Now the problem with Motorway digs, as I was soon to find out, is that the services are 24 hour and I got rudely awoken by what sounded like a battalion of Motorbikes starting up in an attempt to make an early start. Not exactly what you want waking you at half past four in the morning and I was consequently greeted by a series of vehicles starting up every time I was about to nod off again. So I fully woke not exactly bright eyed and bushy tailed, but in a good mood. I’m on a short break and have plenty of jazz to look forward to hearing, why let it bother me? What could possibly go wrong?
There fortunately was a walking route to Upton which I took, the walk was down a lot of country roads without footpaths which were very quiet, an improvement on the festival a few years previous were for a mile and a half I was playing dodge’ems with the oncoming traffic. Towards the end of the walk I made the rather foolish mistake of cutting through a footpath on a field, this field at first seemed okay but once i approached the gate it had become very muddy and sticky, not quite a quagmire but very much how I imagine the Mississippi delta being, on top of that it was heavily over grown so I decided I would avoid that for the next few days. After walking for what seemed like an eternity I was being to think I’d made a wrong turning somewhere but in the distance I saw the familiar white canvas of tents and a large sign saying welcome to the Upton Upon Severn jazz Festival 2012… I think that qualified as a clue.
I arrived at ‘Jazz City’ as they christened the main field where the festival takes place about fifteen minutes later only to find the pitch was a muddy field , evidently taking the wrap for the cancelled Glastonbury festival. Well this was my fourth year and the previous years had had exemplary weather, so the run had to break at some point I guess. After sorting my tickets out and putting up with a series of grumblers complaining that some of the venues had been moved because the ground was too boggy and dangerous for the bands to perform I went to Tommy’s bar, the principal beer tent for the festival I assumed was named after the late great band leader Tommy Dorsey and settled on a pint of Mild as I planned my day. The bar as last year was very much a real ale festival with about twenty ales on sale and a few cask ciders and perries as well, so I knew I was in for a good time drink wise. I later found that the part of the field where the gigs had been cancelled and moved had over three inches of water on it which would of presented a major risk for the electrics, I wonder if those grumblers ever out that into the equation?
The first gig I attended was by ‘Terry’s Dead Good Boys’, a six piece band consisting of trombone, trumpet, reeds, drums, bass and piano; this was situated under the main road bridge across the river and I insist even to this day, that because of the reverb off the concrete and steel, the acoustics are better in the beer tent, I insist on that no matter what people say.. I joined the gig as the band performed the ‘Hiwatha Rag’, a tune I had previously heard on an Acker Bilk/Terry Lightfoot/ Archie Semple/ Sandy Brown album called ‘Clarinet Jamboree’, this was followed by a song called ‘If I Had My Way’ with a vocal in a rather thick Yorkshire accent which made the singer come across as a dirty old man. While I was at this performance I encountered two of my regulars from my local Jazz Club, then a chap waved at me from across the audience and walked up to me, shook my hand and gave me all the pleasantries ; “How are you?”; “looking good”… etc. I returned the favour and indulged in a small bout of small talk but was constantly thinking ‘Who the bloody hell are you?” I did not recognise the man at all. The band then returned to a number made familiar by Acker Bilk, called ’Dardenella’, which the a member of the band introduced by telling the story of how he got hold of his first records. He did this by supply the owner of his local record shop with bottles of Sherry! After this number was completed the reeds man switched to Soprano Saxophone and the band performed that well known standard China Boy , I’m a tad overly familiar with it so I took that opportunity to purchase a beer from the bar. This time around it was an amber coloured ale by the Teme Valley Brewery called T’Other Ale. I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by the same barman who was working last year; it is nice to have a sense of continuity. After quietly consuming the ale, the bar man lent over to me and inquired, “now you were here last year. Is it me or has the bridge changed colour?” I looked and he was right, the bridge was now dark blue with golden posts, the previous years it had been dark green, I later would inquire about this with one of the stewards who informed me that the bridge was repainted to coincide with a visit by His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales and that there is a picture of him emerging from the bridge somewhere. I then broke into a little chat about Upton itself and we were trying to figure out if there was another bridge across the river as well as, or prior to, the one the band was performing. I said while I had a wander round I’d have goosey for him, we then talked about the history of the town and the many pubs which it sported. I told him about the Upton Muggery, a well known historic pub it would seem which I remember distinctly from my first visit for many reasons including the rather nice Desperate Dan Pies, which were large beef pies which had potatoes and vegetables mixed in them. I assure you, they were very filling. The other reason, which evidently where the name sports from, is the vast collection of mugs adorning the ceiling and walls throughout the length of the pub. My barman friend however had misheard me and thought I’d said Bugs and was asking whether or not it gave specifics on the species. I corrected him upon his error, just as well because it did occur to me he may of thought the pub was called the ‘Upton Buggery’…. that puts a very different mental image of the pub in my head. The band then started up a rather good version of a favourite George Melly number of mine called “Goody Goody”. After this number the band launched into a duet number intended for a male/female set of vocalists, the lack of females meant that the duet descended into an irritating bout of Pythonesque silly voices, I figure this was my cue to finish my pint, find a cash point and move on.
Once I visited the cash point and relieved my account of some cash I made a slight detour around the town partially inspired by my conversation with the barman. I did spot a footbridge in the so far distance but declined to investigate the bridge itself and instead visited a lovely second hand bookshop. Now I know these Kindles are all the rage these days but in my opinion you will never beat the feel, texture and character of a book. They tell stories and I don’t just mean the text within but the creases down the spine, the smell of the paper, the inscriptions written inside. A book is more then a simple collection of words to form a narrative, it’s a mini-time capsule. The shop isn’t very big and moving around it when it has a few people are in it can prove to be akin to performing a quadrille, there were many books from over the years including a Biggles annual, some old penguin books and some collections of Saint stories. I did hope to see if I could find some Sexton Blake stories but that was unsuccessful. I did however walk away with a series of Saint Stories and an old John Buchan novel. With my purchases made, I returned to the Quagmire which was Jazz city and made my way to “Fat’s Place” where the Casablanca Steps were performing, a band whose name I had come across several times before but had yet to see them perform. I joined them as they were, ironically I assume, playing that lovely upbeat song made famous by that excellent comedy duo Morecombe & Wise “Bring Me Sunshine”, however the quagmire state of the ground meant that I was unable to lead up the aisles as they played… although I did do the glasses thing which no one noticed. The band were immaculately dressed in full dinner dress complete with buttonholes and not a sign of mud, I guess they had changed back stage or done what I should of done and invested in some Wellington boots. The band then departed from the stage leaving the pianist to do a solo piece, in which he used the Jubilee as a starting point for inspiration and selected Ellington’s wonderful piece “A Single Petal of a Rose” from the Royal Suite. This corrected a misnomer of mine as I always thought “Single Petal” was a Billy Strayhorn composition, once this was performed the rest of the band returned to the stage and returned to some summer antics with a tune called ‘Brazil’, the trombone player admitting as he introduced the piece that he like a Brazilian… that received a few more titters from the audience then it deserved. I quickly nipped across to Tommy’s bar, well as quickly as the mud would allow me, and refuelled my pint glass with a beer called St. George’s Ale, a dark brown ale with a strong malty taste. My return to Fat’s was greeted with famous Scott Joplin rag ‘The Entertainer’ which was accompanying a multitude of on stage shenanigans involving Velcro hats, tennis balls and sticks all of which was set in time to the music, all of which were Joplin Rags including the Maple Leaf Rag, Elite Syncopations and the Ragtiime Dance before returning back to the Entertainer. Noting that the Best of Youth Jazz tent had Commenced, I popped across as I do think its important to support the promotion of Jazz in today’s youth. I was greeted by the familiar tune of ‘Tequila’ which was being performed very well, I was then indulged by a performance of George Shearing’s signature tune “Lullaby of Birdland” which the orchestrator incorrectly described as a swing piece, when in reality it is in fact a laid back piece of bebop. It was performed well by the musicians in the band but I don’t feel it really lends itself to large ensembles, while this was being performed the acoustics were joined by the clanking and hissing of several tractors laying down fresh straw onto the quagmire to make walking easier. The set concluded with a surprisingly modern number in the form of Herbie Hancock’s famous composition “Cantaloupe Island”, a break from the normal repertoire for a festival which was principally a Dixieland/Swing festival.
My need to masticate was starting to get the better of me so I when to a nearby stall for a sandwich and a cup of Tea, I considered having a Venison burger but thought it a little dear and settled on a Bacon sandwich. The Bacon was a little salty which isn’t really to my taste with bacon but never mind, each to their own. I nipped across to Tommy’s Bar and got myself another pint of T’Other Ale and returned to the Best of Youth Jazz Tent for the Brownfield/Bryne Quintet, a gig I knew would be excellent. Jamie Brownfield is a very talented young trumpet player who I have had the pleasure of seeing performing many times over the past few years at Jazz Club 90 in the Harp, both on his own name and as guest with Bill Basey’s Gramophone 5+1 and others; and with Severnside Jazz band at Shrewsbury which was also with Bill Basey. Now it seemed like it would be a good idea to co-ordinate my plans better as many gigs were being moved out and about all over the shop due to the issues with the quagmire, so I made a note of some of the gigs I wanted to see whilst the band played on. Brownfield opened his set with the classic standard “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans”, which was played with the usual gusto I had come to expect from the boys, as were the following numbers “Sunny Side of the Street” and the “Royal Garden Blues”. For his performance was sporting a tweed jacket, proving he, like me evidently knows that tweed is cool. Whilst the music was excellent I knew that he was due for a performance in the Harp shortly so I departed to Fats Place to watch the Red Stripe Band, the name of which gave me the mental image of Fidel, Lenin and Marks performing together. Imagine that, I guess that would be called the Original Communist Jazz Band with a guest spot for Tse-Tung thrown in for good measure.
As you you will probably guess, this did not turn out to be a communist jazz band, but a pretty awesome swing-cum-boogie band complete with attractive young ladies… so I wasn’t moaning, one bizarrely was sporting a David Crocket hat though. This was the gig for which I switched from my black Jacket to my tweed coat and bow tie, bow ties are cool. The fez would make its first festival appearance in Fat’s Place but not just yet, I was joining in with the hand waving while the band performed Blueberry Hill which sported an excellent baritone saxophone solo by an attractive young lady sax player, who was not wearing a David Crocket hat.