The Spirit of Southport lies in the music

If you had to describe Ceroc’s Southport Weekender to someone who had no idea what even Ceroc was, where would you start.  You’d probably begin by telling them that it involved round the clock dancing – it starts at three on Friday afternoon and doesn’t stop until six o’clock Monday morning.

Southport is without doubt one hell of a dance fest, but it’s the music that gives the energy and emotion to the dancing, so for me the true Spirit of Southport lies in the great variety of music – and there is a lot of it.

So much music, so little duplication

The music is not just provided by the roster of DJs operating in three main areas, but the teachers too provide music as background to their many lessons.  I estimate there was over one hundred and twenty hours of music, and what’s even more amazing, is that there was hardly any duplication.  It’s this variety of dance music that makes the Southport Weekenders what they are.

I can only offer a snapshot of the music

As I was planning my reviews for Southport I thought I’d put together a My Top Ten Tracks, as I’ve done in the past, but when I started to go through my notes I realised that it was a hopeless task – there were just too many candidates.  So instead I thought I’d use a Ten Top Tracks to try to offer a snapshot of the fabulous music and so help identify the true Spirit of Southport.

So if anyone asks you what a Southport Weekender is all about, you could start by offering them this list of tracks with the background to why they justify their inclusion in my list of standout tracks.   Here then are ten tracks that stood out for me, as representing The Spirit of Southport June 2018.

An apology to Blues and Tango Fans

Before I start I should perhaps explain that I didn’t get to spend any time in The Cyclone Room, where Marc and Rachel held court with their Tango and Blues music.  I know that the Blues Lounge represents the Spirit of Southport for many people, so apologies to them for not including what I’m sure was some memorable music.

1: How long  Charlie Puth – DJ Steve Thomas, SILC Zone Friday Evening

As soon as you arrive at Southport you experience the first pang of excitement.  You have been counting down the sleeps for weeks, and now as you enter the main building to collect the keys to your chalet you catch a view of people dancing on the veranda outside The Queen Vic Pub aka The SILC Zone.

This June we were treated to the most beautiful sunny weather, and dancing outside The Queen Vic was one of the real joys of Southport this time round, and it’s little wonder that it was very busy no matter what time day or night.

Over all three days people packed the outside dance area

Steve Thomas was one of the lucky DJs to get an early gig on that first evening, and while Tim Sant did the traditional Ice-breaker lesson in the main hall Steve served up a playlist of delicious smooth tunes mixed with some funky gems.

I’ve chosen How long by Charlie Puth because this has been one of the big chill-out hits of the past year.  I know that the SILC Zone DJs pride themselves on bringing us their own exclusive track, and I’ll be picking out a couple in this listing, but you can’t beat dancing to a track that you know and love.

That said, How long deserves it’s place on the list, because it epitomises the contemporary sound that is so suited to the modern slotted style of smooth dancing.  This style of dancing is so loved by some people that they rarely venture far from the SILC Zone.

2: Ain’t no mountain high enough Freichwimmer feat. Dionne Bromfield (Calvo remix) – DJ Mark O’Reilly, Thunderball Room Friday Night

While the more chilled SILC Zone is many peoples favourites, for most of us the Spirit of Southport is found in the main Thunderball Room.  It’s here that the roster of late night DJs generate an intense atmosphere that at times sets the floor on fire.

I’m first and foremost a Thunderball Room kinda guy, and what I long for is when the DJs turn a a faded holiday camp in to something more akin to a night club.  DJ O’Reilly had the first slot on Friday night, after Tim Sant’s Ice-breaker lesson, and wasted no time in creating a great vibe out on the floor.

Ain’t know mountain high enough has a great pedigree.  Written by husband-and-wife songwriting team Ashford and Simpson for Motown stars Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, since its release in 1967, it has become an iconic Motown track.

I always thought the original lacked sufficient energy for the Ceroc dance floor, so I was really pleased when German record producer Freichwimmer teamed up with vocalist Dionne Bromfield in 2016, and produced a more energised contemporary version.  It became an instant feature of main room DJ’s playlists and it became a real favourite of my own.

Mark first played this more trance induced remix at a Ceroc class night and I wasn’t sure, but Hayley Epps gave it a spin at a recent Kettering freestyle and I was hooked.  I suspect that Hayley was rehearsing her Southport playlist and indeed she may also have played it.

It fell to Mark to give me the joy of dancing to it.  He pitched it perfectly after a run of tracks that had slowly built up a club style vibe.  He then hit the play button on this trance infused version, and the dance floor caught fire for the first time that weekend.

Of course Mark wasn’t the only DJ to set the floor on fire, but when it happens and you are in the middle of a packed dance floor with three hundred other people feeling the same uplifting vibe – that’s when you feel the spirit of Southport for yourself.

3: Spotlight Jennifer Hudson – Caine & Danni’s Switches Class Saturday Afternoon

For many people Southport is an opportunity to do lessons they wouldn’t normally get the chance to do back home.  These lessons are all part of Southport’s vitality and variety.  What shows the spirit of Southport more than anything is the enthusiasm people show for learning new moves and techniques.

I’m amazed at times just how many lessons some people do, and indeed just how popular some of the lessons are.  I attended few myself now, as I try to pace myself over the weekend, but I found time to take part in Caine Langford and Danielle Moore’s slotted class called Switches.

Over the past year I’ve tried really hard to develop a more slotted style of dancing and indeed it was a Caine and Danni slotted class last June that kick started my efforts to dance in a more contemporary style.

The slotted style of dancing, rather like SILC, was developed as a way of dancing to more contemporary slower paced music.  During the lesson Caine played several tracks to allow us all to practice our moves.  One track stood out.  Spotlight from 2008, is a beautiful chill-out track that was perfect to accompany the routine that Caine and Danni put together.

This Jennifer Hudson track was also the type of music I once found difficult to dance to.   It’s a mark of my progress that I wanted to include Spotlight in this listing.  I suspect that there are many people who made significant progress in their journeys to be better dancers during the weekend, and that they will have their own tracks to bookmark their own progress.

4: Matchbox Jonny Lang – DJ Tim Sant, Thunderball Room Saturday Night

When you dissect the playlists of the Thunderball DJ’s playlists they are heavy on modern club style tracks, but every so often they throw some real gems from other music genres.  This was the case when Tim Sant took to the decks on Friday night.

Tim is a very experienced main room DJ, and I’ve reviewed his music several times, and there’s always been something to make me take note.  A couple of years ago he surprised me by playing an iconic Northern Soul track that I thought I’d never here on a Ceroc dance floor, but Tim proved that Billy Butler’s Right Track has the credentials to rock the floor in The Thunderball Room.

On Friday night Tim gave a spin to a track by rock guitarist Jonny Lang that gave me one of the best full-on dances of the whole weekend.  Matchbox has all the energy of a rock ‘n’ roll classic, but has a tempo more suited to the Ceroc style of dancing.

If that wasn’t enough it has a guitar solo that is as bluesy as hell and during this more relaxed interlude there’s every opportunity to let your dancing play with the music.  It’s not long before Jonny ups the ante and all hell breaks out again.

I was so pleased that Tim played it.  It had become a real favourite after DJ John Baker played it at a Strictly Ceroc freestyle at Coventry, and it was great to hear it blasting out of the Thunderball Room speakers and seeing everyone else lovin’ its energy.

The Spirit of Southport shows a little of itself every time we get to dance to our favourite tracks.  I’m sure that over the weekend everyone had a spiritual moment with their own special tracks.

5: Little Red Corvette Mike Zito – DJ Debbie Attwood, SILC GOLD Saturday night

Each time I go through the programme for the Boudoir I spot a late night time slot promoted as SILC GOLD.  This time round there were in fact two such slots, the first being hosted by DJ Debbie Attwood.  As it happened, I visited Debbie’s Ceroc Groove SILC on Sunday event the weekend before, so I asked her for a little background.

Over the years there been some fabulous chill-out tracks, but because there is so much great new music which needs an airing, these older tracks tend to get ‘put to bed’.  SILC GOLD is an opportunity to bring them all back to life.

Occasionally I hear tracks from the past, and then realise that they have indeed been put to bed, which is sad in a way, because these tracks often hold good dance memories.  I was interested to see what memories might be triggered, so I ensured I found some time to take in part of Debbie’s set.

One of Debbie’s tracks soon had thinking back to a time I hold quite fond memories of.  A few years back I decided to give West Coast Swing a try.  This was before the SILC dance format had been developed, and I saw it as a way of dancing to more chill-out music.  Progress was painfully slow and I eventually gave it up as a bad job.

Though I struggled to get to grips with the basic concept of West Coast I did get to dance, or kind of dance, to a lot of wonderful chilled music.  One of those tracks was one that Debbie brought back to life.  Mike Zito’s relaxed interpretation of Prince’s Little Red Corvette is a wonderful piece of chill-out music and thankfully I’ve made more progress with SILC than I ever did with West Coast, and I got to enjoy a lovely dance to it.

6: Stop her on sight (SOS) Edwin Starr – DJ Tim Sant, Motown & Soul Hour Sunday Afternoon

When ever I’m encouraging people to make their first visit to Southport I’ll always mention Swinger’s Hour – the 60 minute treat of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Swing music.  This to me is a great example of the Spirit of Southport.  Vince Silva’s Funk Hour that follows the Saturday Swingers is also a much mentioned feature of this wonderful weekender.

The past two weekenders have seen the introduction of a new ‘Speciality Hour’ – Tim Sant’s Motown & Soul Hour.  The first one in February proved to be a great success, and after June’s great celebration of Motown and Northern Soul, I’m sure that it will be a permanent fixture on the weekender programme.

What was interesting was that a group of Soul Boys and Gals soon gathered around Tim’s decks to perform their own distinctive Northern Soul dancing.  Here was the Spirit of The Soul Clubs of Northern England past very much alive in a new venue.  When these guys say ‘Keep the Faith’ they mean it.

A group of Soul Boys and Gals soon gathered round Tim’s decks

Tim finished his set with the greatest of all Northern Soul anthems Frank Wilson’s Do I love you (Indeed I do), but I want to feature another Soul classic that set the floor on fire.  Edwin Starr is, after Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, possibly the greatest voice to ever grace a Motown record.

Stop her on sight (SOS) was actually recorded before Starr signed for Berry Gordy’s label but many of the Motown backing band – The Funk Brothers – played on it, and so it has all the hallmarks of Motown.  This Soul classic has long been a favourite on the Ceroc scene, and so is keeping the spirit of Edwin Starr alive.

7: Bikini Body Darwin featuring R City – DJ Ashley Davis, SILC Zone Friday Evening

For all the retro music that lights up the dance floors at Southport, it’s important that there is a youthful spirit about the playlists.  This wonderful dance scene will only flourish if it brings new entrants on to its dance floors, and that’s why its important that fresh contemporary sounds get a fair hearing.

All the DJs, what ever their age, bring us great new sounds, but there are a few new kids on the block who are spinning tracks that might occasionally pass under the radar – tracks like Nick Lopez’s fabulous Pink Champagne – now established as a Ceroc favourite.

One of these new kids is Ashley Davis, who had several spots in The SILC Zone.  I always look forward to seeing what exciting new tracks Ashley puts in to his playlist.  On Friday night I danced to one track that really hit the spot in my dance brain.  As it faded out I was at the front asking ‘What was that track?’

Now Ashley was quick to tell me that he wasn’t the first to play Bikini Body by Darwin, and that it was passed to him by Jon Gammon.  I know there is a lot of competition amongst DJs to claim new breakthrough tracks, but it doesn’t really matter who found it.  What matters is that there are DJs like Jon and Ashley tuned in to contemporary music so that the spirit of Southport remains forever youthful and vibrant.

8: Jazz it up The Erick Morillo Project – DJ Hayley Epps – Thunderball Room Sunday night

Hayley Epps is another DJ who has broken some great tracks on to the Ceroc scene.  Hayley also has an energy and enthusiasm that she can’t but show when she’s spinning tracks in the Thunderball Room.

Hayley will get up on to the higher teaching stage and seemingly conduct the dancers to one of her electrifying tracks.  On Sunday night I was actually sitting down taking a breather in the bar area, when I became aware that Hayley was once again on the teaching stage.

I next recognised the track.  I’d last heard Jazz it up when Nicola Di Folco played it at the Ceroc Perth Fresh Weekender.  This track has an amazing amount of energy and Nicola had used it as the track to ‘set the floor on fire’.  I enjoyed dancing to it so much that I had a chat with Nicola about it.

Nicola explained that it is a well known track on the line dance circuit.  Hearing the song triggered the memory of my conversation with Nicola, and I then realised that Hayley was in fact conducting a line dance from the stage.

Now I may have this wrong, but I think Hayley was demonstrating the Charleston Stroll, a line dance that’s associated with Rock ‘n’ Roll and often seen at Swingers Hour.  Hayley had taught this dance at a lesson earlier in the day.  Hayley may have been doing one of the line dances associated with this track, but what ever dance it was, Hayley had half the floor following her every step.

POSTSCRIPT: Becci from Leicester got in touch to say that she was one of the people on the floor doing the line dance with Hayley:

I’m happy to confirm that Hayley Epps, and those of us on the floor following, were doing the Charleston Stroll from her class earlier that day, with all the variations and styling.  Fabulous fun!

The scene of so much synchronised energy on the dance floor, with Becci and everyone else, was one of the best examples of the spirit of Southport I saw all weekend.

9: Silk & Lace Rico Greene – DJ John Baker, SILC Zone Sunday night

One of the great pleasures of dancing at Southport is to venture outside at two in the morning and dance on the outside veranda of The SILC Zone.  I particularly love it as a place to cool down after a full-on session in The Thunderball Room.  When John Baker took his place behind the decks at one thirty the place was still packed.

It’s two in the morning and the outside veranda is still packed with people enjoying John Baker’s music

One of my dance highlights over the past few months was a visit to Switch the freestyle run by Strictly Ceroc.  Here DJ John Baker switches the music at midnight for two hours of chill-out grooves.

Though I was only able to stay until one o’clock, that sixty minutes was an education in smooth dance music, and it was one one of the reasons why I was excited to experience more of John’s fabulous music.  The fact that I was able to dance to it under the stars on one of the warmest nights of the year was something not easily forgetten.

Here is one of John’s delicious tracks.  I remember instantly connecting with its gentle funky rhythm.  I know that many other people will remember this Southport for the joy of dancing to silky tracks like this one on a warm sultry night.  Here surely is another example of the spirit of Southport.

10: Haven’t stopped dancing yet Gonzalez – DJ Tony Riccardi, Thunderball Room Sunday Night

When you are next debating the meaning of life with your friends, consider this.  Human life evolved beyond the need to be constantly searching for the next meal, and so gave us the opportunity to occasionally not take ourselves too seriously, and have some fun.  If that fun meant dancing to one of the cheesiest disco records ever, then our human evolution was worth it.

Sunday day time had been very hot, and even by midnight it hadn’t cooled down much either.  This presented DJ Tony Riccardi with a problem.  Should he play his normal set and raise the temperature out on the dance floor or perhaps give the dancers a bit of a break and keep the vibe just below MAX on the dial.

It seemed as if Tony decided to resist the urge to set the floor on fire, and kept the temperatures on the dance floor in the safe zone.  Now I’m a great fan of Tony and I’ve often used the words ‘the dance floor’ and ‘set fire to’ in my reviews of his DJing, and I could sense that he was holding back.

Up on the stage behind the decks Tony decided, because of the heat, to only release the pent up energy on the dance floor at the very end of his set.  He chose the perfect track for it, and as I and everyone else, recognised the bongo drum and whistle intro, you could feel a wave of joy sweep across the room.  Did the spirit of Southport ever feel so strong.

It’s gone past midnight and still the Thunderball Room is packed -we haven’t stopped dancing yet

Tony pick of Gonzalez’s I haven’t stopped dancing yet was inspired.  Here at one thirty in the morning were over two hundred people who hadn’t stopped dancing yet, and would go on for another hour and then some.

What is amazing that Tony tells me he was debating between two tracks for his finale.  The other was Liquid Gold’s Dance yourself dizzy.  Guess what?  Next on stage was Tiggerbabe, aka Sheena Assiph, and three tracks in to her set she played – yes, you guessed it.  For those of you who want another blast of disco silliness I’ve included Dance yourself dizzy in the bonus tracks at the end.

One Extra Track I can’t miss out

There’s always one track that just about every Thunderball Room DJ has to play.  This time round it was a track, that has been setting the floor on fire at freestyles across the country, in the run up to Southport.  Created by record producer Calvin Harris it features the vocals of Dua Lipa, who broke through with the Ceroc favourite New rules.

Calvin Harris has been setting the Ceroc dance floor alight for sometime now – Let’s go with Ne-Yo, This is what you came for with Rihanna, How Deep Is Your Love with The Disciples – and One Kiss with Dua Lipa has everything for a main room dance anthem.

It’s thumping beat hits you within a few seconds, and the connection with the steady rhythm is instant.  Harris then takes us on a ride where he fades the bass out, and then brings it back in to ignite another burst of energy on the dance floor.  At 2 minutes 35 seconds he starts a slow build up to a crescendo that hits every button in my dance brain.

The Thunderball Room was made for tracks like this.  Turn the volume up as loud as you dare, clear the kitchen floor and let yourself go.  Alternately get yourself down to a Ceroc freestyle this weekend – I guarantee they’ll play it.

5 Bonus Tracks

I was never going to cut the list down to ten, so are here are five Bonus Tracks.  Time means I can’t offer any additional musings about each track, so just click the play button and enjoy more memories of one of the best Southports ever.

1: Rocket 88 Nappy Brown – DJ John Baker, Thunderball Room Friday Night

John starts his set off with a rockin’ track that sets the floor on fire.  Can we have more of this Carolina Beach music please.

2: Disco Nights (Rock Freak) G.Q. – DJ Vince Silva, The Funk Hour Saturday afternoon

Vince always digs out an authentic piece of funk from the ’70s dance music vaults, and here is a slice of disco music from 1979 that has a wonderfully infectious funky rhythm.

3: Sex Machine James Brown – DJ Steve Thomas, SILC Zone Friday night

Dancing outside, as the sun goes down, to the Godfather of Funk – can it get any better?  Modern dance music owes so much to James Brown for creating the funky dance vibe.

4: Go to work Tim Omaji – DJ Nicola Di Folco, SILC Zone

Nicola’s playlists always throw up some great modern music.  She kicks off her set with a great piece of contemporary funk.

5:  Dance yourself dizzy – DJ Sheena Assiph, Thunderball Room Sunday Night

I couldn’t not include the track that Sheena played shortly after Tony Riccardi lit the floor up with I haven’t stopped dancing yet.  Liquid Gold’s Dance yourself dizzy is even cheesier than the Gonzalez track, but who cares.  On Sunday night the spirit of Southport washed over the Thunderball Room like I’ve never experienced it before.  Nice one Sheena and Tony.

Can’t wait for next time

As I’ve been writing I’ve had all these tracks playing though my headphones.  Thank god I’m doing plenty of dancing this week, because I’m twitching all over.  I hope you’ve enjoyed my own memories of the great music that was served up for us this time, and I hope it goes some way to explaining the True Spirit of Southport – can’t wait for next time.