DJ Gary Steps up to the big stage

Over many years DJ Ian McLeod built an enviable reputation for his Pirate Jive freestyles at The Shed in Beeston, Nottingham.  People travelled a long way to experience the great atmosphere and enjoy the fabulous music that Ian provided.  The Shed was with out doubt established as one of the premier Modern Jive destinations in The East Midlands.

With Ian’s decision to move to Scotland I wondered who would have big enough shoes to replace him, and was pleased to learn that Gary Wharton would be taking up the challenge.  Gary has already established a local reputation for himself with his Notts Jive Crew freestyles at Keyworth Village Hall, but The Shed was going to a big step up.

Music is the key to success

Large capacity dance floors, like the Shed has, are not enough on their own to guarantee the success of a freestyle venue.  Reputations are built on the enjoyment people experience on the dance floor, and that depends more than anything on the music.

Ian had developed a playlist that his dancers loved.  It was a playlist full of his own unique finds and it offered a good alternative to that of the competing Ceroc venues.

Choice is a wonderful thing.  I love the more up to date Ceroc playlists, but it’s good to have a change now and again, and Ian’s Pirate Jive freestyles offered this to the delight of myself and his loyal followers.

I’d reviewed Gary’s own Notts Jive Crew freestyle before, and his music choice was very similar to Ian’s, so I was very confident of him having a successful first night.

Any nerves are soon dispelled

Gary tells me that he, and his wife Julie who ran the door, were a little nervous prior to their big night, but any nerves must have been dispelled by the numbers queuing at the door.  Even before the freestyle officially started at eight o’clock, I counted forty people in the room, and Gary and Julie must have been really pleased to see the dance floor fill up very quickly.

I recognised many of The Shed regulars but, just as in Ian’s day, there were plenty of new faces suggesting that people had travelled some distance for their night out.  So was it worth the trip?  Let me say now that I’m sure it was, but more of that later.

A playlist that I was familiar with

I’d danced to Gary’s music quite a few times over the past year and I recognised a lot of the tracks as his favourites.  They are my favourites too, and it was great to get a chance to dance to them again.

The retro Rock ‘n’ Roll Sick and Tired from Boz Scaggs, the C&W flavoured Fresh coat of paint from Lee Roy Parnell, the Euro pop hit Wake me up by Helene Fischer, and The Killers Human were all great dance tracks that I remembered from Gary’s Keyworth freestyles.

There’s one of Gary’s favourites that I wish was picked up by more DJs.  Jimmy Ruffin will always be remembered for his ode to lost love What becomes of the broken hearted.

Sadly he was never to repeat this success at Motown and by 1980 he had left the company. He was however to have one last world wide hit with Hold on to my love, a single I remember buying and now love dancing to.

What interests me is how DJs freshen up their playlists

It’s only fair that DJs get to play their favourite floor fillers, but what interests me is how well DJs freshen up their playlists so there is little chance of their regular followers getting bored.  Having become familiar with Gary’s music I was eager to see what new tracks he’d dug out for his Shed debut.  Happily there were plenty, and here’s one that I loved.

We are the people by Empire of The Sun has become an instant favourite.  I’ve been playing it on repeat through my headphones all week as I’ve been writing.  It starts with just an acoustic guitar backing, but its not long before a thumping bass line kicks in.  The track is so catchy and I can’t wait to dance to it again.

The Shed has a lovely feel for a large venue

The Shed dance floor is of a size that allows it to have tables and chairs around the perimeter, and this makes it a great place to meet up and chat with friends. However because it’s not a small venue, it needs a reasonable number of people to give it an atmosphere.

I estimated there were just over one hundred and fifty in on Friday night and it was just the right number.  Plenty of people to dance with and plenty of places to sit and take a break.

I chat with Gary about his music

I was really pleased that Gary fond time to chat with me about his playlist.  Gary was quick to point out that it was very important to take note of the age of the people coming though the door, and to think about the music they grew up with:

The thing is Paul, there are a lot of people out there who grew up in the late ’60s and ’70s. They don’t necessarily want to spend all night dancing to the latest sounds.  Sure I’ll mix in a few current hits like Camila Cabello’s Havana but I won’t be thanked for playing too many club style tracks.

I’m with Gary on this and it’s one of the reasons I’m an advocate for more Motown and ’70s disco music being played.  Thinking about it Gary has played a lot of Motown at previous freestyles, but checking my notes there was none this time round.  I’ll let him off this once, but I will give him credit for playing Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman from the same era.

The DJs know best

I’m not a fan of Roy Orbison’s music and have never much cared for Pretty Woman, but I have to admit that when Gary played it, I had one of the best dances of the night.  That’s probably why Gary’s a DJ and I’m just a dancer.  There is a serious point here.  There’s often a distinction between the music we like listening to and the music we like dancing to.

I’m happy for the DJ to play the odd request, but I think its best if they select the majority of the tracks, because that ensures that we get to dance to tracks we would never have thought of.  I love being surprised, and on Saturday Gary did just that.  The playlist was filled with music I wasn’t over familiar with and that’s what I would ask of DJs.

A track that’s a joy to dance to

One pleasant surprise was Ce Ce Peniston’s ’90s disco smash Finally, and another was This old skin.  This Beautiful South track has an uncomplicated beat that is so easy to connect with, and a lovely Country & Western feel that makes it a joy to dance to.

One of many new standout tracks

Remember I was also looking to see how Gary freshened up his playlist from my previous visits to Keyworth.  One new track that really stood out was a reworking of the old Herman Hermits hit I’m in to something good by The Bird and The Bee.  I suspect that Gary spent a lot of time ensuring that his playlist was full of new music and I think we can expect lots of exciting new tracks over the coming months.

A playlist that differentiates itself

I mentioned earlier that Ian McLeod’s playlist offered an alternative to the music played at the competing Ceroc freestyles.  Here’s Gary again:

I think that the average age at The Shed is slightly older than at the local Ceroc venues, and you have to reflect this in the music.

Because I don’t play as much contemporary music I tend to fill my playlist with other genes of music.  It’s why I play more Rock’n’ Roll and Swing tracks.  I’ve more room to play some Country & Western and even a bit of Tango or Cha Cha Cha.

I certainly remember seeing people Tangoing and doing a bit of Cha Cha Cha, and I fully agree that the music does have to reflect the different age group.  However Gary, I also believe we are only as old as the music we dance to, so please continue to throw in the occasional club style track.  In fact why I think about it could I request Safri Duo’s Played alive (The Bongo Song) for next time.

A busy dance floor says it all

I had a fabulous night, but did everybody else?  I always like to find out what other people are thinking, and when ever I asked anybody, they were as enthusiastic as I was about the music and the dancing.  But the proof, if it was needed, was that even at 11:30 the dance floor was still busy.

This venue is destined to grow in popularity

On Saturday Gary was competing with Bonfire Night activities, and four other East Midland venues, but he tells me he had as many people as Ian, when Pirate Jive was previously up against similar events.  That’s quite an impressive start, and I have no doubt that this venue will continue to hold its place as one of the premier Modern Jive events in the East Midlands.