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Loose Tubes: Tomorrow Night is Your Last Chance Ever

Loose Tubes: Tomorrow Night is Your Last Chance Ever
Bruce Lindsay By

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We had a rule that any decision could be vetoed by one person, and it could be a nightmare, but a very beautiful nightmare.
Twenty years after legendary British big band Loose Tubes played its farewell gigs at Ronnie Scott's Club in London, its first live album, Dancing On Frith Street (Lost Marble Records, 2010), became Jazzwise magazine's Archive Album of 2010. In the intervening decades, the band's members had spread across the British and international jazz scenes to become some of the most influential players around. The quality and power of the music on the album served as a welcome reminder of the impact of Loose Tubes on the mid-'80s jazz world.

Two of the most influential and successful Loose Tubes members—keyboard player and composer Django Bates (pictured above right) and saxophonist Mark Lockheart (pictured above left)—spoke about the band and its legacy in separate interviews from their respective London homes. Both men have fond memories of their days in this extraordinary ensemble. While both musicians have gone on to award-winning careers—Bates won the 1997 Jazzpar Prize in Denmark, while Lockheart was Jazz Musician of the Year at the 2010 British Parliamentary Jazz Awards—they have continued to work regularly with other ex-members of Loose Tubes, maintaining links that now go back almost 30 years.

Loose Tubes, formed in London in 1983, was the brainchild of composer and bandleader Graham Collier. Before it split in 1990, it released three albums, toured extensively and played more television shows than most current jazz bands can dream of. Despite this activity, Loose Tubes is not a band that left much in the way of a visual record: there are few photographs of the band in performance; an online search for band videos was, at the time of the interviews, fruitless, and none of the band's three studio albums are available on CD. This lack of any sort of Loose Tubes archive is surprising, given the band's high profile, but the advent of Dancing On Frith Street may signal a change on the way.

The Birth of a Band

Bates mentions Collier's role in the band's genesis immediately: "For me, it all began when I got a call from Graham Collier, a jazz composer from a generation older than me, who I knew from his various bands with people like Harry Beckett and Alan Skidmore. He called me out of the blue, told me he was setting up a big workshop band, and asked if I was interested in coming along to play the piano. And I said, 'No.'" Bates laughs at the memory, but his initial response was based on experience: "All my experiences of playing in big bands had been quite unrewarding. But he insisted that this was something different compositionally and that I should come along."

Bates relented and joined the band, realizing at the first meeting that there was huge potential in the ensemble. He's honest in his appraisal of his change of heart: "Selfishly, I saw this huge potential as a writing palette where I could bring new compositions and try them out. And that's what I did: the next week I turned up with a piece, I think it was 'Eden Express,' and it took things in a different direction. From that point on it became our band, something with a real personal character."

Lockheart was another one of the first members of Loose Tubes, having also been approached by Collier, and shares Bates' memories of those early weeks: "I already knew Graham," says Lockheart, "and he asked me to come along and play. The first lineup all knew each other in some way. I was playing with (bassist) Steve Berry and (guitarist) John Parricelli in a quartet called Let's Eat. I'd played with Django a bit as well, in a band called The Humans, which eventually became Human Chain. So there were all these little bands within a band, as it were. We started off with Graham's compositions. Then after a couple of weeks, Django brought in a couple—including 'Yellow Hill' (on Dancing On Frith Street) and 'Eden Express,' I think."

The band's name emerged from Collier's administrator, Colin Lazarrini. As Bates recalls "He became the band administrator... and decided we needed a name. Some of the suggestions related to how we could get funding; some were pretty corny, like 'Top Score,' reflecting the 20 people in the band. Then someone, possibly Colin, suggested Loose Tubes: 'tubes' because there was so much brass in the band, and 'loose' because of the band's approach ... a studied looseness, you could say." The name stuck, but Bates now admits, "I never really liked it."

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