Saturday 29 August 2009
Dylan Jones: 'The frontman dressed as a Hassidic Jew while I was head-to-toe in Vivienne Westwood'
Talk of the Town
To the Brecon Jazz Festival, then, to savour the muted trumpet, the bass saxophone and the Powys bongo in the shadow of the Black Mountains. Until Hay-on-Wye literary supremo Peter Florence stepped in, 2008 was going to be the last year of the festival, but with a sensibly edited programme, this year it came back with a vengeance.
But hold on a minute, when did Courtney Pine get so difficult? The last time I looked, way back in the late Eighties, Pine was the poster boy for coffee-table jazz, an unwilling advocate of the spirit of the times, of new money, cocktail bars and random privatisation. But, watching him on Saturday night in the Brecon Market Hall, I felt myself transported back to an even earlier time – before jazz wore a double-breasted suit – when I used to go to Ronnie Scott's to listen to iconic US jazzsters play long, ponderous, difficult sets in front of overly appreciative weirdies and beardies (no girls, ever!). Pine's band are excellent (particularly the violinist, who won over our party in an instant), although his old-fashioned penchant for free-form improvisation becomes more than tedious after a while. As my sagacious mother-in-law said, "It sounds nice when he isn't playing".
The next night we went to watch Manu Dibango at the same venue. He was great, sounding much as he has for most of his career, and the evening reminded me of a nightclub I was a partner in, back in 1982 – the Gold Coast Club in Meard Street, Soho, underneath the famous goth hangout, the Batcave. Here we played hi-life for the low life, a mix of Fela Kuti, Gasper Lawal, John Handy and Manu Dibango, and everyone went home happy. We were an odd bunch, the Gold Coast Club partners: the DJ had strong ANC connections, the frontman dressed as a Hassidic Jew, while I was head-to-toe in Vivienne Westwood. Still, we were the only African club in London at the time, and our queues were often longer than those for the Batcave above.
The Brecon Jazz Festival is a revelation in so many ways, and a welcome addition to Florence's Hay portfolio. Frankly, all that's missing is the Gold Coast Club.
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'
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