Another fantastic weekend in Gloucester.
In what seemed like only three months since the last one, Jumpin’ At The Woodside rushed by on the first May Bank Holiday weekend of 2001. The annual event promoted by The Rock Dance Company in Gloucester once again left organiser James Hamilton scratching his head wondering how he will top it next year.
As always, he had arranged for some good weather so dancers didn’t get wet when walking between class venues. The sell-out crowd of 300 trekked across the city from the YMCA, King’s School and Northgate Hall to the Arts Centre and New County Hotel.
The mix of dancers this year was unusual; not so many from London, but large contingents from Southampton, Leeds and Montpelier. It seems that Lindy Hop is offering an opening to those who have jived or ceroced for a few years, and want to add something new to their repertoire of styles.
This year’s bands were two from the top drawer: on Friday, The Mike Sanchez Rhythm and Blues Review was on stage. Mike is now off to join Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, and those who know him from The Big Town Playboys need no introduction to his energetic style of r ‘n’ b. The line-up included Blue Harlem’s Al Nichols on saxophone and Aisha Khan on vocals.
The set started with the most danceable numbers in Mike’s repertoire, including several originals like Girls All Over The World. The introduction of Aisha meant that the mid-pace danceability continued throughout the set.
Saturday night is cabaret night at The Woodside, and each year James Hamilton adopts a different persona to host the event. Last year it was Dame Edna Everage, and his voice took months to recover. This time around it was Mork from Ork , the character played by Robin Williams in the TV series. Apart from the occasional accent lapse into Inspector Clouseau, it was a magnificent portrayal - expect to hear the words "Nanu Nanu" echoing around Gloucester for weeks to come.
It was teachers’ party piece time, and everyone had a go. Angela Andrew’s Cotton Clubbers, who this year included Julie Oram, gave us a Big Apple and some serious Charlie’s Angel action. A quartet of Montpelierians covered the floor with energetic Charlestons and aerials. Rob and Diane van Haaren Lindy’ed, balboa-ed and shagged their way through a swing tune, and Frankie Manning knocked off another wonderful Shim Sham.
A first at The Woodside, and indeed anywhere in this country, was the appearance of Dawn Hampton. The swing inspiration from The States took the floor with Ron Leslie, who announced "There will be no aerials". Who cared? The way these two, sultrily shimmied their way through some slow burning swing showed exactly how to channel the music into moves. The pair danced on air for the whole tune.
Finally, the whole line-up came out for some slightly choreographed Lindy Hop and a few solo spots. Donna Berlin knocked off such a stunning tap routine that Mork demanded an encore of the whole thing. Diane van Haaren joined Lennart Westerlund as he zipped through a speedy Trunkey Do, everyone swapped partners and it was all wonderful fun.
It’s difficult to pin down exactly what Dawn Hampton does, but one thing is for sure: the dancers love it - and her. The two talks that she gave, one at the end of each day, were highlights of the weekend, and very well attended. She talked about her life, handed out some lessons, and demonstrated exactly what she means by "knowing a tune". A few lucky people got the chance to get up and dance with her - and spent the rest of the weekend telling everyone else about the experience.
Sunday night was Langton night, as James brought his Solid Senders Orchestra to Gloucester for the first time. If he had any nerves about playing in front of someone who had seen Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman in 1939, he didn’t show it. And The Man in question, Frankie, was hollering "One more! One more!" at the end of the set.
Ever the gentlemen, Langton even played Begin The Beguine twice, as Frankie had missed it in the first set. Singer Louise Cookman was in fine voice on numbers such as The Devil and The Deep Blue Sea, You Turned The Tables On Me, and the Hellzapoppin’ number Watch The Birdie.
The lack of space was more of a problem on Sunday night, as on Friday, those who didn’t want to dance to r ‘n’ b could use The Swing Room. But no one seemed interested on the Sunday, because if you want swing, The Solid Senders deliver it by the bucketful. There is a Town Hall just around the corner from the Arts Centre - how many can that hold?
The Sunday Stayback at The New County Hotel was the busiest ever. Around 200 people made their way from the Arts Centre to the hotel for tea, toast and terpsichore into the small hours. Unlike the Arts Centre bar, which kept pub hours and closed at 10.30pm (a full two hours before the event ended), the hotel staff was happy to serve as long as people wanted to eat and drink.
At 3am the place was still jumping, as DJ Ronnie Slide moved from swing to sixties to soul to salsa. It’s amazing the therapeutically rejuvenating effect that a good tune can have on tired limbs at that time. The crowds gradually began to slip away, as the traditional end of the Stayback - the arrival of the car to take Frankie Manning to Heathrow - came around 4am.
The whole event was another storming success, and the many who contributed to putting it together can now slip into dance-induced comas for a few weeks with the satisfaction of knowing that it was a job well done. How this can be improved for next year it’s difficult to conceive - but that’s not an area that James and his wife Bridget have found difficult recently!
© May 2001 Andrew Winton.
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