Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Monday at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 01/05/2023.

by Ian Mann

May 08, 2023

Ian Mann on the final day of the Festival and performances by Kit Downes, Andrew Woodhead, Squeeze and Binker Golding.

Photograph of Binker Golding by Tim Dickeson



For Cheltenham Jazz Festival regulars St. Andrew’s United Reform Church, situated on the walking route between the Parabola Arts Centre and the main Festival site in Montpellier Gardens, represents something of a landmark. Over the many years that I have been coming to the Festival I must have walked past it literally dozens of times but prior to today had only been inside once, for  “Sketches From A Northern Town” a brass led Festival commission by trumpeter Neil Yates way back in 2007.  The American saxophonist Chris Potter performed a solo saxophone recital at St. Andrew’s some years later but I wasn’t present for that.

Today’s event featured an improvised solo performance by Kit Downes who was to play the venue’s magnificent two manual Willis organ. Downes trained as an organ scholar before becoming a jazz musician and has retained his fascination for the instrument. His Wedding Music and Vyamanikal projects, both duo collaborations with saxophonist Tom Challenger, featured his playing on various church organs, often in and around Downes’ native East Anglia.

A series of recordings on the boutique Slip label caught the ear of ECM owner Manfred Eicher and Downes was signed by the German label as a solo artist. He continued his quest to combine church organ music with jazz, releasing the acclaimed albums “Obsidian” (2018) and “Dreamlife of Debris” (2020). Both of these albums are reviewed elsewhere on this site, as are two earlier Vyamanikal recordings “Vyamanikal” and “Black Shuck”, both from 2016. In 2022 ECM released “Vermillion”, a more conventional jazz recording featuring Downes as part of a collaborative piano trio alongside bassist Petter Eldh and drummer James Maddren.

Introducing today’s performance Tony Dudley-Evans explained that Downes had performed at CJF on eleven different occasions, all with different projects. These have included his own small groups of various sizes, his duos with drummer Sebastian Rochford and cellist Lucy Railton and various international collaborations including the groups Barbacana, In Bed With and the Hammond organ trio Deadeye, with whom he had performed at the Parabola Arts Centre the previous day.

Downes himself explained that he would perform a single full length improvisation on the organ, the performance lasting around fifty minutes. He told us that because every church organ is different and that each has its own characteristics and idiosyncrasies the instrument is a “gift for improvisers”. He also explained that he would periodically insert composed material into the piece, either his own works or traditional folk tunes. The choice of the latter was intended to celebrate the role of the organ as a community instrument, around which people have traditionally gathered to sing.

The Church was absolutely packed for this performance and with the main space fully occupied the upstairs balcony was opened up for latecomers. Ironically they probably got the best view as they could look down on the organ loft. I suspect that many people on the ground floor, myself included, couldn’t actually see much of Downes at all but at least we could hear him. This was sometimes meditative music that slowly beguiled and drew in the listener and I’m sure that there were many audience members who listened with their eyes closed.

The performance began quietly, almost subliminally and featured Downes’ unconventional and innovative use of the stops. Freed from the shackles of having to play hymn tunes Downes was able to explore the full sonic capabilities of the Willis, probably taking it to sonic spaces where it had never been before.

Organs were originally developed to simulate the sounds of orchestras and I suspect that centuries ago they were hated for putting ‘real’ musicians out of work – the synthesisers or drum machines of their time. The orchestral possibilities of the organ represented another area for Downes to explore, layering his sound,  making effective use of dynamic contrasts, inserting elements of wilful dissonance and making use of the various stops, among them the various flute sounds and the vox humana.

At times I was reminded of the electronic music of Tangerine Dream,  the German group whose music had a similar meditative quality and who often used to perform concerts in churches and cathedrals.

In the main Downes avoided conventional ‘churchy’ organ sounds as he emulated the sounds of bird song, inserted snatches of folk inspired melody or created rhythmic pulses that again invited comparisons to electronic music.

Only towards the end were more conventional church organ sounds deployed with the organ sounding genuinely ‘hymnal’ and ‘Bach-like’.

At the conclusion of this ‘recital’ Downes applauded the Willis as the audience gave its player a rousing reception.

After the show many listeners went to have a closer look at the magnificent instrument. Downes had left his notes propped up above the keyboards and I could just about make out the words “Hungarian Folk Tune” and “Sun Valley”. I assume that the latter refers to a traditional folk song rather than to the Glenn Miller tune or the chicken factory in Hereford and that these were among the folk melodies we heard.

Downes has made the church organ a convincing vehicle for improvisation and his work in this field has proved to be surprisingly popular with the listening public, as today’s large, attentive and enthusiastic audience proved. An unusual, but totally absorbing and highly satisfying, event representing excellent start to the day.


More church related music at the 2.30 performance of “Waves II”, conducted by Andrew Woodhead.

Born in Sheffield but now based in Birmingham Woodhead is a graduate of the Jazz Course at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and is a pianist, composer and electronic musician. He also co-promotes the Fizzle series of improvised music events that take place on a regular basis at various venues around Birmingham, sometimes working in conjunction with Tony Dudley-Evans’ TDE Promotions.

“Waves II” is based on Woodhead’s 2021 album release “Pendulums”, a recording subtitled “Music for Bellringers, Improvisers & Electronics”. This ambitious project brought the seemingly disparate musical worlds of jazz, bell ringing and electronics together to create a convincing whole. Six jazz musicians came together with a team of eight bell ringers with Woodhead handling the live electronics element. Successful live performances have seen been held in various churches, mainly in the Midlands area. My album review of the “Pendulums” album can be found here;

Supported by the Jerwood Jazz Encounters programme “Waves II” was an installation in the Montpellier Woods area of Montpellier Gardens and featured eight bells of various sixes hung on various ropes from a giant steel framework.

“Waves II” was performed three times a day on the main days of the Festival (Saturday, Sunday, Monday) and this 2.30 pm performance was the penultimate one. Having favourably reviewed “Pendulums” and having walked past the Waves II structure several times during the course of the Festival I was determined to catch a full performance of this fascinating project.

The publicity for the event promised a combination of “music and physics” and just prior to the performance Andrew Woodhead kindly explained to fellow Jazzmann contributor Colin May and myself just where the physics element came in. Of course the bells are of different weights and the ropes of different lengths, so when they are swung the bells all move at different speeds and remain swinging for different periods of time.

The performance itself featured Woodhead and a team of helpers marshalling a team of eight volunteer bell ringers who were each assigned a bell and were instructed to swing their bell and hit it with a hammer each time it came back to them. The result was a magical peal of interlocking rhythms and patterns with many listeners likening the musical sounds to those of a Steve Reich composition. The sound was very full and complex at first, but came more sparse as the laws of physics entailed that at different times some bells eventually stopped swinging and fell silent. By the close of the piece only the solitary ring of Bell No. 8, the largest and heaviest remained.

The large crowd that had gathered around the installation were totally immersed in the performance and gave Woodhead and the ringers an excellent ovation.

In the spirit of jazz no two performances of “Waves II” will be exactly the same but the overall shape and effect of each performance will be similar. This may have been a non-paying event but it was a fascinating one and I was very glad to have seen it during my only window of opportunity. My thanks to Andrew and his team and to the Jerwood Foundation for making it happen.


My only visit to the Big Top this year was for this sold out show from South London rock royalty Squeeze.

This much loved British institution is centred around the songs of guitarist / vocalists Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook. Although initially roped into the punk and new wave movements Squeeze are actually more in the lineage of the Kinks, their often witty songs written from a distinctly London point of view.

It’s a band that has gone through many line up changes during its near fifty year history with Jools Holland and Paul Carrack among its illustrious former members. Carrack played a successful set with his own band in the CJF Big Top back in 2017.

The current line up is a septet, with Difford and Tilbrook joined by flamboyant keyboard player Steve Large, bassist Owen Biddle, drummer Simon Hansen, percussionist Steve Smith and Melvin Duffy, alternating between guitar and pedal steel.

Squeeze produced a string of chart singles, particularly back in their late 70s heyday and hit the ground running with their début hit “Take Me I’m Yours”, with Difford and Tilbrook sharing the lead vocals.

Most of the other members contributed backing vocals and the group’s collective vocal harmonies made a significant contribution to “Take Me To The Bridge”.

One of the band’s biggest hits, the enduringly popular “Up The Junction” followed, with Tilbrook singing this witty tale of South London kitchen sink desperation. Tilbrook handled most of the lead vocals and was a powerful and distinctive singer. He also took most of the lead guitar breaks and shouldered a large degree of responsibility in terms of the overall group sound.

“What Have They Done” included Large doubling on melodica. Standing on his own riser / podium and surrounded by keyboards Large took a number of searing keyboard solos during the course of the set and carried on Holland’s penchant for showmanship.

“Cradle To The Grave”, one of the band’s later songs, saw them really rocking out and included lyrical references to Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead.

By way of contrast the country tinged “Labelled With Love” elicited an audience sing along and the hits just kept on coming with “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)” and “Annie Get Your Gun”.

The band encouraged the audience to sing and clap along with “Tempted”, a song that was originally sung by Carrack, but it was their other enormous hit, “Cool For Cats”, with lead vocals from Difford, that eventually saw the entire audience get to its collective feet.

The crowd remained standing for “Goodbye Girl” and a foot stomping “Black Coffee In Bed” that included instrumental features for all the members of the band.

Although I wouldn’t consider myself to be a huge Squeeze fan I did enjoy this. Difford and Tilbrook are witty and intelligent songwriters and have written some excellent songs, songs that have become part of the British national consciousness. There were hits a plenty in this crowd pleasing set but a glance at the group’s extensive discography reveals that were many more that they could have drawn upon. The sound quality was a bit muddy at times, perhaps inevitable with a seven piece electric band in a huge space, but this is a relatively minor quibble in the context of a very professional and enjoyable show.


My final gig of the Festival was this superb performance by saxophonist Binker Golding and his quintet at The Jazz Arena.

Tenor sax specialist Golding has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages thanks to his work with the duo Binker and Moses, himself and drummer Moses Boyd. Boyd led his own quintet for a superb show in this same venue on the equivalent day in 2022, so it was only fitting that today should be Golding’s turn.

As a musician with an increasing commitment to the art of free improvisation Golding has also worked in a duo with pianist Elliot Galvin and in a trio with two real free jazz heavyweights, bassist John Edwards and drummer Steve Noble.

Golding and Boyd are products of the Tomorrow’s Warriors scheme and the saxophonist has maintained his links with the association with a number of the members of his current quintet having passed through its ranks. He has also worked closely with another TW alumnus, vocalist Zara McFarlane. His playing has also been heard with Eden, a quartet led by Kent based drummer Lorraine Baker.

In 2019 Golding released his début album as a leader, the intriguingly titled “Abstractions of Reality Past and Incredible Feathers”. This featured a quartet with Joe Armon-Jones, of Ezra Collective, on piano, Daniel Casimir on double bass and Sam Jones at the drums, all TW alumni. The album represented a highly accomplished début and was generally well received both critically and commercially, but nevertheless I felt that Golding’s influences, and particularly that of John Coltrane, were just a title too apparent. Given that he was working with free improvisers such as Galvin by this time I was expecting something a little more radical and adventurous. My review of the album can be found here;

The saxophonist promised something different for his next solo release and with his second album “Dream Like A Dogwood Wild Boy” that is exactly what he has delivered. Recorded in 2021 and released on 2022 the album appears on the London / Tokyo independent label Gearbox Records, the imprint with which Golding has enjoyed a long and fruitful association and which is the home of his previous solo album and the entire Binker & Moses catalogue.

The new recording sees Golding retaining the services of bassist Casimir and drummer Jones with the piano chair now occupied by Sarah Tandy, a bandleader in her own right and a regular member of saxophonist Camilla George’s group. The Golding band has been expanded to a quintet with the addition of guitarist Billy Adamson, whose playing I have previously heard in bands led by vocalist / guitarist Sarah Gillespie, trumpeter Matt Roberts and DAGDA quartet, led by saxophonist Tom Harrison.

The inclusion of Adamson makes an enormous difference to the Golding group’s sound. As its title might suggest “Dream Like A Dogwood Wildboy” brings the influence of Americana to Golding’s music and it’s the inclusion of Adamson’s guitar that helps to facilitate that. Golding’s other tenor sax influences include Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and Michael Brecker and for me it’s the influence of the latter that is most apparent this time round, but only in that the instrumental format of Golding’s new group is essentially the same as that on Brecker’s classic 1996 album “Tales From The Hudson”, a recording that Golding has named as one of his favourites and which features guitarist Pat Metheny as one of the members of an all star line up.

Comprised entirely of Golding’s original compositions “Dream Like A Dogwood Wild Boy” features melodic writing and strong, incisive soloing, particularly from the leader. It’s a more adventurous and distinctive recording than its predecessor and today Golding and his quintet, lining up exactly as on the album, played the whole album in sequence, presenting the performance as some kind of suite.

“(Take me to the) Wide Open Lows” was ushered in by a passage of unaccompanied finger picked acoustic slide guitar from Adamson that was rootsy and swampy, setting the new Americana agenda. His vigorous strumming then set up the main bulk of the tune as the rest of the band joined in and Golding sketched the main melodic theme on tenor sax, also accompanied by piano, double bass and vigorously brushed drums. The leader then stretched out to solo more expansively, his playing powerful and incisive but always highly melodic. He was followed by Tandy at the piano, who soloed with an expansive, flowing lyricism.

Adamson switched to electric guitar for the slow blues “Love Me Like A Woman”, again performing with a slide alongside Golding’s tenor. The saxophonist took the first solo, his blues tinged tenor sounding authentically bruised, but still capable of generating an impressive power. Adamson cranked up his amps for a scorching blues / rock guitar solo and the performance was also notable for a series of feisty guitar and tenor exchanges.

“My Two Dads” began quietly, with the gentle rumble of Jones’ mallets on skins and the introduction of Casimir’s grounding bass motif. Golding then sketched the main melodic theme above a combination of piano and guitar arpeggios, the piece having an almost song like construction and acting as a further demonstration of Golding’s gift for melody. Tandy’s lyrical piano solo was followed by that of Golding, much of it conducted in the tenor’s altissimo register.
Casimir was featured on double bass, stepping out from the shadows at last to solo melodically above the soft patter of Jones’ hand drumming. Thereafter the momentum began to increase and the piece concluded with a joyous ‘hoedown’ section that delighted the Cheltenham crowd.

The wonderfully titled “Howling and Drinking in God’s Own Country” was introduced by Jones’ drums, subsequently joined by the leader’s tenor in a brief reminder of the Binker & Moses duo. Adamson’s electric slide guitar then joined in to take the music to another place, the rest of the band then coming in to add extra heft to the music. Golding’s solo was a true marathon but threw in a couple of quotes to lighten the mood. Tandy’s appropriately joyous piano solo simply sparkled.

The ballad “’Til My Heart Stops” introduced a gentler side of Golding’s music and was ushered in by a trio of piano, double bass and brushed drums. Gently melodic and lyrical solos from Tandy and Golding were followed by Adamson’s keening electric guitar solo, a feature that saw him making effective use of both finger slide and tremolo arm. Casimir was also featured at the bass before Golding returned to solo more expansively than previously.

Adamson returned to acoustic guitar for “With What I Know Now”, a highly melodic piece that sometimes reminded me of Pat Metheny at his most country-ish. The music gradually began to gather momentum through the course of engaging solos from Adamson and Golding and the piece appeared to have peaked via a powerful drum feature from Jones that included some seriously ferocious hitting. However there was still time for Golding to cut loose again before the close.

Golding introduced the band to the crowd and indulged in a few other verbal ramblings before announcing the last piece, “All Out Of Fairy Tales”, describing it as a “heartland rock number”. Centred around Adamson’s recurring guitar motif and incorporating rock rhythms the piece had the feel of a rock ‘power ballad’ and might have elicited a bout of lighter waving at other venues. Along the way we enjoyed final solos from Tandy and Golding as this excellent and memorable gig drew to a close.

The critical reaction to “Dream Like A Dogwood Wild Boy” has been overwhelmingly positive and the Cheltenham public loved it too, with many queueing up to purchase it at the signing session immediately after the event. I was among them and the music has sounded just as good on CD second and third time around. It’s Golding’s most accessible recording to date and the sort of album that listeners are likely to return to on a regular basis. It is capable of appealing to a broad listenership and deserves to be widely heard.

Today’s performance differed slightly from the album with lengthier solo features or the occasional change in the solo running order but was basically true to the recording. It was a great way for me to round off Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2023.


With audience numbers up even on last year CJF 2023 was a resounding success and maintained the balance between the popular and the esoteric, with plenty of room found for both. The improvement in the sound quality at the Town Hall was also something to be welcomed.

My personal preference is for events at the more ‘cutting edge’ end of the jazz spectrum and the Festival provided plenty of that,  and particularly on the programme at the Parabola Arts Centre.

However this year’s Festival and the Parabola programme in particular was a bitter-sweet affair. As he approaches the age of eighty Tony Dudley-Evans is going to step aside from his role of Programme Adviser to the Festival after many years working either in this role or previously as Artistic Director. Tony has done a fantastic job of bringing cutting edge jazz to CJF and has brought us brilliant music from the UK, the US and Europe over the years, and although there were no Americans on the Parabola programme this year the overall standard of the music was as high as ever. Tony will continue to promote jazz and improvised music in Birmingham but he will be greatly missed at CJF. Good luck Tony and many thanks for the excellent music you have presented to us both in Cheltenham and Birmingham over the years.

For those of us who have become Parabola regulars there is some concern as to what might happen in the future without Tony at the helm. He does have a unique talent for spotting and encouraging new, ground breaking music. Hopefully somebody with similar qualities will take charge of the Parabola programme. It’s the exciting new music that is presented there that is the true heart of the Festival for myself and for many others, hardcore jazz fans who follow the music all year round.

As I’ve said many times before I don’t mind acts such as Squeeze effectively funding performances by the likes of Kit Downes or Paal-Nilssen Love, but I’d hate it if CJF abandoned its commitment to the more experimental side of jazz and became ‘just another pop festival’, albeit one with a jazz flavour and the occasional visit from a big name American.

Food for thought. The 2024 Cheltenham Jazz Festival will be awaited by many with a sense of anticipation tempered by a degree of trepidation. Tony will be much missed, but hopefully not too much will actually change.


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