There are many dilemmas in life. An apple for a snack or a cup of tea and a bag of Malteasers. For me the chocolate wins every time. Lets try a more difficult decision. You’ve been looking forward to the Ceroc Heaven Kelham Hall freestyle all week. It is after all one of the best freestyle venues in the country. You know it will be packed and the music will give you some fabulous dances, but then a friend offers you a spare ticket to a Motown Tribute Night. Not any tribute night – this is The Magic of Motown show at The Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham. As a massive advocate for more Motown to be played at Modern Jive venues I decided on the tribute night (I took along a bag of malteasers for the interval for good measure too).

In this review I make lots of references to the classic Motown tracks performed in the show. Rather than embed the tracks into the review, which might interrupt the flow of it, I’ve put a link to a Song List page where you can go if you choose to hear the original recording.

The show opened with the instrumental introduction to Papa was a rolling stone (Click here to hear the original). This song was created with a ground breaking introduction by producer Norman Whitfield, featuring a hypnotic bass line. Its one of the best Motown tracks ever, but you won’t use it to ignite a dynamic night of entertainment based around one of the greatest catalogues of dance music ever created – its just not up beat enough. Unless of course you inject the song with an overdose of adrenalin by upping the tempo and ratcheting up the bass and drum backing. Then bring in a horn section and add another layer of energy. Well that’s what the producers of this show did and in an instant the audience was in party mode.

I have commented before that many of the great Motown tracks we love wouldn’t necessarily transfer to the Modern Jive dance floor because they don’t have the correct tempo required for this style of dancing. In a similar way the producers of this show knew, that if they were to succeed in keeping the party atmosphere going, they would have to up the tempo of some of even the best loved songs.

One of the best audience reactions was to the performance of Ain’t no mountain high enough. This song was made famous by Diana Ross but her rendition of the song, while superbly crafted would fall flat in such a fast paced show. The better version is that by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, (Click here to hear the original), but this too doesn’t quite have the energy needed, so again the producers upped the tempo and the audience responded by clapping all the way through. To illustrate how a track can be energised for modern jive dancing click here and listen to the production of Jane McDonald’s version.

A similar upbeat performance of Marvin Gaye’s I heard it through the grapevine followed and all around the auditorium people were getting out of their seats and dancing. Some found a little more room in the aisles, but there was only room for disco dancing. I couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated that there wasn’t enough space to modern jive with a partner. But my frustration was overtaken by my sheer enjoyment of the show and the reason – it was live. Live singers, with exceptional talent backed by an equally proficient live 7 piece band, including a horn section that lifted song after song.

For all my enthusiasm for modern jive freestyles they are, after all, glorified discos with DJs playing recorded music. I’d forgotten just how good live music is and this was exceptional. I have often wondered if the organisers of a modern jive freestyle would take a punt on a live band. It works well at Rock ‘n’ Roll venues though I suspect the ticket price might need to rise a little but on this evidence it would give an experience to the dancers they would love and remember for a very long time.

The list of tracks that got the audience on their feet and clapping in time went on and on. Tears of a Clown, Reach out (I’ll be there) and the modern jive favourites How Sweet it is (to be loved by you) and Get Ready. My personal favourite was a song I’d danced to the previous night. It was obviously not the Stevie Wonder original but it had all the energy a great modern jive track needs and shows again how modern production techniques can enrich these classic songs. The version I had so much fun dancing to was by Craig David and the song – Signed, sealed, delivered I’m yours. (Click here to hear the Stevie Wonder original.) I wonder if when the writers (which included Wonder himself) created this track they had any idea how much joy it would bring to people and for how long. The delivery of this top drawer Motown track was outstanding and it goes without saying the audience loved it as much as I did.

Mention of Motown will trigger memories of songs by The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Temptations and The Isley Brothers from the days when the studio was based in ‘Motortown’ Detroit. But we shouldn’t forget that once in LA the label showcased, amongst others, the talents of The Commodores and their lead singer Lionel Riche. There was a section of the show devoted to this time with the highlights being Riche’s Dancing on the ceiling and The Four Tops’ Going loco down in Acapulco. (Click here to watch The Four Tops sing this song on Top of The Pops.) The 7 piece Magic of Motown band superbly recreated the dynamism of this recording and it gave the horn section (saxophone, trumpet and trombone) an opportunity to showcase their exceptional talent. They had the audience in raptures.

All the singers on this show have outstanding vocal talents and could turn on the power or emotion when ever it was needed, but it would have been too much to expect any of them to recreate the unique voice that was Levi Stubbs, the lead singer of the Four Tops. Many years ago I saw Levi perform on this very stage. I couldn’t help be reminded what a sad loss his going is. Watch the Top of The Pops video again and thank god that shows like this keep his memory alive.

The best song in terms of audience participation was included in a tribute to The Jackson 5. This section was brilliant theatre and when the opening refrain came to Blame it on the boogie the place went wild, and the enjoyment level peaked when almost two and a half thousand people did the arm actions in the chorus – Sunshine, moonlight, good times, boogie! (Click here to watch the original Jackson’s version and just incase you’ve forgotten the arm actions I’ve also included the Big Fun version too.)

This was an outstanding night of entertainment and I’m so glad I made the choice to forgo the Kelham Hall freestyle. And if there was further praise needed, on the way home I discovered the bag of Malteasers still intact. This show held my attention throughout and there was no need for a chocolate fix even in the interval. On behalf of two and a half thousand very satisfied customers I offer a massive thank you to all the people who worked tirelessly to put on what was a fantastic show. Oh and one last thought – Modern Jive DJs please dig around the Motown vaults. There are gems to be found and where necessary find the modern versions that have that extra bit of tempo. We’ll all thank you for it.

I have no doubt this show will be back in Nottingham some time soon, and if you’re in any doubt just how good this show is take a look at their promo video:

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