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Loose Tubes: Tomorrow Night is Your Last Chance Ever

By Published: March 7, 2011
The band's name helped to indicate its sense of fun, at a time when much of the scene was taking the music rather too seriously. The band's organizational structure also marked it out as distinct from the usual big band, for Loose Tubes was never formally under the leadership of a single individual. Indeed, the band is often referred to as democratic, and even anarchic. "Colin," says Bates, "was committed to the idea of the band as a democracy, and it really was completely democratic. We would rehearse every Monday, which we did almost throughout the whole life of the band, and decisions would be discussed and voted on at great length. We had a rule that any decision could be vetoed by one person—I don't quite know how that happened—and it could be a nightmare, but a very beautiful nightmare. It was so amazing to have these conversations, but sometimes the results weren't so great because decisions would get watered down."

Even decisions about set lists could take on epic proportions. As Bates recalls, "Set lists are a crucial part of forming a gig: some people were good at it and some weren't, but everyone had to have their go. So you could do a gig that was flawed from the very beginning." As Lockheart remembers, "Some people thought of Django as the leader— his writing stood out—but it was always democratic, as regards deciding what tunes to put on an album or to play at a gig. We would have terribly long band meetings, voting on everything, and by the end there was no way of making difficult decisions."

The band lasted for over seven years, with relatively few changes of personnel for a band of that size: both Bates and Lockheart (pictured right) were still members at the end—"the bitter end," as Lockheart calls it.

Gigs, Radio and TV

Despite its popularity, surely a band of that size was economically a bit of a non- starter? "Pretty much," responds Bates, "although when I worked out the royalty pool for Dancing On Frith Street so that everybody who was in the band would be rewarded, even if they weren't on the recording, I was surprised how few people were in the band and how many were in it for the whole of its life." The band wasn't a full-time job for its members, who in many cases had high-profile roles in other groups. Both Bates and saxophonist Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy
sax, tenor
, for example, were in Bill Bruford
Bill Bruford
Bill Bruford
's Earthworks. "It was quite difficult at times," Bates remembers. "There would be a Loose Tubes gig at a festival somewhere, and there would also be the chance to tour Germany or America with Earthworks. We were too young and naive to work out how to deal with that, and some quite difficult choices were made."

Loose Tubes worked extensively, despite the need to make choices, and for a jazz group it did an appreciable number of television broadcasts including top pop music shows such as Channel 4's The Tube. "We were on the same week as Sting," remembers Lockheart. "We played three tunes. We were in the foyer of the building, and Sting was in the main auditorium." The band was always happy to take opportunities as they arose, an approach that Bates thinks is also due to its lack of pretention: "We were never precious about where we'd be seen. ... We made sure promoters knew we were happy to do our thing in any situation. There was also some luck involved; we arrived at a time when there was space for a big ensemble to do that, and we had the power of our numbers."

The band also appeared on a long-forgotten daytime national television show called Mavis. Lockheart's mother still has a recording of the show, and others: "My mum's got four or five TV things—The Tube, Mavis, and a couple of others. There's about five or six different TV things altogether, including Wogan (at the time, one of the most popular national television shows in Britain)."

The band's willingness to take opportunities led to the incident that gives its name to the live album, as Bates recalls: "We arranged to meet outside Ronnie Scott's club (on Frith Street) at about 7 o'clock. Everyone arrived outside, and we were so excited to be there that we took out our instruments and started playing on the street. Soho being the sort of village community type place it is, there was a real buzz of excitement about this—the band playing on the street as the audience went in to the gig."

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