Vinyl Frontier: Open Letter by Loose Tubes

In the early 1980s, that’s where you’d find me. Sitting in the bar at Greenwich Theatre on a Sunday lunchtime, with the newspapers, a pint, something to eat, and live jazz as a soundtrack.

The musician I remember most was South African saxophone player Dudu Pukwana, who died in 1990, aged only 51. The last track of this 1988 album by the joyfully anarchic big band namechecks the musician and explains that title: Open Letter to Dudu Pukwana.

Loose Tubes formed a couple of years before this album. A collection of 20 or so young musicians used to rehearse with jazz educator Graham Collier, before casting off from their mentor and going their own way with glorious abandon.

This was the band’s third album, and it comes with echoes. Band leader Django Bates used to play with Pukwana, and he also used Wood Wharf Studios in Greenwich (where Dire Straits once recorded).

Ah, Wood Wharf Studios, that’s where you’d find me. Drinking coffee with Billy Jenkins, maverick musician, studio keeper and all-round good guy. Not so good with the coffee, though: he once added double cream past its best and greasy globules floated on the surface.

Anyway, so this one has history. It’s also a fantastic album of free-spirited British jazz. Rules are glanced at, and then kicked noisily down the road.

There isn’t a dull note in any of the four tracks, starting with Sweet William, and a great sense of fun and joyfulness resonates, especially on Accepting Suites From A Stranger, with its jokey chant.

In 1987, Loose Tubes were the first jazz orchestra to play the Proms in the Albert Hall. They were youthful, fun, bold and irreverent, and this album is all those things and more.

And, yes, I know there are people who say, “Oh, I don’t like jazz” and I even know one or two. But honestly, you’re missing out here.

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