by Ian Mann
July 07, 2022
Ian Mann is saddened by the passing of David Masters, organiser of the much missed Titley Jazz Festival.
R.I.P. David Masters of Titley Jazz Festival
I was saddened to hear the news of the recent death of David Masters, organiser of the Titley Jazz Festival, which ran for five very successful years from 2010 to 2014.
David had been a devotee of the long running Appleby Jazz Festival and in 2010 undertook a huge leap of faith by resurrecting this much missed event in rural Herefordshire under the new name of Titley Jazz.
Titley was David’s home village following his move to Herefordshire and I first knew him through a shared love of good beer. We were both members of the local branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), with David already demonstrating his organisational skills by taking over the role of branch treasurer.
When David first told me of his plans to revive Appleby (which had run successfully for fifteen years in Westmorland before falling victim to funding cuts) in a new location and to fund the new festival himself I thought he was mad. Beautiful but sparsely populated Herefordshire is hardly a jazz hotbed (despite my best efforts) and I was worried that the whole venture was an enormous risk and could spell financial disaster for the intrepid David.
However I had reckoned without David’s organisational skills and the incredible loyalty of the Appleby fanbase, many of whom made the long trip to Herefordshire every year for the new Titley Jazz Festival. David had contacted the entire “Friends Of Appleby” mailing list and they turned out in force from all over the country to support his bold venture.
The inaugural Festival was held at Titley Junction, a long disused railway station owned by steam enthusiasts Robert and Lesley Hunt who owned not just the old station buildings but also a working steam locomotive and a mile of operative track.
A 500 seater marquee was set up in the grounds adjoining the station, the train offered free rides to festival goers (most people went more than once) and David’s old friends from Herefordshire CAMRA set up a bar dispensing real ale and cider. There was a hog roast and other food in an idyllic setting surrounding by rolling Herefordshire farmland.
The first Festival was a huge success but access and health and safety issues engendered a move to the nearby Rodd Farm Estate, owned by the Sidney Nolan Trust. The new site provided a flatter, safer location, more adjacent car parking and camping and much more room to move around. The Rodd was to be the Festival’s home for the next four years.
The move to The Rodd saw a larger marquee and the addition of an extra day to the Festival, which now saw performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. CAMRA continued to provide the beer and The Rodd was to prove just as popular as Titley Junction had been.
It wasn’t just the audiences that came every year. The musicians loved coming to Titley to perform, playing in front of large and appreciative audiences and enjoying a weekend away from London in such a beautiful location.
Among the regular performers at Titley were pianist Stan Tracey, saxophonists Alan Barnes, Peter King, Art Themen and Don Weller, trumpeters Guy Barker, Bruce Adams and Martin Shaw, trombonist Mark Nightingale and a rotating cast of rhythm players that included pianists Dave Newton and Steve Melling, bassists Andrew Cleyndert, Dave Green and Geoff Gascoyne and drummers Clark Tracey, Steve Brown and Dave Barry.
Although centred around a certain style of jazz and with performances mainly taking place in the ‘head-solos-head’ format the Festival did become increasingly musically diverse as it developed. Vocal headliners included Liane Carroll and Anita Wardell while guitarists Jim Mullen and Colin Oxley became increasingly regular visitors.
Big Bands were also added to the line up, including NYJO the Don Weller Big Band and Robert Fowler’s Gerry Mulligan Concert Big Band.
There was a sense of the musicians and their audience bonding together to create a ‘Titley Family’ that loved coming together every year for a weekend of jazz, real ale and beautiful countryside. And for me it was even more ideal because it was practically on my doorstep.
Titley Jazz developed into a much loved institution, as popular with its faithful followers as Appleby once was.
Unfortunately 2014 was to be the last ever Titley Jazz Festival. David Masters was suffering with ill health by this time and was unable to continue in his role as Festival organiser. Nevertheless the five festivals that he staged were a triumph and continue to be fondly remembered by musicians and audiences alike.
Of course some of the musicians who graced the Titley stage are also no longer with us, among them Stan Tracey, Peter King, Don Weller and drummer Tony Levin.
I learned of David’s passing from jazz broadcaster John Hellings, but by this time it was too late for me to attend the funeral, which I regret. John very kindly represented me at the service, which took place at Hereford Crematorium.
I hadn’t seen David since 2014 but I was grateful to him for allowing me the opportunity to cover the Festival and all five Titley Jazz events are comprehensively reviewed on the Jazzmann web pages – I didn’t miss a single day.
Titley Jazz Festival is much missed by its many fans and during the years of its existence it was also a great boost to the Herefordshire economy. Its five hugely successful and enjoyable years were the result of David Masters’ vision and represent a very impressive cultural legacy.
Rest in Peace, David.
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