Tubby Hayes A Man in a Hurry ReviewedWritten by Matteo Sedazzari
It was a journey that not only changed the fortunes of Tubby, but also had an impact on British fashion and music. In addition it is a pretty much forgotten story known only by a few 'in the know', and that is why author Mark Baxter and director Lee Cogswell decided to spread the gospel, with a ‘little help from their friends’, in particular actor Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit, Fargo) who narrates this impressive debut documentary from duo from South London and Warwickshire respectively. Moreover if I hadn’t added the word 'debut 'in this paragraph, you wouldn’t have thought that this accomplished film was their first foray into documentary-land.
Telling the life story of any artist in film format, can be dangerous ground especially for the uninitiated. principally because it could be a tedious hour or so with a host of talking heads telling the viewers what a wonderful man or woman the artist was and so on and so forth, in really simple terms with little or no story, balance or feel, just a one dimensional sycophantic piece of propaganda. The BBC are the masters of this type of documentary film making. A recent example is the doc about Wayne Rooney, where a few things 'cough cough', were pointedly overlooked.
NOT so here with Baxter and Cogswell who have created a visual journey, that does what a film or book should do... entertain, educate and enlighten, with added sterling input from feted Pop Artist Peter Blake, Acid Jazz founder and top Mod Eddie Piller, author and musician Simon Wells plus many more.
Much of Tubby Hayes’ career - by the way, Edward never minded being nicknamed Tubby, but didn’t like being called short - was spent performing in the jazz clubs of 50’s London Soho, interspersed with many trips to the US. 'Tubby Hayes A Man in a Hurry' takes you right back in time... there is an authentic late night jazz feel to the film telling the story of a man completely obsessed with his music and “doing the business” as Tubby would have said. As his story unfolds we learn how he and his band members shook up the world of jazz music and changed the world of fashion. When Tubby entered into the world of Jazz, it was an 'uncool' scene that didn't appeal to the pop obsessed youth of London and beyond, so along with his mentor the acknowledged godfather of Modern Jazz, Ronnie Scott, they took the scene by the metaphorical scruff of the neck, making the music more up tempo and with a definite edge, much influenced by the hip stateside black musicians, The influence from the US didn’t just end with the music. Tubby noticed that these sartorially elegant young black men all sported smart Ivy League clobber. So Tubby emulated this look investing in sharp stage suits in the Ivy League style from smart tailor Cecil Gee. One fateful night in 1958, The Daily Sketch wrote a gig review of Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott’s band, The Jazz Couriers, who were performing at the legendary Flamingo club where the journalist in question dubbed both the audience and the band 'Modernist'. It might be fair to say, that Mod, as we know it, was born that night, and that Tubby with his black music and hip style obsession introduced a whole new way of life to the youth of Britain.
From here Tubby’s life goes on the up, at least in terms of his music career, but not in marriage. Life on the road for a professional musician means being away from home for long periods of time, with many vices and temptations on offer, to which the hedonistic Tubby didn’t say no, and towards the end , drink and drug abuse become the dominant forces in his life. Sadly he died after a heart operation on 8th June 1973, a procedure made necessary by his excessive lifestyle. Tragically, Tubby Hayes was only 38 years old when he passed away. A sobering thought.
Not only did Tubby Hayes' talent gain him the respect and admiration of his peers, but in the 1960s he also came to the attention of the police due to his love of smoking weed. He made himself an easy target and found himself firmly in the sights of Sgt Norman Pilcher, a copper famed for arresting major pop stars Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones and John and Yoko Lennon. There's a lovely anecdote about this episode related by Simon Wells in the film.
Prior to his death, with the birth of pop music and The Beatles in the sixties and then rock in the 70’s, Tubby Hayes found himself struggling to make a decent living, despite being wholly respected for his craft. before the birth of rock & roll in the 50’s, and the beat band explosion of the 60’s, Modern Jazz was seen by the mainstream press and the establishment as a veritable ‘axis of evil’, well before Johnny Rotten was spitting and screaming Anarchy in the UK. The film is laced with these historical gems, and that’s down to Baxter and Cogswell knowing their onions, so to speak and unflinchingly presenting a raw, passionate and accurate account of Tubby's life and work.
I have to be honest here; before viewing this film, I really didn’t know who the hell Tubby Hayes was, and yes, its a fair cop guv'! I hold my hands up! I hadn’t really ventured very far into the demi-monde world of Modern Jazz before. However I had actually heard Tubby's music years earlier as child, while illicitly watching Amicus Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, an portmanteau anthology of hammerstyle horror stories, starring the late and great exponents of the genre; Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Tubby scored the music and actually appeared in one sequence called Voodoo, starring Record Breaker Roy Castle, who (quelle surprise!) plays a jazz musician who travels to exotic Haiti, hears some fab haunting music at an afterhours jazz club, plagarises it and takes it home to England to wow the masses... I think you can guess the rest. I still remember the spellbinding tune and the movie with great fondness. But perhaps I might stand alone on that point, as jazz fan Eddie Piller isn’t that complementary about Dr Terrors House of Horrors in 'Tubby Hayes A Man in a Hurry'. Oh well, I’ll just have to let that one slide.
'Tubby Hayes A Man in a Hurry' is an honest and earnest film. Not only does it tell the tale of Tubby Hayes in an inspiring manner, it brings the overlooked genius of the eponymous musical maverick to a whole new generation of fans, while still satisfying the cognescenti... and that was certainly the vision of Mark Baxter, whose candid interview in the bonus features acts as a motivational speech for being true to yourself and following your dreams. Baxter readily admits, and then retracts, that if he hadn’t got the funding to purchase the fantastic archive footage of Tubby Hayes, he would gone rogue and done an 'under the counter' DVD with 'nicked' YouTube clips, an admission he delivers with a beaming smile and a resolute twinkle in his eye.
On this form, I can safely say that I look forward to seeing and hearing much more from Baxter and Cogswell, because to quote Tubby himself, these cats are simply “doing the business”.
Tubby Hayes A Man in a Hurry - DVD OUT NOW!