Cheltenham Jazz Festival Review

Hi guys, I know it’s been a while since I last blogged but I’ve been having some laptop issues! Excuses aside I wanted to get the ball rerolling (English?) with a review about the Cheltenham Jazz Festival which I was lucky enough to attend a couple of weeks ago.

The festival ran from the Thursday until the following Bank Holiday Monday and featured some real heavyweights from the R&B and Jazz scene – along with a load of free acts from all over the place (a particular highlight being a Scandinavian trio). Jazz isn't really my forte but I've always enjoyed my brief flirtations with the genre (Matt and Phreds in Manchester pretty much). So I was excited about the chance to see some revered names at the top of their game.

Cheltenham itself is awesome in the summer, being a very well to do place they always have something going on in the park across from the main street; Montpelier – including the Literacy and Science Festivals. One of the nicest things about Cheltenham is that it seems to get weather more suited to the south of France – especially compared to the perma-gray of Manchester.

The first act which we went to see was Jazz and Afrobeat legend Tony Allen, originally from Nigeria he has resided in Paris for a number of years and is most known in the mainstream for his collaboration with Damon Albarn from when he went through his world music phase! Anyway, Tony came out with the rest of his band and gave a brief introduction about how he doesn't speak a lot and that the music he creates is for everyone, which is always nice. He got comfortable behind his drum kit and him and his band begun to play. I'm not overly familiar with his back catalogue and as he is in his 70s I can imagine it is quite extensive so I didn't anticipate hearing anything I’d listened to previously. His set started off very slow and mellow, certainly more on the jazz end of his spectrum, this helped build the mood and gave the various members of his band a chance to show off their skills.

It became apparent early on that this was going to be one of the most accomplished group of musicians I've come across, coupled with the fact that the sound set up must have been top notch (I know nothing of sound set ups, I doubt they’re even called ‘sound set ups’) as you could hear every note from every member, at no point did you ever feel that someone was being played over or lost in the shuffle.

As the set developed the shackles came off and Tony and the boys got funky, his guitar player really came in to his own at this point, never being the most prominent or overbearing but he would go in to some mind bending little riffs.  At this point the crowd became unglued – as much as a mostly middle age, very middle class crowd can come unglued at 4pm, but it was liberating to see these guys throwing themselves about in appreciation of the show in front of them.

After a dinner stop off (The Tavern) we headed across to Cheltenham Town Hall for our Jazz Festival main event – none other than Gilles Peterson, known amongst many other things as the DJ from Radio Worldwide on GTA V. Gilles was absolutely awesome, as you might expect. I've not been to one of his live shows before so I wasn't sure what he would bring to the table but suffice to say at the end of the night I was more than satisfied.

However, the real find of this year’s Cheltenham Jazz Festival was Gilles’ support act. Sadly we didn’t arrive until they were well in to their set but I think we clocked in at just the right time. After some post gig research I found the guys in question were Manchester trio GoGo Penguin. Not unlike Tony Allen earlier in the day we were greeted with a sound which you might expect off a Jazz Festival but within 10 minutes it was obvious something special was happening. As the set grew so did the tempo until it reached a fever pitch. I won’t go on about their sound too much as I suggest you just give them a listen on Spotify or catch their live act on YouTube. You can thank me in the comments or on twitter (@iamjonnyb1989).

All in all I will just say that Cheltenham Jazz Festival was a resounding success, awesome music, good food and good people, I would highly recommend making the trip next year to anyone who is looking to push their musical boundaries a little bit.

Cheers for reading,

Jon.