Classic Albums – Grits Beans and Greens

When myself and Lee Cogswell were putting together our film ‘A Man In a Hurry’, which looks at the life and times of UK jazz musician Tubby Hayes in 2013, the first interview we did was with professional tenor sax player and celebrated writer Simon Spillett. His was a name I knew well, because every time I Googled anything on Tubby back then, Simon’s name would be on the page somewhere.

At this time I was thinking of writing a book on Tubby, but from my Googling activity, I could see that Simon had already spent years working on a book on Hayes himself and was hoping to get that out in 2014/15. Further investigating revealed he was the right man for the job. He knew Tubby’s story inside out. Once I knew that, I switched tack and thought of a film on our hero. It was a medium I had thought of getting involved with a few times before, but in truth, I didn’t have a clue where to start.

Then I met Lee on a job we were both involved in with the band Stone Foundation.  I was very impressed by his work that day, so I tapped him up and he joined up with me to make the Tubby film.

Anyway back to that first interview with Simon.  He was great that day and in effect covered all the stops in the Hayes life and set us on the path to get the film finished. He also gave me his research notes for his book, which was a very kind gesture, and one which helped me write the script for the film.

Once I knew myself and Lee were going to finish the film, I approached a pal who knew of the existing Hayes musical archive. In truth, I was trying to get a greatest hits together or at least some vinyl reissues of the very hard to find albums, so as to have something come out at the same time as our film and Simon’s book.

Sadly though, I could feel at the time, there was no feeling for any of those music projects and I couldn’t persuade them to go any further.

We now time shift forward 6 years and it has all changed. Tapes of a long fabled Fontana recording session from 1969 surfaced a couple of years back, which I was lucky to hear. It went all quiet for a while and then, word reached me these tapes now made up an album, now called ‘Grits Beans and Greens’ and it would be out in the summer of 2019. Furthermore, a box set of all the Tubby Hayes Fontana albums would follow in the autumn on both CD and Vinyl.

So, great news all round and I’m now writing this a week after the ‘Grits’ releases (yes, there are more than one) and it is great to see the acclaim for them across the board. It has ended up Number 1 in the UK Jazz albums charts and rumours of enough sales to get a top 40 general chart position validates what is a great package. 

On the album Tubby is joined by what was by then his regular quartet at the time of 22-year-old Spike Wells on drums, Ron Mathewson on bass and Mick Pyne on piano.

On the deluxe double CD, you can also hear the then 24 year old Irish guitarist Louis Stewart, whose style puts me in mind of US guitar great Kenny Burrell.

As can be seen by the ages of his side men, Tubby was always one to encourage youth and this line up was very much evidence of that.

For this blog, I’ll be writing my reflection on the overall feeling of the album as a fan first and foremost and so hopping around the various versions of the songs from the double CD, which I love especially for all the studio chatter and control booth clipped instructions.

For me that is a lovely added value here. The very fact that you can hear the working out of the musicians in among the technicians doing their bit. Simply fascinating.

Others more qualified than I, have already given their thoughts and reviews, and continue to do so, but for me, it is the overall vibe and feeling of the tracks that I want to celebrate.

So, I’ll start with ‘Where Am I Going’ a song written by Cy Coleman. At first, hearing a guitar in among the blowing of Tubby, is all bit well weird, certainly unexpected, but I have to say I loved it early on when first hearing the tapes and that feeling remains still.

Tubby is on fine form here, attacking the tune in his usual forceful way ably assisted by Spike and Ron in the rythyhm section. Louis Stewart obviously knew his way around his instrument (he was a Montreux Jazz winner in 1968 after all) and as a result this does get funky at times. Ron has a lovely ‘feel’ with his bass on the takes by the way. On reflection, this was Tubby heading for a ‘Soul Jazz’ period, and that’s no bad thing.

We then land on ‘Grits Beans and Greens’ and pianist Mick Pyne opens up a nice bluesy feel, into which Tubbs wades with what is now a familiar refrain to anyone who has seen Simon Spillett perform this tune in and around the UK jazz scene for the last couple of years.

It is a 12 bar composition by Tubby himself and the quartet grab hold of it early and really make it work. Again there is invention in everyone’s playing, and you can hear the joy in Tubby’s sound as he also gives room to his sidemen, to weave in and out, eventually coming back together to join up all the dots.

When I was first taking baby steps into buying from the recorded world of jazz, and I heard the work from Tubby, I was baffled as to why he wasn’t more celebrated, even here in the UK.So when the control booth beckons him to launch into ‘For Members Only’ listening to him open up on it, just confirms what my uneducated ears thought back then. This is the real deal, the proper stuff and finally perhaps that is being recognised more broadly. The work from Mick Pyne and the occasionally flashes of brilliance from Spike just add to the overall greatness of this performance.

Then the song ‘Rumpus’ opens up and hits you hard with its jagged edges that crack along at a rare old pace. Throughout it all though, you just get a feeling of complete control by the quartet.

Sure they allow the tune to breathe, but at all times you are on the journey back to the source of this Hayes composition. The collective work on this is of the highest order for me. These are players at the top of their game.

Finally we have a change of pace with Duke Pearson’s tune ‘You Know I Care’ which finds Tubbs in a reflective sounding mood. A crash of cymbals opens up proceedings and we carefully work our way into a very pretty tune. Lyrical and smooth, with the occasional flash of the Hayes ‘vim and vinegar’ where required. The whole song is propped up very nicely by the work of the others, with Mick Pyne in particular picking his way through very nicely.

Tubby flies solo towards the end and it is then you can hear the command this man had of his tenor sax.  Just immense.

Listening to this album as a full body of work, it does beggar belief that it was shelved for fifty years. Yes I could moan about what happened, but in honesty I have already used up a lot of energy with the frustration of Tubby’s music not being more readily available up to this point, but no more of that from me.

I along with a few ‘sorted’ others have been evangelistic in our love for him and his music for a good few years. Finally now, many more others can hear him play and I know they will join our congregation.

Amen to that.

The record collector and DJ, Jonny Trunk, said on our film four years ago that ‘one day all his (Tubby’s) work will be once again available on vinyl.’

We knew Jonny, we knew….

The Mumper of SE5