LOST AND FOUND - TUBBY 1969

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On Sunday afternoon (7th July) at the Love Supreme festival, Glynde Place in East Sussex, there will be a launch of the lp/cd Grits, beans and greens by the Tubby Hayes quartet being released later this month by Universal. I believe the format of the “launch” will be airing a couple of tracks, followed by a panel discussion of speakers including Simon Spillett and myself. 

Simon has been largely responsible for the appearance of these recordings, pressing tirelessly for their commercial release since the tapes were unearthed. He must take the credit and we owe him a big debt of thanks. I will be there because I was on the recording and, of the original line-up, only bassist Ron Matthewson and myself still survive.

 

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You may be aware of the advance publicity and reviews for this album but I thought this might be the moment to put in my twopenny-worth.

We performed this music for the Fontana label 50 years ago! -  and for 49 of those years, we assumed the tapes of these studio sessions at Philips, Stanhope Gate, Marble Arch had gone forever. But, unbeknown to us, they had survived several corporate upheavals and ended up in a vault in Germany from which they were retrieved last year.

When I heard the unexpected good news, I conducted a parallel search for my 1969 pocket diary to refresh my memory of the events of that distant Spring and Summer and miraculously found that as well.

In the Autumn of 1968, when Tubby resurfaced after a period of illness, he wanted to re-energise himself by launching a new-look quartet with guitar in place of piano and secured the services of the new Irish star Louis Stewart who had just triumphed at the Montreux jazz festival. The bassist would be his best and favourite, Ron Matthewson and Ron recruited me to be the drummer.

 

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This quartet worked solidly through from November to the  Summer of 1969.

I knew Tubby had a recording contract with Philips/Fontana. His last album for Fontana had been the magnificent Mexican Green back in early 1967. I think he felt that, by May 1969, it was time for another recording session, featuring the new quartet.

I have to say Tubby’s relationship with Louis was not always relaxed. There were gigs where Tubby reacted negatively and audibly to any problems with Louis’s amplifier (which did seem to recur!) and Louis resented anything that felt like bullying. Louis was an extremely talented guitarist but of a sensitive disposition. I think Tubby really admired his playing but could not resist being a bit overbearing towards Louis.

When we went into the studio in May, Tubby was particularly masterful and Louis particularly tense. I can’t remember what other tracks we recorded apart from than Where am I going? which survives in 3 takes.

My vague memory of the session is of an unrelaxed atmosphere and Tubby being dissatisfied with the results. However, I was very pleasantly surprised when I finally heard the music.

Take 1 hits a nice gentle groove and the bass solo is exceptionally fine. For Take 2, Tubby counts off an appreciably faster tempo which enables Louis is show off his wonderful Wes Montgomery-style octaves technique. Take 3 is at a tempo between the other two versions and is ideal for the switches between 8/8 and 4/4 time-signatures. The swing sections really swing! There is an edgy urgency and a tone here to Tubby’s playing which reminds me of Stan Getz on I’m late, I’m late from his great Focus album.

The following couple of months were a very busy but transitional period for the quartet. I sensed that Tubby wanted to discontinue the guitar experiment and go back to a more full-on straight ahead band in the tradition of the line-up he had had in 1966/7 with Mick Pyne on piano, Tony Levin on drums and of course Ron on bass.

I suspect that he missed Mick’s driving input and Tubby appeared quite embarrassed and apologetic when he occasionally ran into Mick during the Spring of 1969.

In any case, when we went back into the same studio to get some more tracks down on 24th June, it was with Mick, not Louis. The results, now that we can at last hear them, are arrestingly good – much better than I thought.

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Tubby is cooking. Take 2 of For members only is up there with his very best recorded legacy, as is his beautiful ballad performance on You know I care. The three full takes of Grits, beans and greens and the two full takes of Rumpus all contain great moments and repay careful comparison. My picks would be Grits take 4 and Rumpus take 1.

Happily, I’m told that Universal will not only be putting out a vinyl and cd version of the master takes but also a “de-luxe” cd containing all the surviving material. In view of my comments above, I would definitely recommend that one!

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I don’t remember much about the Stanhope Gate studio. I think it was fine – I did several other recordings there – although we were a bit “boxed off” and having to use headphones which I hate. The mix on the recovered tapes is extremely well balanced and shows off Tubby’s magnificent sound more intimately than on all the live recordings.

Why these sessions were never released I’m not sure.

At the time I felt Tubby may not have been entirely happy (particularly with the May date) or perhaps there weren’t considered in the end enough acceptable takes to make up an lp record.

Or perhaps it was the fact that Fontana recorded almost simultaneously and did subsequently release a commercial big band album The Orchestra on which Tubby also plays superbly and the company thought that might sell better. Who knows?

All I can say is that we moved on and forget about them. Now they have come to light, I am absolutely knocked out at the quality of the music. I think it fills an important gap in Tubby’s discography. Otherwise we would have nothing in the way of a high quality studio session between early 1967 and his death in 1973.

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The band with Mick restored to the piano stool forged on. I have written elsewhere about the consummate joy of being in a rhythm section with Mick and Ron. I have put up on the Music page of the website this week some tracks by this 1969 quartet (not of course from the forthcoming Universal release!)

It is so sad that Mick (like Tubby) died far too young and that Ron, though still sparkily alive (and active on Facebook), gave up playing some years ago.

Rognvald, you Shetland savage, you and I are the last of the Tubby clan. And you are a national treasure!

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Spike Wells