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Monday, May 14, 2007

Isle of Bute Jazz Festival 2007. 20th Anniversay.

Isle of Bute Jazz festival 2007.

(This review is really for Jazz fans, and because I feel the need to write down the disappointment of the programming for the weekend. I don’t think it’ll make much sense to anyone else who doesn’t know the bands or the Isle of Bute, so I apologise to my regular readers for that!)

I love Jazz!!! I love the energy, the fun, the emotion, the party (and the beer!) The first time I heard my dear friend Christine Tyrrell sing, I cried….. she sung “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” which we used to sing at school…. I don’t know why it made me emotional, there was no reason behind it, and I wasn’t sobbing like a baby…. just had tears falling down my face.

The reason that we decided to go to Bute this year was that a) it was the 20th anniversary of the festival and b) the band line-up was excellent:-

Trad Jazz was covered by Savannah Jazz Band, Phil Mason’s New Orleans Band with Christine Tyrrell, Ivan Henderson All-Stars, Freetime Old Dixie Jass Band, (that link is a youtube vid 'cos the website is in dutch!!!) and the Second Line Jazz Band

Rhythm and Blues was covered by TJ Johnson and his band (with the adorable Adrian Cox and Sky Murphy)

The Jonny Boston/James Evans (can't find a link for James) Quintet played slightly more modern jazz

And the posh stuff was done by Kenny Ball, and the Pasadena Roof Orchestra.

(I should add that there were other bands there that I don’t know, I am limiting this review to the people that I wanted to see, and that I know!)

Generally, I wanted to try to see as many of the above bands as possible. – All of the trad jazz bands are awesome to watch, and provide not only an amazing musical set, but generally also a set of good entertainment value (the Second Line band only have to get on stage to be entertaining, they are all gorgeous!!!!!)

We arrived on the island at around 4:30pm, in time for a cup of tea, a rest, a chat with friends, a glance a the programme with a pen to mark what we wanted to catch, and a quick change of clothes for the first evening’s gigs. There is only one event on the first night, which is held in the Pavilion (which is reminiscent of a huge school sports hall) There is a very large dance area, and plenty of seating (I think it holds around 650 people). This first night is normally a good intro to the weekend; it finishes at 12, so not too late a night, and has three bands. The last of the three bands this year were the Savannah, who were great! And that was one off my list of must-sees! We drank too much, danced hard, and giggled like school-children, it was good!!!!

On Friday we got up and went fishing for the day (well I have to placate Mr Noo too you know!) We got a row boat and headed off to Loch Quien. The weather was good, I had a book, and the fish were biting. Not much more you could ask for really!

Now Friday evening we had the choice of TJ and the Savannah in the Glenburn hotel,(alternate hour stints from 8pm to midnight) or Freetime and Deep River Quartet in the Pavilion.(9 to 9:45 Freetime , 10 to 11:45 Deep river, 12 to 1am Freetime ), (There were other gigs, but these were the bands I had wanted to see, plus they were in venues with dance floors! And I need to work off that beer somehow!) My preference had been the pavilion gig, but unfortunately Mr Noo and I fell asleep after our day in the sun, and didn’t wake up until 9pm, so by the time we would have got to the pavilion the Freetime’s first stint would be over and I didn’t want to go all the way to the other end of town to see a band I may not like. So a quick re-hash meant TJ and the Savannah in the Glenburn until 12, then hot –foot it down to the Pavilion to see the last set of the Freetime. It didn’t quite work out, as the walk from Glenburn to Pavilion was 15 mins, so we only saw the last 20 mins of the Freetime. Hmmm this was the beginning of the way things were going to go.

I’m not going to carry on going into every band we saw and where we saw them, but I am going to make some observations on the programming of the festival. These are observations, not necessarily criticisms, but I know I was not the only person at the festival making the same remarks!

Saturday nights choice was the Pavilion: : TJ 9 – 9:45, Pasadena 10 – 11:45, TJ 12 – 1am. Glenburn: Jonny Boston/James Evans 9 - midnight. St Andrew’s Hall: 8 – midnight Phil Mason and Second Line alternating hourly

Firstly whoever thought of putting Jonny and James in the Glenburn really wasn’t thinking (Jonny was actually not there as he was ill, and I am not sure if he had been there if it would have made a difference?) But the kind of jazz that these two play is listening jazz….. They are both incredible musicians, really awesome…. But in all honesty it’s not generally the kind of thing you get up and dance to, so the Glenburn with it’s dance floor was really a bit of a waste of a venue (there probably weren’t more than 50 people in there) Listening to Jonny and/or James is a bit like reading a Booker Prize winning book…….. if I can say it, I feel it’s the slightly more intellectual form of jazz. You listen to it, you immerse yourself in it, you close your eyes and feel it, you generally don’t get up and jive to it!!!! Meanwhile I understand that both the Esplanade and St Andrews Hall were full to capacity and turning people away. We had also been in the Pavilion, but had left due to the fact that it was also full, and although more people were being allowed in, it was uncomfortably hot and crowded. So three venues full and one empty….. and that one was the only one that had one lone band playing??? Hmmm.

Sunday was in all honesty more of the same: It rained (hard) so jazz was the order of the whole day. Lunchtime in the Pavilion was awesome – the Second Line for 2 hours !!! Perfect! Then TJ should have been doing a picnic outside in a castle ruin, but that was moved to the Pavilion because of the rain, and Jonny/James and the Bobby Wishart band should have been in the Pavilion, and this should have been moved to the smaller café next door…. That would have been fine….. but for some unknown reason, they decided to keep all bands in the Pavilion main hall, and just cut down their sets. Now TJ is a groovy piano player, he can play a mean Ray Charles, or Fats Domino, as well as jazzed up Bob Dylan or Jonny Cash….. perfect for a young (and in a fair few cases toddler aged) audience. They were dancing (and fighting) and having a ball. But the set was cut down to around an hour (instead of 2) and the two following bands were really not suitable for the audience. As already mentioned Jonny/James band, and although I didn’t know it, Bobby Wishart, are both more “grown up” Really not a suitable replacement for a picnic afternoon, and to sit in a venue that holds 650 odd people and watch people leave to the point of there only being around 40 left is heart-breaking, and was unnecessary if they had kept the programme as it should have been.

Sunday night wasn’t too bad. We saw Second Line and Phil Mason in the Pavilion (although each set was only 45 mins which was a bit short), then left before Kenny Ball (sorry but I’m too young to appreciate him!) and saw Ivan Henderson at the Glenburn……that was proper stomping!!!!!

Basically this festival had all the makings of being the best ever line-up. It is the 6th time I have been to Bute, and this certainly was one of the most diverse and well balanced line-ups I have seen. But the programming was just all wrong, and it totally spoilt the weekend. Maybe there were too many good bands so it would always have been wrong. If I’d been doing it, (because you can’t make observations like this if you can’t make suggestions for improvements) I would have changed all Pavilion evening gigs to be 2 x 1 ¾ hour sets with a half hour break. To have a band play for 45 mins then basically hit the bar for 1 ¾ hours whilst waiting for their final hour set at midnight is not sensible!!!! (They are jazz musicians!!!! They drink A LOT) It also would have made it easier to see who you wanted…when your band is on they are on for a long enough set to enjoy, and for them to get warmed up!!! (I personally spent far too much time getting between venues and missing half of the sets). On Saturday I would have split Phil Mason and the Second Line and put one of them with the Jonny/James quintet in the Glenburn, so that at some time during the night the dance floor was in use. Sunday afternoon should have been left as per the programme; Bobby Wishart and Jonny/James should have been left in the café, with TJ doing a full 2 hour stint in the Pavilion. Sunday night: well again the dance floor in the Glenburn was wasted during the sets of “swing Guitars” (very nice music but again you can’t really jive to 2 guitars!) and the other band Ivan Henderson were proper stomping New Orleans Jazz, so I’d have left Ivan Henderson there and put “anyone else” with them!!!!

I dare say there are loads of reasons why it was the way it was, and why my thoughts wouldn’t work. Rothesay is a small place and the venues each have a personality of their own. Maybe the downfall was that there were just too many good bands and it would never have worked, a victim of it’s own success? But £45 (and an 8 hour drive) is a fair amount of money to spend on a ticket that leaves you permanently walking between venues and missing half of the set that you’ve gone to see (there is a free bus, but it’s never there when you want it, in fact in 6 years I think I’ve only seen it twice!) It’s probably around a mile between the Glenburn and the Pavilion (which are the main 2 venues) The music was fabulous though, and it was a great weekend. It was lovely to catch up with old friends, and to dance the night away. The Isle of Bute is a beautiful place, and well worth a visit. It’s only 15 miles long and I think 5 miles wide, and it very special in its simplicity.

I think, however, we may try Abersoch next year!!!!!

(Photos form the fishing and a walk will follow shortly!)


  1. oh that's a shame it was such a mess. festivals are so often like this - they always seem to have their big headliners on at the same time at different ends of the town/festival site. i can't comment on the jazz (obviously!) but abersoch is well worth a visit.... xxx

  2. I agree with you and bex that festivals seem to lose the plot as they go on...I really don't know why when all seems to work the first couple of years. If it ain't broke don't fix it.
    That said it is always an adventure with lots to look back on and compared to prices here 45 quid is good value for the weekend...and don't you just love bute...
    Glad that Mr Noo got some fishing time in and you got a chance to lie back and doze in the sun...I mean it could have been raining on the fishing day!!!


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