This is not an album that features a solitary star soloist (Spillett) endlessly blowing over a series of brass and reed backing figures. Solo’s are distributed equally and skilfully among the band personnel with Spillett featuring himself on just two of the twelve tracks choosing, instead, to fill the role of conductor and catalyst.

From start to finish the whole album crackles with an infectious energy. The reed passages, at times intricate and snakelike, are delivered flawlessly. The brass offer knockout punches with expert precision one minute and beautifully gentle melodic lines the next. The rhythm section swings relentlessly accenting the brass, at times, for even more impact. Each soloist positively shines. This band sounds like a happy band! The feeling of camaraderie and mutual respect is plainly evident on each and every track.

The music itself manages to sound contemporary and yet ‘of its time’, and in equal measure. Post Swing-era the big band was presented with a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge was to stay as a relevant and vibrant art form outside of the dancehalls that had created it in the first place. The opportunity was to see, free of the shackles of commercialism, how the recent developments in small group jazz could be incorporated into the large ensemble. Many established bandleaders that had enjoyed enormous success during the 1940’s fell into obscurity; left behind by a new generation that grabbed the big band from the brink and reinvented it. Twenty years later the original Tubby Hayes big band began performing these arrangements. Over fifty years later, Spillett and his crew resurrect them; breathing new life into them. There’s something in this story that connects all the dots, completes a chapter in British jazz history and, hopefully, opens up a new one.

Dear Tubby H reminds us of how so many great jazz musicians revelled in a big band setting. None less so than Tubby Hayes himself. Simon Spillett and his orchestra have created something way beyond a tribute or homage to Tubby. It serves more as a love letter to the continuing vibrancy of great big band jazz as much as it honours Hayes himself. It’s an album that is beautifully played and beautifully recorded by all involved; one which deserves to sit proudly on the record shelves of any discerning jazz lover.


Simon Spillett – musical director and tenor saxophone

Sammy Mayne – alto saxophone/flute
Pete Long – alto saxophone/flute
Alex Garnett – tenor saxophone/clarinet
Simon Allen – tenor saxophone/clarinet
Alan Barnes – baritone saxophone/bass clarinet

Nathan Bray – trumpet/flugelhorn
George Hogg – trumpet/flugelhorn
Freddie Gavita – trumpet/flugelhorn
Steve Fishwick – trumpet/flugelhorn

Jon Stokes – trombone
Mark Nightingale – trombone
Ian Bateman – trombone
Pete North – trombone

Rob Barron – piano
Alec Dankworth – bass
Pete Cater – drums

LINKS: CD available from Mister PC Records
Download from Bandcamp

The album launch gig will be at 229 venue, Great Portland Street, on Monday 11 December

Categories: Album reviews, Reviews

1 reply »

  1. Dear Simon,
    Thank you, thank you. I have been hoping and hoping for so long that you would eventually get the backing to record these wonderful charts. Now you’ve done it! My Christmas present is ordered. My thanks also to all the great musicians who have joined you in this venture, They’re the “Creme de la Creme”.

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