After the overwhelming response to the Ambleside Days Contemporary Jazz Festival we will be hosting another Festival next year starting on Thursday 30th August and concluding on Sunday 2nd September.
Here are some excerpts of the reviews the Festival received.
London Jazz News
Reports keep coming in to us about what a special time the Ambleside Days festival in Cumbria was. Musicians and their partners were made extremely welcome by host Derek Hook. This festival has been described by a number of the participants as having been the completely ideal circumstances in which to make music.
AMBLESIDE DAYS – A celebration of world class contemporary music Thursday August 31 to Sunday September 3, 2017
Nestling below Fairfield, where West Coast meets East Coast at the Northern end of Windermere, lies Ambleside, perhaps an unexpected location for a venue boasting world class musicians in the line-up.
Some thirty-seven years ago, Derek Hook, one-time rock drummer and butcher, first opened Zeffirellis, a compact complex of cinema, vegetarian restaurant and jazz bar. Over the years Hook has managed to attract a host of jazz luminaries to perform at Zeffirellis, many of whom were represented at the festival. In 2016 Gwilym Simcock, Mike Walker and Iain Dixon played at Zeffirellis as part of the Lake District Summer Music Festival. It was following this event that Derek Hook had the idea for a celebration of the best in contemporary music.
The festival was dedicated to the late John Taylor (piano) who had been a long-time supporter of the venue and in 1992 had composed and recorded (with John Surman) a suite of music, Ambleside Days, a commission by Zeffirellis with the assistance of Northern Arts.
The festival ran over four consecutive days, taking place on the small stage in the main cinema. Each evening performance consisted of two sets, a 60-minute set, followed by a long interval (to permit rearrangement of the stage) and a second 90-minute set. The only permanent fixture on the stage was the Steinway B, chosen by Derek Hook with John Taylor in the early days of Zeffirellis to replace an old Bluthner grand piano.
Each set over the course of the festival involved a different mixture of musicians, all of whom had an association with Zeffirellis and a connection with John Taylor – either having played with him, been taught by him or just revered his work.
Thursday evening commenced with Crème Anglaise, a five-piece band led by John Helliwell (of former Supertramp fame) on tenor sax. Mike Walker featured on guitar (as he did on many of the sets). The band set the bar high for those following, a particularly poignant rendition of Georgia sticks in my mind. The second set featured the appropriately named Ambleside Days Quintet (Simcock, Holland, Walker, Sirkis, Sulzmann). Fine solos were interspersed by sensitive ensemble playing. Naturally, Ambleside Days featured as one of the pieces played.
Friday commenced with the Ambleside Days Trio (Simcock, Holland, Walker) on a crowded stage already filled by vibraphone and drums in readiness for the second set. The trio gave us Simple Goodbye in memory of John Taylor. This piece was composed by Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker before John Taylor’s death and then named It Could Have Been a Simple Goodbye. During and after this piece there was not a dry eye in the house or on the stage. The second set featured New York vibes maestro Joe Locke with his quartet comprising Simcock, Sirkis, double bass player Darryl Hall (all the way from the South of France) and joined by special guest, saxophonist Tim Garland, sporting a vibrant silver and black jacket. The memory of fellow vibes player Bobby Hutcherson, inspiration and mentor to Joe Locke, was celebrated by Locke’s Make Me Feel Like It’s Raining – based on a response by Bobby Hutcherson to an interviewer who asked what he (Hutcherson) wanted a new, unfamiliar piece of music to do for him.
Saturday featured a trio of Simcock, Locke and Garland in the first set. The second set featuring The Printmakers (Norma Winstone, Nikki Iles, Mark Lockheart, Mike Walker, Steve Watts and James Maddren), whose CD Westerly was actually recorded in Derek Hooks’ other venue: Yewfield – a vegetarian guest house conveniently located just outside Ambleside and concurrently providing accommodation to the musicians involved in the festival.
Sunday’s offering was An Evening with Dave Holland, Holland playing unaccompanied double bass in the first set and joining with Norma Winstone, Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker for the second set, with other musicians joining later in the evening.
The musicians spoke eloquently of the feeling of “family” associated with the event itself and Zeffirellis. Indeed, many of the musicians not playing in a particular set were present in the audience with other family members. The family feeling was extended to the audience, who were mingling freely with artists in the small bar area before, in the intervals and after the gigs. The intimacy of the venue (and comfort of the cinema seats!) lent itself to what one might consider the “chamber jazz” featuring on stage.
I was not able to be present for the whole festival (despite the tempting reduction on a festival pass). The two days I was there, however, were very special. Other BSH regulars may be able to add a comment regarding the gigs I missed.
I understand from conversations at the festival that this sort of event may be repeated in the future – I certainly hope so! Furthermore, the concerts were recorded for promotional purposes – perhaps consideration could be made to making selected recorded material available in the future.
The original CD by John Taylor and John Surman, Ambleside Days, is sadly out of print – but used copies can be obtained from the usual fluvial sources priced from £95 upwards!
Dave Holland – double bass
Norma Winstone – voice
Nikki Iles – piano
Mike Walker – guitar
Stan Sulzmann – saxophone
Gwilym Simcock – piano
Joe Locke – vibraphone
John Helliwell – saxophone
Mark Lockheart – saxophone
Tim Garland – saxophone
Steve Watts – double bass
James Maddren – drums
Asaf Sirkis – drums
Darryl Hall – double bass
An astonishing evening of music in the intimate and very comfortable Zeffirellis Cinema, Ambleside yesterday on the closing night of the first Ambleside Days festival. The festival was a heartfelt tribute to John Taylor and as the evening progressed the music of Kenny Wheeler too. Dave Holland took to the small stage with a solo number before inviting up Norma Winstone, Gwilym Simcock and Mike Walker. A magical take on Alice in Wonderland and a joyful Ladies in Mercedes plus first performance of Fly the Wind – Norma’s lyrics on John Taylor’s Witch Hazel.
After a break Dave Holland invited up Nikki Iles and James Maddren for a beautiful trio rendition of John Taylor’s Evansong followed by Mike Walker joining them on Dave’s Blues for CM. This grew into Nikki’s ‘Print Makers’ band with Norma Winstone and Mark Lockheart. Then the horn players, Stan Sulzmann, Tim Garland and John Helliwell with Nick Smart on trumpet and flugel horn squeezed onto the stage with Nikki / Gwilym and James Maddron / Asif Sirkis taking turns on piano and drums.
This larger ensemble played a mix of charts contributed by Nikki, Dave and Stan, with numbers by Dave and Kenny Wheeler (including Old Time and Kind Flock). Absolutely magical. Paul Allen was recording everything so some of this music might get released at some point. From the evidence of this night the festival certainly lived up to its description as “a celebration of world class contemporary music” and organiser Derek Hook confirmed that there will be a festival in 2018.