I must confess that I’m a bit of a new comer to Jazz but the more I explore its wide and varied sub genres the more I am enjoying it. Step up to the turntable Gearbox Records and Tubby Hayes “Seven Steps To Heaven: Live at The Hopbine 1972”.

Now, to aficionados of British Jazz I’m sure the name Tubby Hayes is well known, but to me it was a new I hate to confess and so a little history is perhaps in order for those readers in the same boat as me.

Hayes was born in London in 1935, is best known for his playing of tenor sax and has been regarded as one of the very best British jazz instrumentalists. At just 16 (in 1951) he joined Kenny Baker’s sextet and later played for lots of big-band leaders, but in 1955 he toured UK with his own band. He was a co-leader of The Jazz Couriers with Ronnie Scott from 1957 – 1959 and even had his own television series in the early 60s. Thanks Wiki.

2013 would have been Hayes’ seventieth birthday had he not died at the age of 38 following a second heart operation…and this brings us to the record we have on the turntable as I type.

Seven Steps to Heaven is recorded at the North Wembley pub “The Hopbine” on 2nd May 1972 and follows Hayes first heart operation (June 1971) which by some accounts had left him “a spent musical force”. The recoding is made by Bill Hugkulstone on a few mics, a small desk and a Revox tape recorder and represents the second half of the gig that night.

None of the tunes here are Hayes’ own but  are standards which were, according the fabulous sleeve-notes on the record, the mainstay of his post op’ comeback gigs.

Musically, and knowing a little of the history garnered from Simon Spillett’s excellent sleeve-notes (aren’t real records great for being able to sit and read about the recording whilst you listen!) you would have expected the saxophonist to struggle, but there is none of it and the album is a fabulous blast of energy from start to finish with Hayes aided and abetted by Mike Pyne (piano), Daryl Runswick (bass) and (probably) Tony Oxley (drums).

It’s an excellent record and there is a real vigour to the music from all of the players – there’s a drum solo on Seven Steps to Heaven that is simply wonderful and to my mind it alone is worth the price of the record. My personal favourite tune is actually where Hayes puts down the sax’ and picks up the flute on Someday My Prince Will Come – his playing is a breathy/vocal style much in the same vein as Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson (I use this only as a broad reference so people not familiar with the style and my useless description to get a feel for what I’m describing, so please don’t hunt me down Jazz cats!)  and he and Daryl Runswick play beautifully off each other.

The actual recording is not the greatest from a technical perspective, but what you do get is a real insight into the recording space and the music of the night – there is a palpable atmosphere here, almost as if you are sat in the audience and these simple type of recording set-ups often end up being my favourites!

Gearbox Records should be applauded heartily for taking such care with the mastering and cutting of this record (on 180 gram vinyl) as well as the beautifully presented sleeve-notes and cover and I’ll be exploring their catalogue further I’m sure .

If you love British jazz I imagine you’ll already be aware of this record and have it in your collection but if you’re a intrigued jazz amateur (much like myself) I’m sure you’ll find the record equally rewarding – I’ve certainly played it a LOT!!!

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