Bute ready for jazz spectacular

THE instruments are being tuned, the brolly decorations are nearly complete and fingers are being crossed all over the island and beyond for a bank holiday weekend of sunshine. It can only mean one thing: the Isle of Bute Jazz Festival is back!

Yet the flavours on offer at this year's festival, which begins on Thursday night, are slightly different to what has gone before. As our occasional series of previews over the last couple of months has revealed, the 2009 event is not just about the traditional New Orleans style: there's a sprinkling of more contemporary jazz, rhythm and blues, folk, a spot of salsa dancing, and even a Hammond organ workshop too!

This year's festival programme features somewhere in the region of 20 different bands or performers - here's a taste of what to expect...

T.J. Johnson is widely considered one of the UK's finest jazz and blues singers and an accomplished piano player, drummer and respected bandleader. Backed by his group of top British musicians, TJ plays an extraordinary blend of music that transcends the boundaries of jazz, blues, soul, country and gospel and is influenced by the likes of Ray Charles, Dr John, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Cash, BB King, Nina Simone, Alberta Hunter, Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Witherspoon and many more.

The James Evans Incredible String Four features James Evans himself on reeds and vocals, Tom Kincaid on piano, Martin Wheatley on guitar and banjo and Frank Grime on double bass - James himself is a former member of Phil Mason's New Orleans All-Stars and was held in very high regard by the late Humphrey Lyttelton.

One-man blues band Mike Whellans is a long-time fixture in the British and European club, concert, TV, radio and festival circuit, as a solo performer, band leader and session musician, and has a seemingly boundless reserve of energy which makes him a fantastic entertainer and a real joy to watch and listen to.

Quattro McJazz were formed in 2007 and comprise Forrie Cairns on clarinet, the well-known all-round entertainer Alastair McDonald on banjo and vocals, Lennie Herd on trumpet and Roy Percy on bass, playing hot Dixieland jazz classics, spiced with some gospel and blues.

The Last Gasp Spasm Band are the UK's only authentic 'jug' band, featuring Jim Murray and Peter Mason - better known as The Hokum Hotshots, performers at the Bute Sunday Session last July - alongside Lee Bates, Billy Newton and the wonderful Michael Watson on the jug and combining a healthy dose of tomfoolery with superb musicianship on instruments as diverse as banjo mandolins, ukuleles, washboards, spoons, kazoos, whistles - and of course a jug.

The chequered shirts of the Freetime Old Dixie Jass Band are always a popular addition to the Bute festival bill, and the Dutch masters will return once again for several gigs over the weekend, taking pride of place behind parade marshall Jenny Brown in Saturday's street parade through the centre of Rothesay.

Rumba Caliente, one of the UK's most exciting salsa-soul groups, are another ensemble making their Bute festival debut, while their unique sound, which combines Afro-Latin and salsa-soul influences, will be preceded by a spot of salsa dancing instruction, courtesy of Shannon Shiell's Academia de Salsa.

For many jazz fans in central Scotland, Bobby Wishart - player of flute, clarinet, sax (all varieties), piano, vibes and synthesiser and musical director of the Strathclyde Youth Jazz Orchestra - is the epitome of cool, laid-back playing, and if you're looking for someone to chill to over the weekend, Bobby and his group are the ones to seek out.

A regular sight - in many ways the regular sight - on the Bute live music scene over the last year-and-a-bit, Acousticrat make their festival debut this year, with Paul Templeman, Sam Tweedlie and Paul Melvin aiming to bring their increasingly impressive sound to a whole new audience, while another group with local links, ChiWeapon, whose mix of musical styles has caught the eye - and ear - of observers at such diverse locations as the Wickerman Festival and London's Carling Academy, also make their first Bute festival appearance.

Rothesay Academy's very own Academy Swing appear on the bill once again, as do the members of the Tim Saul Quartet, whose ranks will be swelled by the presence of Jonny Boston in the first of his numerous guest slots with a variety of groups during the weekend.

GiveWay, meanwhile, comprising four highly talented sisters - Amy, Fiona, Kirsty and Mhairi Johnson - combine Scottish traditional and folk music with energetic blends of folk-jazz, spine-tingling vocals, exquisite harmonies and bold tunes guaranteed to put a smile on your face and stay in your head long after you leave the concert.

There's more 'girl power' provided by the SwingCats, another new name on the festival programme, featuring Nicola Auld, Laura Ellis, Alyson Orr and pianist Karen MacIver, will put on an all-new show inspired by The Andrews Sisters and featuring a host of the trio's famous songs, including Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree, The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and more.

Add all that to the festival's mainstays, Phil Mason's New Orleans All-Stars, the traditional curtain-raiser from Phil's Bute Jazz Friends with Jenny Brown, ever-present favourites in the form of George Penman's Jazzmen, and the always popular jam sessions at the Argyll Arms with Graham Scott and David Gray, and it promises to make for another fantastic festival weekend, regardless of whether your tastes lie with traditional jazz or something a little bit different.

Full details of who is performing where and when can be found at the festival's official website, www.butejazz.com - and information on ferry timetables and fares over the weekend is at www.calmac.co.uk.