Colin H on Tubby Hayes
‘A Man In A Hurry’ is a terrific documentary about British jazz great Tubby Hayes (tenor sax/flute/vibes), a short fat man (1935-73) from London who was full of energy, had world-class talent, and was incredibly prolific on record, on stage and on screen, particularly in the period from the mid-50s to the mid-60s.
When you scour 1960s Melody Makers at the British Library, as I have done periodically, for information on other fragments of culture, your eye is often drawn to things outside your remit, and for me, Tubby Hayes is one of those. It’s clear he was a big deal at the time. Somehow, he faded away toward the end of the decade and, like fellow British modern jazz greats Joe Harriott and Phil Seamen (one might add Graham Bond to that list), would die prematurely in the early 70s – all of them having to a fair extent become yesterday’s men, and at least partly through substance abuse.
I’m fascinated by 1960s British jazz, of all types, but had little knowledge of Tubby Hayes. It turns out that Mark Baxter and Lee Cogswell, producer/writer and director/editor, respectively, of this wonderful film, could say the same – or maybe only the latter half of that sentence! Baxter is a Mod/social history author and, well, a man in a hurry, or at least a man who takes on projects and drives them through, with little or no money. Cogswell looks like a Mod too, much younger and with some small experience in low budget film-making.
The ‘Meet the Film-Makers’ featurette on the DVD really adds to one’s appreciation of the film because it’s clear that the whole thing was begun on virtually no money, purely from an instinct on Baxter’s part that he should do it, having heard Tubbs’ late 50s classic ‘A Pint Of Bitter’ on a vinyl compilation, and seen through over three years with bits of money from friends and relatives. (Paul Weller, Martin Freeman and a property developer appear among the Executive Producers; Freeman narrates – very well – while the property guy, a tad oddly, gets to make a comment on-screen.) It was a voyage of discovery for the pair, in terms of both finding out about Tubby’s story and finding out about how to make a film, and the sheer cost of archive material.
Well, in a way, that may have contributed to its charm and pace, because there’s a no-let-up immediacy to the film that in itself captures something of Tubby’s relentless drive. I’ve just watched it for a second time and one notices second time through the seamless quality of the writing/editing, keeping talking-heads’ contributions lean and pithy, linking into or played over perfect visuals – stills (with subtle animation techniques to give a sense of movement), archive film of London in a given period, people rolling reefers, or film of this or that other musician who’s just been mentioned (Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, etc.), or film (and plenty of it) of Tubby himself, from TV and celluloid appearances.
There are 21 on-screen contributors, notably painter Peter Blake, poet Mike Horowitz, son Richard Hayes, Flamingo club owner Jeffrey Kruger, biographer Simon Spillett (an essential anchor throughout) and three musicians who played with Tubby – a school orchestra peer, a late period big band colleague and his final quartet’s drummer. Most other contributors are post-Tubby British jazzers or record label/broadcasting people – some useful, one or two rather marginal.
If I have any criticism it is that a few more 50s/60s musical contemporaries couldn’t have been filmed. Brian Auger, for instance, often played with Tubby in the early 60s and is a wonderful anecdotist (albeit living in California); Danny Thompson, seen in a 1967 Tubby quartet in a couple of stills, is around; Val Wilmer (whose photos are credited) knew Tubby and lives in London; there are other working/retired jazz musicians – albeit not top league players – from that era who could have helped with the tapestry (in place of two or three of the younger/not personally connected contributors).
But I know how it is to start a long-form project and have to graft to see it through, with often very fragile economics, and I recognise something of Baxter’s instinct and make-it-happen attitude.
If you’re a jazz fan, you need this film. But I’d strongly encourage anyone interested in ‘the sixties’, especially ‘Swinging London’, to buy this DVD as well. It’s a rich snapshot of that era, a time when Tubby Hayes could be seen as often on British TV as the Beatles, fronting his own series or backing musicians like Ella Fitzgerald. Don’t wait for it to appear on BBC4 – it may not. It’s implied that the guys tried to get a commission but didn’t. Still, in an ideal world, BBC4 would license it, the guys would get some of their investment back, and the channel would show an hour of ‘Tubby Hayes at the BBC’ afterwards.
I’ve yet to read Spillett’s biography, but I’ve ordered a CD of ‘Mexican Green’, regarded as Tubby’s most essential album, and his last major studio solo set toward the end of the 60s, incorporating some of the then new ideas in jazz. He died of heart issues, after a valve replacement, in 1973, but he would surely have remained a major figure creatively and critically, if perhaps not commercially (few of the great Brit jazzers of the 60s had their due in that respect), had his lifestyle not left him with a price to pay.