It is a cold yet clear Saturday afternoon in the relatively large, yet undeniably quaint village of Marsden. Nestled comfortably in the Colne Valley area of Huddersfield, this delightful community is usually filled with the standard hustle and bustle of a typical West Yorkshire village; but not today. Instead of the usual sights, a tractor gently ambling down the road and families taking in the beauty of rural life, rather we are met by the wondrous experience of three brass bands battling it out right on the main street, surrounded by a crowd of such diversity it is staggering, from small children clad in parkas and wellies, to elderly farmers in tweed jackets and flat caps, But that is Marsden Jazz Festival for you.
The festival was originally conceived by Mikron Theatre Company founder, Mike Lucas as a way to make use of the newly refurbished Mechanic’s Hall. Since then it has become a resounding success, today being a testament to that. Everywhere you look, there is a performance of some description, or a stall selling their wares, which today ranges from homemade jams and chutneys to records, right through to photo frames and blackboards crafted from repurposed wood.
After perusing the various stalls, the Greenhead College Big Band came within earshot. Having been drawn closer by the sound of some great swing classics, witnessing these talented youngsters blast through a set featuring such names as Duke Ellington and Nina Simone was incredibly fun and entertaining, and the amassed crowds seemed to think so too, with thunderous applause meeting the band at the end of every tune.
Following such timeless classics, it was time for something a little more off the wall, and Spilt Milk sounded just the thing. Supposedly a jazz trio with hip hop and drum & bass influences, we were instead met with smooth jazz, featuring some rather frantic bass playing. Having forced our way into the very packed Riverhead Tap, it was a little too much to be both uncomfortable and disappointed. However the mesmerising bossa nova and smooth jazz blend exhibited by the fabulous Lee Jones Duo more than made up for it, with Tim France holding down the low end while Lee Jones showed us what a true virtuoso he is.
Meandering through Marsden, the unmistakeable sound of gypsy jazz catches our attention, and after navigating the crowds to the Peel One tapas bar from which those elegant and complex rhythms were emanating, we were met with the incredible Samuel C Lees Gypsy Jazz Trio. While they had an amazing sound, the experience was somewhat tainted by the fact they remained entirely unseen, due to the sheer size of the audience rammed into this tiny tapas bar.
There is one band however, who today absolutely stole the show. And that was The Black Sheikhs. Bringing that great jazz swagger, the entire five piece seemed timelessly cool, with Lead vocalist Lord Acton dressed in a tuxedo, complete with tails and spats on his brogues and Clarinetist Diane Hammond adorned in a dress that wouldn’t have looked out of place in 1925. They captivate the audience with their jazz renditions of well-known pop and rock tunes, doing everything from Abba’s ‘Dancing Queen’ to Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’. A small group of children dance away to the former, before it turns into what can only be described as a mosh pit, before finally devolving into UFC under 6’s. Following a spot at Glastonbury earlier this eccentric troupe are certainly on the up.
All the captivating sights, sounds and smells of this wonderfully eclectic festival really shows how much a small village in the middle of West Yorkshire can achieve, by allowing such creativity to flow through this small, yet strong community, and inviting the rest of the world to join in.