Led by bassist and composer Alison Rayner, multi award-winning quintet ARQ are widely celebrated from several years of extensive UK and European touring – and critically acclaimed for three album releases August (2014) , A Magic Life (2016) and Short Stories (2019).  Their music combines richly nuanced compositions, rhythmic interplay and folk-infused melodies; this, along with their love of improvisation, creates a strong sense of narrative and cinematic quality. ARQ play ‘songs without words’ and are lauded for their vibrant, communicative performances.

Short Stories, supported by Arts Council England and the PRS Foundation, garnered extensive press acclaim and international radio play, with one song from the album winning an Ivor Novello Award. This was followed by a twenty-four date UK promotional tour.  

Recent appearances include Ronnie Scott’s and Pizza Express Jazz Clubs in London and the band are touring from Spring 2022 with a series of club dates and summer festivals.

Bright, open jazz music that rejoices in human experience without sentimentalising it ★★★★ BBC Music Magazine

Memories brought to life. ★★★★ The Observer 

Tells its tales through strong melodies, sinewy rhythms and luminous solos, is by turns tender and exuberant…a great album.★★★★ All About Jazz

ARQ have come up with another impeccable album. ★★★★1/2 thejazzmann.com 


★ Ivor Novello Composer Awards 2019 Alison Rayner
★ All PartyParliamentary Jazz Awards 2018 Ensemble of the Year  
★ British Jazz Awards 2018 Best Small Group (Public Vote) 

Alison Rayner – double bass
Buster Birch – drums / percussion
Deirdre Cartwright – guitar 
Diane McLoughlin – saxophones
Steve Lodder – piano 


Alison Rayner (bass, composer) has been playing jazz and other contemporary styles since the mid-70s. She spent five years in the 80s with critically acclaimed Latin-jazz group The Guest Stars, touring all major international jazz venues and festivals across seventeen countries and recording three albums.

She currently leads ARQ, widely celebrated from six years of extensive UK and European touring and critical acclaim for their first two albums ‘August’ (2014) and ‘A Magic Life’ (2016), receiving national and international radio play and four and five-star reviews in jazz and national press.
ARQ’s third album Short Stories (released Oct 2019 on Blow the Fuse Records) is now receiving extensive radio play and press acclaim, with one of the pieces receiving an Ivor Novello Award. The ‘Short Stories’ album and tour is supported by ACE and PRS Foundation Women Make Music.

Rayner also performs and records with, amongst others, guitarist Deirdre Cartwright, trumpeter Chris Hodgkins, vocalist Carol Grimes, Latin-jazz quartet Chico Chica and US-based singer-songwriter Zoe Lewis.

She has co-run Blow the Fuse, an artist-led partnership in London since 1989, running jazz club nights, promoting tours, larger scale events and producing records on Blow the Fuse Records. She has played on around 30 albums and performed with artists such as American guitar legend Tal Farlow, New York jazz poet Jayne Cortez, Denardo Coleman, Peter King and John Etheridge.

Rayner teaches on jazz summer schools in the UK and abroad; composes and examines for an international music examination board and is an endorsee for Picato Innovation double bass strings. She was nominated in ‘Best Double Bass’ category 2018 & 2019 British Jazz Awards.


‘…concise, fluent and eminently melodic statements – big toned, highly melodic bass’

‘Rayner’s late blooming into a composer of some stature is one of the most satisfying stories of British jazz in recent years.’  thejazzman.com

‘Purposeful, full-toned and melodic.’ The Observer

‘Playing bass with a big, beautiful bass sound that comes from the heart… characterized by individuality, spirit and a sense of freedom.’

Val Wilmer, author, As Serious as Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz

‘With her big warm acoustic sound, faultless time, tuning and taste and creative solo ability, she clearly belongs in the front rank of contemporary bassists.’ Digby Fairweather

‘Beneath it all Rayner is dark and sonorous, like a Haden or Weber, able to make a rounded single note underwrite the band’s soarings.’ Jazzwise


2019 ARQ Short Stories (CD & vinyl) (Blow the Fuse Records)

2018 Gavrielle GG Playing the Changes

2017 Terryazoome Wasa Mata (WMP0215CD)

2017 Koral Society The Water’s Wide (Heartwear) 

2016 ARQ  A Magic Life (Blow the Fuse Records)

2014 ARQ  August  (BTF Records) 

2013 The Electric Landladies Electric Landladies (BTF Records)

2011 Terryazoome, Xana (WMP0112CD) 

2010 Anna Chapple Tracks

2008  Zoe Lewis A Cure for the Hiccups (Dog called ‘dog’ Music)

2008 Chris Hodgkins Quartet Boswell’s London Journal (Bell CDs)

2007 Deirdre Cartwright Group Tune Up, Turn On, Stretch Out (EGEA/BTF Records)

2006 Chris Hodgkins Trio  Future Continuous (Bell CDs)

2005 Chris Hodgkins Trio  Present Continuous (Bell CDs)

2005 Emma Peel Fan Club,  Emma Peel Fan Club (BTF Records)

2004 Deirdre Cartwright Group  Dr Quantum Leaps (BTF Records)

2004 The Guest Stars  Selected Recordings 1983-1988 (BTF Records)

2003 The Vortex Foundation Big Band  Charybdis (Babel Label)

2002 Deirdre Cartwright Group  Precious Things (Blow the Fuse Records)

2001 Jan Allain  Apple Sized Golden Clitoris (Big Boots Records)

1997 Jan Allain & Ilse de Ziah A Little Zugabe (Big Boots Records)

1997 Deirdre Cartwright Group  Play (BTF Records)

1994 Blow the Fuse One Night Stands (Blow the Fuse Records)

1994 Deirdre Cartwright Group  Debut (Blow the Fuse Records)

1987 The Guest Stars  Live in Berlin (vinyl) (Eigelstein Music Produktion)

1985 The Guest Stars Out at Night (vinyl) (Guest Stars label)

1984 The Guest Stars The Guest Stars (vinyl) (Guest Stars label)

1981 Jam Today Stereotyping EP (vinyl) (Stroppy Cow Records)


Buster Birch (drums, percussion) holds an honours degree in music from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in jazz from the Guildhall School of Music. He has performed at virtually every major concert hall and jazz club in London and toured in over 30 countries and recorded over 30 CDs. He is an award-winning jazz educator and has a series of interactive books on improvising published worldwide. He has his own critically acclaimed show Buster plays Buster featuring his jazz quartet playing live to screenings of classic Buster Keaton films.

Deirdre Cartwright (guitar, composer) has recorded five albums with her own group and played festivals from Mexico to Warsaw; She has played with Tal Farlow, toured with Jamaican composer Marjorie Whylie, founded Blow the Fuse with Alison Rayner and presented on BBC Radio 3. She also presented BBC TV’s ground breaking series Rockschool, has written seven books on guitar playing, was head of guitar syllabus for the Rockschool exam series and won the public vote for Guitar in 2019 British Jazz Awards. 

‘If there is a more complete guitarist in contemporary music than Deirdre Cartwright – I’d like to know who it is’ The Observer

Diane McLoughlin (saxophone, composer) is a highly regarded saxophonist, composer and arranger. She holds a post graduate degree in jazz composition from the Guildhall School of Music and an MMus in film composition from the London College of Music. Giant Steppes, her 17-piece jazz orchestra, performed to critical acclaim throughout Britain, including a BBC Radio 3 interview and live concert broadcast. She leads the chamber jazz group The Casimir Connection who released their debut album Cause and Effect September 2019. 

Attractively punchy and highly emotive, McLoughlin’s soaring alto solo vibrates with echoesof the late Cannonball Adderley‘ 

Steve Lodder (piano, composer) has worked with Naná Vasconcelos, George Russell’s Living Time orchestra, Sarah Jane Morris, John Harle, Carla Bley and Andy Sheppard. He has also been musical associate with Paul McCartney on the Standing Stone and Ecce Cor Meum projects and musical arranger for the Zappatistas. Originally a Cambridge organ scholar, he has written several books, one on Stevie Wonder, one on the Hammond organ and The Keyboard Bible.

Lodder is both an improviser of originality and a musical thinker of erudition and depth’ The Guardian