Friday, August 22, 2014

The Old Duke Jazz Festival over the Bank Holiday weekend in Bristol

The Old Duke Jazz Festival has been an annual highlight for Bristol music lovers for the best part of four decades and this weekend's three-day event promises to be better than ever.

The King Street pub has long been one of the city's most important musical landmarks and the annual festival on the cobbles between the Old Duke and the equally famous Llandoger Trow pub opposite pulls together a line-up featuring many of the bands that perform at the Old Duke throughout the year.

This weekend's line-up includes a combination of old favourites like The Blue Notes, The Severn Jazzmen, Eddie Martin's Blues Band and The Robin Reece Jazz Band, alongside more recent additions to the weekly programme like Fromage en Feu, who make their festival debut.

Old Duke landlord Stuart Seydel has been running the festival since he took over the pub 13 years ago and, although he admits it's not easy to organise, he says it's still worth the hard work and late nights involved.

Stuart says: "The festival has been going for nearly 40 years now and we've had some brilliant performers, including the legendary Acker Bilk, so I think its history plays a major role in its popularity, plus the fact it's free.

"Since I took over 13 years ago, the festival has grown, but we've had to scale it back over the last few years as it was getting too big for the space.

"The bands are largely bands who play regularly at the Duke, with occasional special guests, but ultimately the festival is about the Duke and a showcase of what we do here every night of the week, all year round."

The Old Duke continues to be an important hub for the city's jazz and blues musicians and Stuart says the scene is getting better all the time, with new bands coming through.

"There are some great young jazz bands coming through at the moment. There are people such as James Morton, who play modern jazz, but also bands playing more traditional jazz such as The Rhythm Pencils and Jazz Disaster.

"The trad jazz is still very important to us; it's what the pub, and therefore the festival, is all about. You just need to look at the posters on the walls and ceiling in the pub to know that.

"There are some great new trad jazz acts coming through and I think the style will stay around for a long time yet. One of the highlights of this year will be Sinead McCabe, who will be singing with Cass Caswell's New Orleans Update on the Monday evening. Sunday night headliner Eddie Martin is also always worth seeing."

For musician and singer Eddie Martin, who has been running a regular Sunday blues night at the pub for more than 20 years, the Old Duke has become a second home, when he's not touring the world with his band.

Eddie says: "The Old Duke has always been a fantastic and unique music venue. It is the closest thing me and several of my touring international musician friends have experienced to the vibe of New Orleans.

"Good music, energetic appreciative party-spirit fans and an all-inclusive everyone- is-welcome atmosphere: I love it.

"Stu the landlord is great at keeping this alive through recruiting like-minded, personable and friendly staff and making it better every year."

For jazz musician Jeremy Huggett, the Old Duke has been a big part of his life since he was a baby. In fact, he claims his love of jazz music stems from the fact he was still in the womb when his mother used to go to the pub to hear his father playing clarinet and sax at the venue.

As a child, he went to the Old Duke to see his dad perform and later started working at the pub collecting glasses, before serving behind the bar and eventually becoming the assistant manager in 1990.

Jeremy made his musical Old Duke debut guesting with his father's band, the Severn Jazzmen, when he was aged 14. Since then, he has become one of the jazz scene's most in-demand musicians, playing with famous names all over the country, including Acker Bilk, Digby Fairweather, George Melly and Humphrey Lyttleton.

Jeremy has played at every Old Duke Jazz Festival since 1998 and this year is bringing one of his newest bands, The Harlem 5, to the event. Playing a mixture of jazz, swing and blues, they close the festival on Monday.

He says: "The Old Duke holds a special place in my heart and, out of all the different venues I have played both in the UK and abroad, it's still my favourite. It feels like coming home."

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