The controversy over this year’s scaled back jazz festival didn’t stop the Old Duke putting on another fantastic line-up of music.
But it was impossible to avoid the feeling that staging the three-day event indoors – even if it wasn’t the organisers’ first choice – took away some of the special atmosphere the festival usually creates.
The Old Duke is one of the most reliable venues for live music in the city – pretty much any night of the week you can turn up and expect to hear something great and always for free.
The August Bank Holiday festival is in its 33rd year, and is one of the highlights of Bristol’s ever-growing cultural calendar.
So it was hugely disappointing when the organisers announced they wouldn’t be able to put on the event in full.
As reported in the Evening Post earlier this week, the problems appeared to be about other venues in the King Street area not putting enough of a contribution towards the running costs.
It’s not hard to sympathise with the organisers – they stage the event every year for free, there’s always a great atmosphere and it certainly brings in the punters.
Even without the main stage of previous years, music-lovers were pouring out of the door to catch a glimpse of the weekend’s offerings.
It all kicked off on Saturday lunchtime with 5000 AD.
They weren’t what you might traditionally associate with Bristol’s favourite jazz venue.
But their self-proclaimed “astro-funk from the lost city of the underworld” was a good example of the diversity of the line-up.
The second band – Bristol’s The Baker Boys – were more familiar territory and one of the highlights.
With two guitarists they mixed a laid back swing sound with a Latin twist in impressive fashion.
The Mike Willox Experience were a disappointing headline act for the first night.
Perhaps it’s unfair to expect them to deliver the kind of show stopping performance you might associate with headliners from previous years given the change in circumstances.
But despite some accomplished musicianship their meandering jazz funk felt too much like background music for that time of night.
The Robin Reece Jazz Band were the first to brave bank holiday hangovers on Sunday.
After a slightly delayed start, they proved to be the perfect pick me up and their upbeat Dixieland sound is what the Duke does best.
Next up were another Bristol group, Fat Man Swings, who continued Saturday’s high standard and were the finest act of the first two days by some way.
Hugely entertaining with their up-tempo be-bop sound, it was the sort of thing you would swing your partner to, if only there was room.
With impersonations ranging from rude boy to Morris dancer, front man Chris Bennett made for a particularly charismatic band leader.
There can’t be many singers who’ve danced on the Old Duke bar in the middle of the set, let alone Russian danced.
Headlining the second night were the highly acclaimed Eddie Martin Blues Band. Another regular at the festival and a local favourite, Martin is known for his Eric Clapton, bluesy sound. But on Saturday night he put on a more lively affair, with a boogie shuffle that kept the revellers happy.
While there was plenty of excellent music to be heard over the three days, reducing the number of performers from 16 to nine had an unfortunate consequence.
Normally you would only have to wait half an hour between performers – just enough time for a trip to the loo and another round at the bar.
But due to the cut-back line-up, this time there was up to two hours between different performers.
It gave the festival a fractured feel and in hindsight it would have been better to have the bands start much later in the day but with less gap between them.
Here’s hoping the organisers’ ambition of bringing the full event back next year comes off.
Some Old Duke Jazz Festival is better than none but there’s nothing that compares with the real thing.
The music is set to continue today (Bank Holiday Monday) with three more acts.
The Blue Note Jazz Band are set to take to the stage at 1.30pm, finishing at around 4pm.
They will be followed by Cass Casswell’s Allstars between 5pm and 7.30pm.
And bringing the festival to a close is Jeremy Hugget’s Band of Gold, from 8.30pm until 11pm.