Loose Tubes – Arriving ★★★★

Lost Marble LM008
Eddie Parker (f, kys), Dai Pritchard (cl), Steve Buckley, Iain Ballamy, Mark Lockheart, Julian Nicholas, Ken Stubbs, Julian Arguelles (s), Lance Kelly, Chris Batchelor, Ted Emmett, John Eacott, Paul Edmonds, Noel Langley (t), John Harborne, Steve Day, Paul Taylor, Richard Pywell (tb), Ashley Slater (b tb, tb, MC), Richard Henry (b tb), Dave Powell (tba), Django Bates (kys, Eb horn), John Parricelli (g), Steve Watts (b), Martin France (d), Thebi Lipere, and Louis Petersen Matjeka (perc). Rec. 13, 14, 15 September 1990 and May 2014

Here’s the highly-anticipated third and final instalment in the ‘live’ trilogy of recordings from Loose Tubes’ farewell residency at Ronnie Scott’s in 1990. Following on from Dancing on Frith Street in 2010 and Säd Afrika in 2012, the new CD Arriving comes with a few unexpected bonus tracks that wouldn’t have figured in the series’ curator Django Bates’ initial plans for the set. It’s a very significant addition: they’re compositions commissioned by BBC Radio 3 from the already legendary Ronnie’s 30th anniversary comeback residency last year by the newly-resurrected Loose Tubes.

Although they seem to mark the end of the reconciliation, the title Arriving suggests otherwise; Loose Tubes could, let’s hope, be around for a while yet. With eight further gems from the original Tubes repertoire, the band’s musical palette is as idiomatically broad as its musicians were diverse. It’s clear however from listening to Arriving that it never compromised the magical collective spirit and vision that the ensemble had when it took to the stage. Bates turns to the music of the military and the big top on the funkily uplifting ‘Armchair March’ and ‘Nights at the Circus’ respectively; flautist Eddie Parker achieves a nifty take on 1980’s jazz-funk to kick start ‘Children’s Game’ while Chris Batchelor’s smoky Kind of Blue trumpet solo on John Harborne’s ‘A’ is one of many moments to be savoured. Ashley Slater in his MC role deserves a mention too (he’s more audible on this CD than previous ones) for his affectionate put-down of band members (“the inevitable solo from Django Bates. But can he play a ballad?”), a sudden call to political arms (“Let’s not go to war in Kuwait!”) and 30 years later some things haven’t changed (“Steve [Buckley] was actually recently excavated from under a giant rock in Exmoor.”)

Of the new commissions, there’s the obvious signs of maturity as Bates continues from where he left off on ‘As I was Saying...’ with a quote from ‘Sweet Williams’ (the last thing he wrote for Loose Tubes Mk1) before the arrangements take on an angular dance-like rhythmic sensibility that could have only come out of the new millennium; Eddie Parker’s ‘Bright Smoke Cold Fire’ is more old skool but superbly written with its Mahavishnu, Hermeto Pascoal and Gil Evans references. If you’ve got the first two CDs then this one’s a no brainer. But listening to both 1990 and 2014 versions, it becomes clear that this is one reunion that isn’t just dependent on celebrating past glories.

– Selwyn Harris

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