Thanks to its anchoring by Alyn Shipton, BBC Radio Three’s Jazz Record Requests has a permanency in the jazz calendar bestowed on it by Alyn’s balanced gravitas and stable presentation. Shipton is always informative and consistent, which makes him a broadcaster to suit all his listeners. He is likeable, never condescending, and his personality doesn’t intrude. I occasionally make use of his services, which is why the Lamb-Premru Cuchulainn will be played in the first programme in May. Cuchulainn features two very fine but little known English tenor players, Tony Roberts and Jim Philip.
I have written before about the distinguished tenor player Jim Philip. Jim has a career of his own and there are several CDs under his name. Like all of us, he is an admirer of Tubby Hayes, and I’m grateful to him for his 1972 account that follows here of encounters with the great man late in Tubby’s life. Jim is writing about his time with the Bobby Lamb-Ray Premru Orchestra.
“What a band line-up! Why was I in it at all? Well, it was all Bobby Lamb’s fault. Bobby did some depping with the New Jazz Orchestra where I was already being given plenty of scope to do my thing. I imagine that he recognised something of the then contemporary style in me.
…to my horror I realised that I had lost track and became desperate to find my way back to the arrangement as laid down. My solo goes quietly to sleep but Kenny Clare, seeing my impending breakdown, lets loose on his drums and saves the day
“That style was not to be found with the major session players of the day. This was not surprising as nothing in the then formal teaching featured the language of contemporary jazz explorers. Bobby tapped me on the shoulder and, being the consummate diligent semi-pro, I found myself turning up to late-hour studio rehearsals in Soho. The recently lamented tenor/reed man Duncan Lamont was on the first tenor seat. Imagine what I felt like when, turning up on one occasion, I sat down beside Tubby Hayes! However, I was able to play my instrument doubles when called upon so I survived and didn’t cause any trouble.
“At Sussex University in Brighton as introduced by Humph on Radio Two, I was to be featured and set loose. I initially rose to the occasion but as the solo moved on to my horror I realised that I had lost track and became desperate to find my way back to the arrangement as laid down. My solo goes quietly to sleep but Kenny Clare, seeing my impending breakdown, lets loose on his drums and saves the day.
“The very next day I telephoned Ray Premru and offered my resignation from the band. I realised that I was out of my depth. Ray, being the gracious gentleman he was, accepted my wish.
“I had forgotten all about the broadcast until, the other day, a CD of it arrived from you. It was with some trepidation that I put it into the player.
“I found that my initial efforts are not wholly out of place. To the outside listener there is little if anything of my disquiet. All seems in order and the band continues on. Perhaps I over-reacted but I remain to this day convinced that the demands of this fine band were beyond me.
“Most Lamb/Premru concerts featured Bobby’s original flag-waver Cuchulainn. The band was exclusively made up from leading session players. Needless to say ‘live’ concerts often featured ‘all-star deps’. In the Jazz Journal of September 1972 Tony Middleton reports on one such outing at the Shaw Theatre. This was my first tussle with Tubby Hayes. ‘The high-spot of the evening for me’, wrote Tony, ‘was the tremendous tenor duet battle between Tubby Hayes and Jimmy Philip (another underrated talent) in Cuchulainn taken at breakneck tempo, which brought the evening to a very satisfying close’.
“Some while later the band played in the open-air at the Holland Park Theatre. Again Tubby was in the chair. However, this was not long after his well-publicised serious heart operation. At half-time in the show, whilst most of us made a dash for the pub outside the park gate, it was noticeable that Tubby took a long time to join us. Indeed a cab had to be called to get him back to the stand! However, we began the second set as planned.
“Then came Cuchulainn! The band stopped and off went Tubby at the obligatory high speed with me as usual hanging on desperately. All seemed well with this out of tempo frenzy but suddenly I heard Tubby gasping for breath. This increased till Tubby stopped playing altogether and continued his gasps. In those days we ‘young lads’ often engaged in high speed outings to be followed by an out-of-tempo meandering song to the heavens. Instinctively I fell off the tempo and, with horn lifted to the gods, I proceeded to wail with conviction. Then as if by a miracle Tubby Hayes came to life again and off he went at the high tempo with me restored to the chase. However, this again was not to last as once again he gasped and stopped. Once again I fell back on my out-of-tempo soliloquy. Then Tubby regained his breath and we were off again. This happened some three times.
“Of course the audience was completely unaware of Tubby’s situation. The people assumed that these tempo interactions were all part of the show – and what a show it was!
“Not long after, Tubby returned to the hospital in an attempt to have leaking valves repaired, but never came round from the second operation. We all know that Tubby never recovered from this second op. In the few times we played together we probably did not exchange more than half a dozen words, such was my respect for his reputation. That night, however, I felt as close as I ever had been to a fellow player”.
Jazz Record Requests is broadcast on BBC Radio Three at 4pm each Sunday. Send requests to firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to the BBC at London W1A 1AA.