Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



A 21-piece UK co-operative band that played original music in the '80s, full of young musicians who have since gone on to do other things. A rehearsal band '83, they played their first London gig '84, released eponymous album on their own label '85 and played a legendary gig at Ronnie Scott's, at the end of which they marched out into the streets of Soho at 3 a.m. still playing, with the audience following. A conventional big-band lineup was augmented by flutes, synthesizer, a tuba played by Dave Powell (b 13 February 1956, London) 'like a foghorn on amphetamines', etc. They performed without a leader in a V-formation or in a circle so that everyone could see cues; for each gig a different member of the group would choose the set list. If they had tried to set up such an outfit it wouldn't have worked, but it happened by accident; clarinettist Dai Pritchard (b 28 February 1957, Pontypridd) said, 'What we do isn't new stuff. It's fairly old stuff, old stuff and very old stuff. But put into strange new combinations' (quoted in The Wire). The act included elements of the whole history of jazz, plus African and other nuances, their own music full of individual and collective joy.

Keyboardist Django Bates and bassist Steve Berry (b 24 August 1957, Gosport) wrote most of the music at the beginning; others joining in included trumpeters Dave DeFries (b 24 May 1952, London), John Eacott (b 19 December 1960, Reading), Chris Batchelor (b 9 April 1962, Beckenham); flautist Eddie Parker (b 28 May 1959, Liverpool); trombonist John Harborne (b 27 December 1960, London). Ashley Slater (b 20 April 1961, Schefferville, Quebec) was bass trombonist and a witty announcer; Bates and Slater toured the UK with an an international George Russell band early '86. Iain Ballamy (b 20 February 1964, Guildford) and Tim Whitehead (b 12 December 1950, Liverpool) played reeds, Steve Argüelles (b 16 November 1963, Crowborough) drums and percussion. Members have played with George Coleman, Style Council, Bryan Ferry, Elton John, Thomas Dolby, Toots Thielemans, Bobby Watson, Maria Muldaur, London Symphony Orchestra etc. Others were Steve Buckley (b 6 January 1959, Orpington), Mark Lockheart (b 31 March 1961, Lymington), Julian Argüelles (b 28 January 1966, Lichfield) on reeds; Lance Kelly (b 13 June 1964, Reading) on trumpet; Steve Day (b 9 April 1963, Walsall), Richard Pywell (b 29 March 1959, Farnborough), trombones; John Parracelli, guitar. Many doubled on various instruments; the albums also had Nic France on drums, who left because of conflicting commitments. They were criticized by single-issue fanatics because none of them was black or female; by late '86 Thebe Lipere (b 2 July 1952, Pretoria, SA) played percussion ('They asked me to join when they first started ... I've worked with a lot of bands but I've never known a personal harmony like this one: it's like one big family').

Direct-to-metal mastered Delightful Precipice '86 was followed by Open Letter '88, produced by Teo Macero, their first on EG Records and first on CD, but the albums never did justice to their sparkle and slapstick humour; they were the first jazz orchestra to play at the Proms '87, the BBC's annual classical music festival, and collaborated with the Docklands Sinfonietta. They never had enough places to play, and inevitably a joyous chapter in British jazz was over. The Loose Tubes label also had albums by the duo Human Chain (Bates and Steve Argüelles), quartet the Iains led by Ballamy, a quintet led by Whitehead, and a lovely duo with Stan Sulzmann (reeds, b 30 November 1948, London) and John Taylor playing the music of Kenny Wheeler. Ballamy was maturing into a lyrical player, mastering and ordering his influences; his album Balloon Man on Editions EG was followed by Meeting In Brooklyn, with UK pianist John Donaldson and an American rhythm section.

Loose Tubes re-formed to celebrate their 30th anniversary at the Cheltenham Festival in 2014, and a good time was had by all.