A five hundred mile road trip to dance

Would you make a five hundred mile road trip to go dancing for an evening?  That’s what I did last Saturday with my dance buddy Terry.  We set off from Derby about 12:30, and despite major hold ups on The M6, arrived at the venue in Glasgow at 8:10.  I’ll understand if you think that it’s a little extreme, but let me explain.

I receive an invitation to come to Scotland

Back in September I published my Top 5 Freestyles from the previous twelve months.  All the venues in my list were in England, as that is where I’d danced over the previous year.  To publicise the article I placed a link to it on the Facebook Group Page Modern Jive – If you dance it, Join It. It seems this that this Facebook Group has members in Scotland.  Noting that no Scottish venues had made the list, Jill left this comment:

You haven’t been to Scotland yet Paul. You have that treat to come.

Wanting to widen the appeal of my blog, I’d decided that I would try to follow up any invitations I received, from other dancers and dance organisations, so  I replied to Jill, asking her where she might recommend.  It wasn’t long before I got a reply

Come to the LeRoc Scotland Christmas Party Night with the Deke McGee Band.  You’ll find it on Facebook Paul

I checked out the LeRoc Scotland Facebook Page, and after reading a few comments about previous freestyles, I soon got the idea that this was set up to be a great night of dancing and more than worthy of a review.  I duly put the date in my diary.

It’s a small world after all

Prior to coming to Glasgow I was working on a review of the Modern Jive Weekender in Warmwell in Dorset (see link below).  I hadn’t actually attended myself, but I had asked my good friend Sue Astle, who was a Warmwell regular, to send me notes picking out her highlights and I subsequently built the review around them.  I’d asked Sue to pick out some of her favourite DJ sets and any tracks that really stood out.  Here’s a comment from her time dancing on the Saturday night:

One set I really enjoyed was Billy Cullen’s on Saturday night.  Billy played lots of the classic tracks we love, but one of my favourites was a track that I’ve never heard before.  It’s in french but that doesn’t matter because its delicious.  It’s ‘Quand T’es Pas La’ by Lydia & Sebastien (more on this track later)

The name Billy Cullen ran a bell, and I soon remembered that he was the person who ran LeRoc Scotland.  This meant I’d get a chance to listen to his great music myself.  My decision to followed up Jill’s invitation was looking like the correct one.

It just keeps getting better

As the date got a little closer I started to do a little background research for my review.  I wondered what kind of music The Deke McGee Band would play, so I looked them up on YouTube.  There was quite a selection, and I immediately clicked on Jumpin’ Jesus Holy Cow – anything with Jumpin’ in the title is enough to catch my eye.  As my dance brain connected with the notes of the first bar, I felt even better about my decision to drive two hundred and fifty miles in the hope of a great night’s dancing.

Tel, how do you fancy a road trip?

My passion for Modern Jive dancing is well known to regular readers of my blog, but the idea of driving such a distance, suddenly looked rather daunting.  I called up my dance friend Tel Jenkins, who provides me with some of his wonderful dance photographs to embellish my reviews.

Are you free next Saturday?  How do you fancy a road trip to Scotland?  We’ll go in my car and share the driving.  I’ll book a hotel.  Take your camera.  I’ll see if I can get permission for you to take some photos, and perhaps even do a video.  There’s a live band.  I’ve listened to their music – it’s good old fashioned Rock ‘n’ Roll.  Sounds wonderful –  I’m sure it’s going to be a great night.

Tel loves dancing as much as much as I do, but also loves the opportunities it gives him to develop his photography skills.  After checking that he was free, Tel soon signed up, and I let Jill know we were definitely coming.

We receive the warmest of welcomes

It’s never easy going to a new venue and not recognising anyone.  Asking for that first dance in a room full of strangers is not without a little anxiety, even with Modern Jive’s mantra that ‘no one should refuse an offer of a dance’.  As I’ve travelled around to more dance venues around the country, I do come across more and more familiar faces, but I’d not danced within a hundred miles of Glasgow.

Needless to say that myself and Terry received a very warm welcome from Billy himself and his wonderful wife Doreen, and of course from Jill.  Our offers to dance were greeted with the warmest of smiles, and I have to say that we both  felt at home very quickly, and were able to enjoy a wonderful night on the dance floor with little anxiety about asking for dances.

Billy’s music quickly lived up to Sue’s billing

Being asked to DJ at a premier Modern Jive Weekender like Warmwell is an accolade in itself, but I was still keen to review Billy’s music for myself.  Through out this review I’ll dip in to Billy’s playlist to illustrate the variety of Billy’s music, but let me say from the off that we were treated to a top drawer set of dance tracks.  Billy’s set was full of Modern Jive favourites and Billy’s own collection of floor fillers, and I don’t remember there being any duds.

Billy selecting the next floor filler

A delicious track that was new to me

The one thing I ask of DJs is that they find new tracks for us to dance to – no same old, same old please.  In my friend Sue’s review of Billy’s Saturday night Warmwell set, she had picked out Quand T’es Pas La by Lydia & Sebastien as something refreshingly new.

This track was, not surprisingly, unknown to me so I eagerly searched for it on YouTube.  It’s just delicious, so easy to dance to and I was so pleased that Billy played it again on Saturday and gave me a chance to dance to it.

Billy gets this month’s Soul Boy Award

I learnt my very first dance moves, as a very young man, at the Nottingham Palais.  It was a time when the Motown and Stax record labels created a Soul based dance music groove, that gets my legs moving even now.  I remember listing my Top Ten Motown Tracks – The Isley Brothers This old heart of mine was number one, but down at number three was Junior Walker and The All Stars’ Road Runner.  I can’t ever remember modern jiving to it before, so Billy gets this months ‘Soul Boy Award’ for bringing it out just before the band played their first set.

The Deke McGee Band rocks the floor from the very first track

After my taster of the Deke McGee Band on YouTube I was really excited as Billy introduced the guys on stage.  I’d described them to Tel as being ’50s style Rock ‘n’Roll, but I’ve since learned that their music is best described as Rockabilly or original Rhythm and Blues.  What ever you want to call it, it’s just fabulous to dance to.

The first track was a 1952 Rhythm and Blues classic called Kansas City written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who would go on to write Jail house rock for Elvis Presley.  Interestingly the more modern version by Johnny Johnson has become a bit of a Modern Jive classic so I was immediately on my feet.

The Deke McGee Band on stage with Sy on Double Bass, Gary on Drums, Martin on Guitar, Tim on Keyboards and Deke fronting the band on Saxophone

I love the bouncy rhythm of Rock ‘n’ Roll

I love the fun filled rhythm of Rock ‘n’ Roll.  As soon as I hear the bouncy rhythm I’ve a smile on my face, and you can see why this music took over the Western World in the 1950s.  Now I’ve a limited understanding of music (and I know the boys from the band will read this) so hopefully I won’t embarrass myself when I say that, the bouncy rhythm is produced by a syncopated bass line.

The bouncy bass line hit me instantly and I was soon asking for a dance.  Now Rock ‘n’ Roll can be a little too fast for Modern Jive sometimes, but this song was pitched just right.  I always think it’s best to keep the moves simple so you can concentrate on the bouncy action.  So, plenty of Travelling returns, Man spins and Lady spins, turn your lady one way then simply return her the other way.  The Hand jive is another great move for this fast paced music.

The smiling faces says it all

A packed dance floor was soon rockin’ to The Deke McGee Band’s music and you only had to look at all the smiling faces to know that they were lovin’ it too.  I was really pleased that Billy gave Tel permission to take photographs, and the complete album of smile filled images is available to view on the Modern Jive Dancer Facebook Page (just follow the link below).

Just some of the smiling faces out on the dance floor captured by Tel Jenkins

I watch in awe at a display of original jiving

After a couple of great full on dances I was ready for a break.  It proved a timely decision because the band suddenly upped the tempo – too fast for me I’m afraid.  I couldn’t help wondered how many people would be able to dance to the song, but the dance floor thinned out only a little, and I watched in awe as one particular couple danced the most amazing routine.  They were dancing in a style that was a lot more Rock ‘n’ Roll than Modern Jive, and it perfectly fitted the much faster rhythm.

I just couldn’t take my eyes off them.  This was dancing in all it’s glory – the very best live music and moves that I could only ever fantasise about doing.  Suddenly the lady was launched in to the air and rotated a full 360 degrees.  The lady landed safely and carried on at the same frenetic speed.  WOW!

Peter and Margaret give an awesome display of Glasgow Jive

Peter fills me in about Glasgow Jive

A little while later I found the couple taking a well earned rest.  I introduced myself and explained I was doing a review of the dancing and asked if they would be happy to give me a little background to their dancing.  Peter and Margaret have been dancing together for seventeen years.  Peter explained about the dance style:

It’s called Glasgow Jive and is a form of  Swing dance that was popularised at the Barrowland Ballroom in the ’50s.  Myself and Margaret actually met at the Lindella Club, which ran one of the first jive classes in Scotland.  Glasgow has a very active Jive scene and there’s jive dances most weekends.

I asked them what had brought them to a LeRoc Modern Jive dance night:

We follow the band.  The Deke McGee Band has a big following amongst Glasgow Jivers, and we just love dancing to their music.  I know some of it’s a bit fast for Modern Jive, so they’ve slowed it down for tonight. We also come because we love Billy’s music.  There’s quite a few other Glasgow Jivers here too.

I’ve always thought that Modern Jive was an easy way in to partner dancing, and I know many people use it as a stepping stone to other forms of dancing.  Seeing Peter and Margaret in action has actually made me think seriously about finding some original jive lessons back in Nottingham – I’ll keep you posted.

The Band take a break and Billy keeps the floor rockin’

After rockin’ the dance floor for almost an hour, the band took a break and it was Billy’s turn to provide the dance music.  Once again Billy soon had the floor rockin’ to his great music selection.  Just as in his first set Billy kept the dance floor busy with some classic favourites but also mixed in his own exclusive finds.

I love it when I hear new music.  It’s a sign of the many hours that DJs spend, searching through the dance music vaults, to find us all something fresh to dance to.  Here’s one of the tracks that I hadn’t heard before and I instantly found myself connecting with its thumping beat.  Katchi by Ofenbach and Nick Waterhouse is relatively new, but it pays homage to the Stax sound I mentioned earlier with some great sax and horn accents.

Tel relives his days on the road with the band

My mate Tel is a professional musician, though his modesty won’t allow me to mention the bands he recorded and toured with in the ’70s and ’80s, so I wasn’t surprised to find him chewing the cud with the band members when I turned up for a chat.  The guys happily posed for a group photo and the full album (see link below) has more images of the guys taking a break.

The Band taking a break between sets. L to R: Sy, Tim, Deke, Gary and Martin

The guys explain the vibrant live music scene in Glasgow

The guys in the band were happy to give me a little background to their gigging around the city.  It seems that Glasgow has a very vibrant live music scene that has, at its heart, a great number of pubs that offer live music.  It’s in these venues that Rockabilly has built a considerable following.  Here’s Sy:

There’s a great Rockabilly scene in Scotland, with lots of bands and DJ’s.  We are all great friends and we support each other all the time.

The Guys explained that Rockabilly is a bit wild and furious at times, but they calm it down for nights like this.  I asked how they came to do this particular gig:

We’ve built up quite a following amongst the Glasgow Jivers, and so we are often asked to play at their dances.  Some of the Jivers also come along to Billy’s LeRoc dance nights so it wasn’t long before we got asked along.

When Jill originally invited me along, back in September, I had no idea of the rich dance culture that existed north of the border.  Listening to Deke and his band mates, and my earlier conversation with Glasgow Jivers Peter and Margaret, I could see why Jill was so keen for me to get a taste of this vibrant dance scene.

Listening to the guys in the band talk so passionately about their music I couldn’t wait for them to get back on stage.  I  sensed that we were all in for another treat and I wasn’t wrong.  I enjoyed some of the best dancing in a long time, but there was also another surprise in store.

We need to consider our dance partners

I had some fabulous dances on Saturday night and it seems unfair to pick one out.  I might also add that I’m not in the habit of naming the people I dance with in my reviews either, but I hope you’ll allow me to make an exception.

The boys were back on stage and, as they started up, I quickly assessed that the beat was just right for a full on Modern Jive dance.  I realised that I needed a partner who would do the dance justice, but of course I didn’t really know any of the ladies in the room.  Back home in Nottingham I would know who to ask for a full on dance, but being so far from home I didn’t know who might share my desire to match the energy coming off the stage.

I’m a great believer that male leads should give their lady partners the dance they want, and not the dance the man wants.  When you’ve never danced with some one before, it’s important that the men use the first few moves to gauge the level of their partners ability, and if that means keeping the moves simple, then that’s the correct thing to do.

I get lucky with my dance partner

I looked around for one of the ladies I’d already enjoyed a dance with in the band’s first set, but because of my delay in thinking about the right partner, these ladies had already been asked on to the floor.  The dance vibe coming from the stage was intensifying and I wondered if I might miss out.  Luckily I spotted that Billy’s wife Doreen was free.  I’d already had a great dance with Doreen so I was so pleased that she was free to dance with me.

Doreen is a fabulous dancer and I had a smile on my face through every single beat.  The song the band played was their version of  Jambalaya (On the Bayou).  This song was first recorded by Country & Western singer Hank Williams in 1952, but it has spawned many interpretations along the way.  The Deke McGee Band gave it a full on Rockabilly treatment and I, Doreen and the rest of the dance floor absolutely loved it.

Loving every second of my dance to Jambalaya with Doreen

You can’t create this dance vibe on a record

Dancing to Jambalaya was a joy, and I can only hope that Doreen enjoyed it as much as I did.  It’s a long time since I’ve danced to live music, and you can’t beat it.  All good recorded dance music has a well defined beat, but its the layers of instrumentation and production that make them come alive, and make a good track great.

Of course live music can’t replicate the production qualities of the recorded dance music we are so used to dancing to, however it has something else, something that can really connect with your musicality.

What live music can offer is improvisation, and the Deke McGee Band served it up in bucket loads.  While Sy and Gary laid down a solid back beat with their Double Bass and Drums, Deke, Martin and Tim were free to rip it up with free flowing jazz and blues improvisations that created a connection on the dance floor that recorded music can never replicate.

Solo improvisations that I loved

Deke is a master of the tenor sax.  I mentioned earlier that Billy had played my Soul Boy favourite Road Runner by Junior Walker with its wonderful sax playing.  From those earliest days at The Nottingham Palais I’ve been a sucker for a sax solo and Deke treated us all to some quite outstanding free playing.

From that same era came Ramsey Lewis’ Wade in the water.  This track has seen a resurgence in popularity due to the retro Motown and Soul scene, and it even gets spins at Modern Jive dances now and again.  This instrumental allows Lewis to play the most wonderful jazz piano sequences and I find myself completely absorbed when I dance to it.

Now I’m not wanting to compare Tim to Ramsey Lewis, but I do want to show appreciation of his wonderful piano solos.  The same goes for Martin’s guitar playing.  The tightness of the bands sound owes a lot to Martin rhythm guitar playing, but he can play a guitar lick as good as any ’50s rocker.  Jambalaya gave a showcase to all these improvisation skills, and it’s no wonder that I wrote in my note book after I came off the dance floor – ‘Poss best dance of the night!’

Glasgow Jivers rip up the dance floor

I said that the band’s second set delivered a surprise.  Here it is.  Half way through their second set the band decided to let rip – no holding back now.  Let’s show the punters the true spirit of rockabilly.  The extremely fast pace of the subsequent track meant that people sensibly decided to enjoy the music from the sidelines.  The floor cleared, but to my surprise two ladies walked in to the middle.  Two more of the large Glasgow Jivers contingent.  To my amazement they then put on a display of jive dancing that blew me away.

Fortunately Tel was on hand to record their dance for prosperity.  I won’t attempt to describe it.  Just click the play button on the video and marvel at their foot work, while the band accompanies them on the stage.  Its a breathtaking display and every time I watch it I’m warmed by the joyous ovation they receive at the end. (The video also has segments from the general dancing to the The Deke McGee Band)

Listen to those guys play

Please watch the video again and this time listen to the band.  As the girls (more about them later) do their amazing routine the music is driven along by Sy’s thumping bass playing.  There’s also a nice cameo of Gary’s drumming, but this clip is also a showcase for Tim’s masterful high speed piano playing. In the second clip you get to hear Martin’s great talent as a rock guitarist.

Watching the general dancing in this video you get a real sense of the great time everyone had on the dance floor.  What a great sight it is, as everyone is jiving, modern or otherwise, to another full on rockin’ track from the band.

Glasgow Jivers who like to support Billy

After seeing another wonderful display of Glasgow Jiving, I went to have a chat with the two ladies who had bedazzled us all.  They introduced themselves as Shirley and Moira.  I asked them why they had come tonight:

Billy often holds dances to raise money for charity and we always like to support him.  We know the band of course and we knew we’d have a great time.

I asked them if they could explain the popularity of Glasgow Jive.  Here’s Shirley:

I think it goes back to the American GIs being stationed here in the war.  They brought Swing Dance and Jitterbug over with them.  There was also a famous school run by  Betty Allen that started in the 50’s called the Lindella Club.  I think this is where Glasgow Jive started to develop.  Jive was danced at many of the ballrooms across the city.  Most including the Plaza have disappeared but the Barrowland is still there.

Interestingly Peter had told me how he had met Margaret at Betty Allen’s dance class, and it’s nice to know that she has left a legacy that the current Glasgow Jivers keep alive.

A full on triple that sends me to Dance Heaven

I’d loved every moment of the Deke McGee Bands time on the stage, but as they left the stage there was still an hour to go, and it time for Billy to once again rock the floor.  As I said in the beginning Billy’s music kept the dance floor very happy, and I’d quickly seen for myself why Sue had so enjoyed Billy’s set at The Warmwell Weekender.

It was the same for the final set, but I want to highlight some more of Billy’s music before I finish my review.  Every time I visit a new venue and dance to the music, I hope for a ‘What was that track?’ moment.  Since I’ve started my blog, and spent my time reviewing DJ sets, I’ve learnt the names of so many of the great tracks that DJs play, but every so often they pull out a great track that I just don’t recognise.

The ‘What was that track?’ moment

Not surprisingly I had such a moment on Saturday night, as Billy played a magnificent triple that set the dance floor on fire.  The first of these three tracks opened with a thumping beat and never really let up.  I was sure that I had danced to it before, but couldn’t put my finger on it.  It had all the hallmarks of a ’90s club track, but I couldn’t remember it’s name – probably because the ’90s was a decade I sadly did little dancing.

Billy put me out of my misery. ‘It’s Sing Hallelujah by Dr Album.’  I’ll actually feature the second of Billy’s triple, but I mention the Dr Album track because it had kick-started a rush of dance joy that I willed Billy to keep going.  Billy didn’t let me down, and his next track put the biggest smile on my face. It’s a track that everybody knows and loves but few know what its called.  I consider it to be one of the Top 5 Modern Jive floor fillers.  So here’s Chris Anderson and DJ Robbie with their version of the Markays ’60s Stax classic Last night.

Billy tops of his thumping Triple

It was after midnight.  I’d given everything while dancing to Last night, and I’d decided it might be wise to have a break, but Billy wasn’t finished yet.  I hear the first thumping beats of his next track, and I have no choice but to turn back around and get back on the dance floor.  The track is a contemporary club track and it had all the dance vibe ingredients to finally take me to Dance Heaven.  Here then is Milk & Sugar’s techno version of Summertime.

A great time for everybody

I’d had a great night and so had my friend Tel.  The night had everything.  Great tracks from DJ Billy and the most wonderful live music from The Deke McGee Band.  But what it had made it really special was the warm welcome we had recieved from Billy and Doreen and of course all the lovely ladies who had accepted our offers to dance with a smile.  We had a great time on the dance floor and we were treated to some amazing displays from The Glasgow Jivers.

I always try to gauge the reaction of everyone else, and from the smiles on the dance floor and the conversations I had throughout the night, I have no doubt that everyone had a great time.  The next day when I looked on the LeRoc Scotland Facebook Page I was particularly pleased to see that all the comments shared my own view of the night.

We leave on a high

As myself and Tel left the building we were still high with the excitement of it all.  Remember our experience had started at mid-day as we had left Derby at the beginning of our road trip full of anticipation.  As we got in to the car to head back to the hotel, Tel recalled his conversations with The Deke McGee Band about his own days gigging on the road.

Seeing them in the dressing room brought a lot of memories of my own time driving up and down the motorways to gigs in the ’70s and ’80s.

I love talking to Tel about his Rock ‘n’ Roll past and hearing his stories about the musicians he met and played with.  I imagined us as two ageing rock stars reliving our glory days:

So shall we go back to the hotel room and throw a telly through the window in to the swimming pool?

But Tel had a better idea, so one ageing Soul Boy and one ex-Rocker turned their back on their hotel and headed to MacDonalds.   There we ordered two milk shakes – one strawberry and one vanilla – and sat talking about the fun we’d had at The LeRoc Scotland Christmas Party.  Rock ‘n’ Roll or what!

Please follow the link to view the full photo album of the LeRoc Heaven Christmas Party Night

Please follow the link to read my review of The Warmwell Weekender